Colorado-Based Reserve Airmen Combat California Wild Fires
By Navy Seaman William Selby
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 14, 2008 It’s not always easy for members of the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., to remember they’re an Air Force Reserve unit.
“We really feel like an active-duty unit, because we’re constantly busy,” Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Jeff Flight, the unit’s chief loadmaster, told online journalists and bloggers in a July 10 teleconference. “But this is our choice and we really enjoy what we do.”
The 302nd, which combats land fires using aerial delivery, has helped to fight the wild fires in Southern California.
“One of our specialized missions is the modular airborne fire fighting system, or MAFFS, which more or less supplements the commercial air tankers in combating the wild land fires with safe aerial delivery of the fire retardant,” Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald Wilt, 302nd Operations Group commander, said. The 302nd Airlift Winghas one of only eight C-130s that can perform this specialized mission, Flight said.
MAFFS is a self–contained, reusable 3,000 gallon system that stores and disperses fire retardant. “[The retardant] comes out and lays down, at first, in a bright red, basically to identify where it has been,” Wilt explained. The color fades away after about five days, he added, and then the retardant acts as a fertilizer and promotes growth in the area.
At 28,000-pound load of retardant can be released in about eight seconds, Wilt said.
“When the retardant leaves the aircraft itself, the engineering design is such that it tries to maintain a center of gravity,” he said. Each of five tanks holds 500 gallons of retardant, with the other 500 gallons in the tubes, he added.
The timing between touchdown and takeoff with a new load of retardant is very important when combating the fire, Wilt said.
“I’ve had as little as 11 minutes between touchdown and takeoff,” he said, “but it’s [usually] probably 20 to 25 minutes to get back in the battle with the fire.”
Though the mission means working long days in temperatures of 100 degrees or more, Flight said, the airmen are happy to do it. “We really enjoy being together and working this mission, because it’s our most rewarding mission,” he said.
(Navy Seaman William Selby works for New Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)