The MAFFS retarding system will be available for the C-27J

Artist’s conception of a C-27J, equipped with a MAFFS, fall retarder.

Leonardo arranged for a roll-on, roll-off retarder delivery system to be installed as required in its twin-engine C-27J aircraft.

It will be manufactured by MAFFS corp/United Aeronautical, the company that now owns the intellectual property for both generations of the 3,000-gallon mobile airborne firefighting systems (MAFFS and MAFFS II) that can be slipped into a C-130. The company also owns the intellectual property for the second-generation retardant air delivery system, RADS2, a gravity-assisted, constant-flow retardant tank system that has been used successfully in the P-3, C-130 and d other air tankers.

The new scaled-down version of the MAFFS will have a tank capacity of 2,000 US gallons (7,520 liters) and will have a selectable ground coverage level of 1 to 8 gallons per 100 square feet. The retarder is expelled from the tank by compressed air. Like the MAFFS II, it will have an emergency drop capability, or it can dump the entire load to cover level 8 in two seconds. The 2,000 gallons can be released in one or a series of two drops. Similar to the previous MAFFS, the retarder will exit the aircraft through the left paratrooper’s “stubby” door and will have a foam concentrate tank that can be used to improve plain water firefighting effectiveness if the self-timer is not available. No major structural modification is required for the cell.

Leonardo says that with roll-on, roll-off capability, four workers can install it on a C-27J in 90 minutes using the rear loading ramp.

The MAFFS II has two compressed air tanks, one on each side of the 3,000 gallon retarder tank, which forces the retarder out of the tank. A drawing of the new 2,000 gallon version shows what appears to be a single compressed air tank, on the left side.

The MAFFS II has two air compressors which are sometimes in working order and which can be used to fill the air tanks. But most of the time the air tanks are filled on the ground from a very large air compressor while the aircraft is refilled with retardant.

The new scaled down MAFFS, we’ll call it a Mini-MAFFS for now, will not have a permanently installed air compressor. Leonardo’s Ignazio Castrogiovanni told Fire Aviation that specially configured ground support equipment (GSE) will travel with the plane to be unloaded at the airport where the plane will return to reload with retarder or water. The GSE’s air compressor will fill an air tank on the GSE with compressed air. When the aircraft returns to be refueled, this air is transferred to the MAFFS air tank, a faster process than filling an empty tank with air directly from an air compressor.

Rome-based Leonardo says the C-27J has a maximum cruise speed of 374 mph and a maximum service ceiling of 30,000 feet. It is powered by two Rolls-Royce AE 2100-D2A engines.

The Forest Service commissioned a study of how the C-27J might be used by the agency if the Air Force gave them seven as they expected. The $54,000 study was kept secret until publication in mid-2013; Fire Aviation covered it in July of this year.

Here is some of what we wrote at the time:

The report concluded that the C-27J could carry 1,850 gallons of retardant if 3,200 pounds of unnecessary equipment were removed, including cockpit armor (about 1,100 pounds), miscellaneous mission equipment such as stanchions , lashing chains, ladders, etc. (approximately 1000 lbs) and the cargo loading system (approximately 1200 lbs).

If a mini-MAFFS skid retarder system were designed for the C-27J cargo space, which is smaller than a C-130, it would hold approximately 1,100 gallons if the same excess equipment was removed. A MAFFS2 has a maximum capacity of 3,000 gallons, but often carries less depending on density altitude and fuel load. The mini-MAFFS would not have an air compressor, which would force the aircraft to rely on pre-positioned air compressors at tanker bases. The USFS has six mobile air compressor systems that were built to support the original MAFFS, but the latest generation, MAFFS2, has an on-board air compressor.

[With the retardant system removed] smokejumpers could exit the C-27J through the two side doors or the rear ramp. Depending on the configuration of the aircraft, it could carry between 24 and 46 jumpers. [If used to transport firefighters] according to the report, the aircraft configuration can be modified and fitted with standard outboard and center seats to accommodate 68 passengers with limited personal equipment plus 2 loadmasters.

The aircraft could carry between 12,222 and 25,353 pounds of cargo.

We asked Mr. Castrogiovanni how their C-27J firefighter is able to carry 2,000 gallons in a MAFFS-like system when the Forest Service study indicated it could only carry about 1,100 gallons. He explained that there were several differences between the US Air Force C-27J of ten years ago and the version produced now called C-27J Next Generation:

  • The Next Gen has significant changes in terms of avionics, aerodynamics and structure. In addition, the basic configuration of the aircraft “does not include the peculiarities of the USAF version, which implies weight savings and an increase in payload”. Some of the new avionics are lighter.
  • New winglets reduced drag while improving the aircraft’s overall performance.
  • The structural modifications increased the aircraft’s zero-fuel mass and consequently its payload.

The U.S. Forest Service researched multipurpose C-27Js

In 2012, a move for the US Forest Service to acquire C-27Js as general-purpose aircraft began to catch fire. Three U.S. senators have introduced a bill that would transfer 14 surplus Air Force C-27J Spartan planes to the U.S. Forest Service for use as air tankers and other purposes. Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) introduced a bill known as Forest Fire Suppression Aircraft Transfer Act 2012 (S. 3441) “to help replenish the agency’s aging fleet of air tankers”.

The idea was “to modernize the air tanker fleet,” said Senator McCain. “We have the opportunity to take the C-27J, an aircraft the Pentagon no longer wants, and give it to the Forest Service to improve aircraft safety and reduce existing maintenance costs. The C-27J should be kept in service to the American people to aid our brave fire crews, rather than sitting in an aircraft graveyard.

The bill died, but the concept lasted a while.

C-27Js in Mansfield, Ohio, Feb. 13, 2013. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Joseph Harwood

In late 2013, the Air Force began to retire its C-27Js and move them to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base Aircraft Graveyard in Arizona.

On November 4, 2013, the U.S. Forest Service awarded an aeronautical engineering support services contract to Aeronautica. It required the contractor to have engineering experience with the G222, C27A, or C27J. It was also necessary for the contractor to have a designated technical representative on staff who was fluent in Italian. Obviously, the FS was certain that it would get a fleet of C-27J planes from the Air Force.

That same month, Senator McCain, after a seismic shift in his plan to send the C-27Js to the Forest Service, wrote in the National Defense Authorization Act for 2014, that instead:

  • The Coast Guard would get the C-27Js.
  • Seven ex-Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft will be converted to tanker aircraft by the Air Force and then transferred to the Forest Service. (After several years, the FS lost interest in the HC-130H, leading Congress to pass another law to instead give the aircraft to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Suppression. They MAY start seeing actual fire service in 2023, unless there are even more delays.)
  • The Forest Service would also obtain up to 15 Short C-23B+ Sherpa aircraft for use in fire management. Some of them are now used by smokers.

The National Defense Authorization Act 2014 was passed in December 2013.

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