Wild fires are raging in Colorado, in case you didn’t know. One of the tools that has been called into action to help contain these fires are US Air Force Reserve C-130s equipped with the Modular Airborne FireFighting System.
The MAFFS program was started in 1970 after the 1970 Laguna Fire exposed the inadequacy of the nation’s airborne firefighting resources. FMC Corporation was contracted to assist the US Forestry Service, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserves in the development and testing of a modular system that could convert a Lockheed C-130 into a tanker aircraft.
The system that was developed includes 5 pressurized tanks that can hold a total of 10,000 L and all the associated systems. Included in the associated systems is a 1200 psi compressed air tank used to blow the retardant out of the tanks when activated. The on-board systems are palletized and designed to go onto any C-130E or -H equipped with the USAF 463L cargo handling system. Ground equipment includes an air compressor to recharge the air tank while the fire retardant tanks are being refilled. It takes 8 minutes to refill.
When discharged over a fire, the MAFFS forces the retardant out through two tubes routed out the aft cargo door. It takes 5 seconds to discharge, creating a fire barrier that is a quarter mile long by 60 feet wide.
In 2007, a new generation called MAFFS-II was delivered to the USFS by Aero Union, who built all production MAFFS units. This upgraded system has a 13,000 L capacity in one large tank, and the air compressor is on-board the aircraft, reducing the time to reload. A special plug that goes in the paratroop drop door on the side of the cargo bay is used rather than the tubes exiting the cargo bay. This allows the aircraft to remain pressurized during operations.
When you’re watching coverage of these and other fires, and you see the venerable C-130 dropping the reddish-orange fire retardant you can turn to your wife/husband/best friend/drinking buddy/random stranger and tell them all about the MAFFS and impress them. Or something.
[Image Credit: Reuters, Public Domain]