The flightline hustle and bustle -- the constant drone of C-130 engines and coordinated ramp movements after more than 40 Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System training sorties -- has come to an end. It would seem this day of training is over. But for the aircraft maintainers, in a way, their day has just begun.
“We are the first to get here, and the last to leave,” said Tech. Sgt. Vic Bejarano, 302nd Maintenance Group and one of the dozens of maintenance personnel supporting this year’s MAFFS certification training event in Boise, Idaho.
The U.S. Forest Service-hosted MAFFS certification/re-certification is conducted annually and emphasizes both ground and air safety. This year’s training event is a joint event for U.S. Forest Service personnel and all four military wings supporting the MAFFS mission.
“We open the aircraft and get them ready for the flight engineer’s pre-flight,” said Bejarano, the MAFFS 5 crew chief who has supported the 302nd Airlift Wing’s MAFFS mission since 2004.
“It takes a collaboration of everyone on the team,” added Bejarano as he observed the 302nd AW’s MAFFS 5 taxiing off the Gowen Field ramp for its fourth training sortie during MAFFS flight operations, April 21, 2017.
Representing three different Air National Guard wings and one Air Force Reserve wing from four different locations, the MAFFS supporting wings’ maintainers agree the operations tempo and camaraderie of the MAFFS mission creates a strong bond amongst them. The DOD MAFFS mission is supported by the 152nd Airlift Wing, Nevada Air National Guard; 153rd AW, Wyoming ANG; 146th AW, California ANG; and the 302nd Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
“MAFFS is a completely different pace,” said Senior Airman Jay Davidson, an aircraft electrician assigned to Wyoming ANG’s 153rd Airlift Wing who is in his ninth year of supporting the MAFFS mission.
“Everyone is lending a hand, everyone pitches in and will do as much as possible to get ‘em back in the fight,” Davidson added.
For Tech. Sgt. Joseph Marion, an avionics communications/navigation journeyman with the 153rd AW, the teamwork involved in MAFFS is a highlight of this special C-130 mission. “If someone has a problem everyone collaborates. It’s a real feeling of unity,” he said.
“There is so much energy in MAFFS, with many working together to complete the mission,” said Bejarano.
“Our work begins after the flying period. We begin the post-flight inspections. We go through [the aircraft] more in-depth, opening panels, checking engines, checking tire pressure and fluid levels. We are looking – making visual inspections,” said Bejarano as he awaited the return of MAFFS 5 in the early evening hours after its last training sortie of the day.
Throughout the flying period both the crew chiefs and aircraft maintainers are in constant communication with the aircrews before and after each sortie.
“Communication is extremely important; to make sure everything is smooth. We want [the aircrews] to concentrate on the mission and not anything else,” said Bejarano.
Pride in the MAFFS mission seems to fuel the aircraft maintainers’ energy and enthusiasm throughout the long, quick-paced days associated with the MAFFS mission. “Of all the C-130 units, there are only a few of us in MAFFS,” said Marion. “It’s special.”
Editor’s note: In the 1970s, Congress established the MAFFS program to aid the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. Typically, when all other civilian air tankers are activated but further assistance is needed, the U.S. Forest Service through the National Interagency Fire Center can request the support of the U.S. Air Force’s MAFFS flying wings to support wildland fire suppression efforts. MAFFS units are portable tank systems owned by the U.S. Forest Service and are loaded onto the U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft when MAFFS is activated.