The C-130 Hercules has predominantly made its living through the years supporting fire fights. What may not be as well known is the C-130′s ability to also fight fires. This is made possible through the use of a system called the Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System, or MAFFS.The Air Force has a contingent of C-130 Hercules cargo planes designated to help in fighting forest fires across the country. These eight C-130′s provide support by carrying the MAFFS, which are actually owned by the U.S. Forest Service. This unique arrangement between the Forest Service and the DoD was established to provide a last line of defense should the Forest Service’s resources become exhausted.
MAFFS development came as a result of the 1970 Laguna Fire in which existing resources were overwhelmed. The prototype systems was designed and built by Engineered Systems Division of FMC Corporation with Aero Union building the operational units. The MAFFS was built to be able to be used in a C-130 without requiring any physical modifications to the plane itself. This system was comprised of five tanks holding a total of 2,700 gallons of water or fire retardant, as well as a pressure tank used to pressurize the water tanks. Two nozzles protrude out of the rear cargo door laying down a swath of retardant 60 feet wide and a quarter mile long when released from an altitude of 150 feet within 5 seconds.
In 2007 MAFFS II was delivered by Aero Union to provide modifications at the request of the Forest Service. MAFFS II has only a single tank versus the 5 modules of the previous version, which allowed the capacity to be brought up to 3,400 gallons. A compressor was added as well which allowed the tank to be pressurized in flight where the original system required its tank to be pressurized on the ground; this helped in reducing the amount of time the plane needed to spend on the ground. Additionally, the system relocates the nozzles to use the side doors typically where paratroopers would jump out from. This enables the rear cargo ramp to remain closed which improves the planes handling thanks to the reduced drag resulting from this configuration.
The 8 MAFFS respond within 24 hours of notification and are typically requested out of the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) located in Boise, Idaho. The planes are deployed once the Pentagon concurs with the request. For the MAFFS assigned to National Guard units, the state’s governor can activate the system to respond to fires within the state’s borders. On 4 September, 2012, 2 planes from the 153rd Airlift Wing, a part of the Wyoming Air National Guard, were deactivated by the NIFC after a near record level of activity this year. Two systems remain active in Boise with an additional two active operating out of McCellan AFB, Sacramento, CA.