By Air Force Staff Sgt. Jill Jamgochian
Special to American Forces Press Service
July 11, 2008 - The 146th Airlift Wing at this station in Port Hueneme isn't equipped to drop fire retardant, but the California Air National Guard unit has found another mission that will keep them involved in the effort to battle wildfires. The wing has performed fire retardant reload operations for C-130H aircraft equipped with modular airborne firefighting systems, or MAFFS, for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection since July 5.
"The additional reloading station allows the entire state of California to be more readily protected," said Air Force Maj. Bryan Allen, the wing's command post chief. "It allows at least twice as much retardant to be dropped in nearly half the time each day."
The 146th reload operation, which has two reloading pits, is an additional location to the primary operation at McClellan Air Park, about 400 miles north of Port Hueneme.
"The aircraft take off out of McClellan for their first launch, drop their first load, and fly here to reload retardant and refuel," said Air Force Lt. Col. Greg Ervin, the 146th Airlift Wing mission commander for reload operations. "The aircraft are dropping retardant down here on the Gap and Piute fires."
The 146th has eight new C-130 "J" models, which are currently unable to support the current MAFFS 1 system, Allen said. The "J" models are 15 feet longer than the older "H" models, so MAFFS 1 does not fit into the new aircraft.
"Even though we're not dropping retardant, the 146th is providing support by transporting portable reloading facilities, maintenance equipment and personnel," Allen said. "Any time the other MAFFS wings are unable to transport equipment, we'll support their efforts with our C-130Js."
The 146th also has logistical support personnel at McClellan Air Park and support staff at the Air Expeditionary Group in Boise, Idaho, assisting with ground operations, intelligence and command support, Allen said.
The wing's J-model C-130s are awaiting the MAFFS 2, an updated version of the 30-year-old MAFFS 1, which boasts a fully self-contained system that employs an on-board compressor system replacing the ground support equipment requirements of the original MAFFS. A self-contained compressor eliminates the necessity of ground support compressors.
"This wing has been at the forefront of the MAFFS mission since its inception, and to continue in this support role is vital to serving the state in this time of need," Air Force Lt. Col. Marilyn Rios, 146th Airlift Wing vice commander. "The final stages of certifying MAFFS 2 are imminent, and we hope to be able to utilize this state-of-the-art equipment in conjunction with the technology of the new C-130 J-model aircraft as soon as possible."
The current MAFFS mission for the California wildfires is near a historical 1 million gallons of retardant dropped since the four MAFFS units from the Air Guard and Air Force Reserve were activated in late June.
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Jill Jamgochian serves with the California National Guard.)