The U.S. Forest Service contracts with private companies to provide airtankers to drop fire retardant as part of wildfire suppression efforts. But during periods of high wildfire activity, often there aren’t enough contracted airtankers to meet demands. That’s where Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems (MAFFS) come in.
MAFFS are portable fire retardant delivery systems that can be inserted into military C-130 aircraft without major structural modifications to convert them into airtankers when needed.
The MAFFS program, created by Congress in the early 1970s, is a joint effort between the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Defense (DoD). The U.S. Forest Service owns the MAFFS equipment and supplies the fire retardant, while the DoD provides the C-130 H and J model aircraft, flight crews, and maintenance and support personnel to fly the missions.
There are a total of 8 MAFFS ready for operational use. The C-130s to fly MAFFS missions are provided by:
146th Airlift Wing, California Air National Guard, Port Hueneme
MAFFS are important because they provide a “surge” capability that can be used to boost wildfire suppression efforts when contracted airtankers are fully committed or not readily available. They can discharge their entire load of up to 3,000 gallons of fire retardant in less than five seconds, covering an area one-quarter of a mile long by 100 feet wide, or make variable drops. Once the load is discharged, it can be refilled in less than 12 minutes.
MAFFS Retardant Drop (Videographer David Kosling, U.S. Department of Agriculture)