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Wildland Fire Safety

Lead plane Bravo 7 leads an airtanker  retardant drop. Photo by Kari Greer

The Forest Service uses tools in the air to manage fire on the ground.


Planes and helicopters are critical tools in managing wildland fire. Although aircraft are often used to fight wildfires, aircraft alone cannot put them out. Firefighters rely on planes and helicopters to:

  • Deliver equipment and supplies.
  • Deploy smokejumpers and rappellers to a fire.
  • Transport firefighters.
  • Provide reconnaissance of new fires, fire locations, and fire behavior.
  • Drop fire retardant or water to slow down a fire so firefighters can contain it.
  • Ignite prescribed fires


Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (AFUE)

Helitanker making a retardant drop.

Aerial Firefighting Use and Effectiveness (AFUE) is a chartered study through the United States Forest Service (FS), Fire and Aviation Management. More on the study.

Unmanned Aircraft Systems

NASA’s Ikhana unmanned aircraft heads out on a wildfire imaging mission in California in 2007. Photo courtesy of NASA

The U.S. Forest Service is highly interested in new technologies and believes there is potential to use Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) to support a host of natural resource management activities, including forest health protection, wildfire suppression, research, recreational impacts, and law enforcement. More



Photo of three airplanes.  A large airtanker, Smokejumper airacraft, and an infrared aircraft

The Forest Service uses planes of all types and sizes—not just airtankers— to manage wildland fire.

Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS)

MAFFS provides support when additional airtankers are needed.


In the Spotlight:

Aviation Branch Chiefs:
  • Pilot Standardization
  • Aviation Operations
  • Airworthiness
  • Aviation Business Operations
  • Strategic Planner

Manual and Handbook References:

Of Interest:

Aviation Safety Management Systems
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