The 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base showcased its firefighting capabilities Friday before the unit heads west to train for its 25th summer battling wildfires.
The wing will head to Sacramento, Calif., for a weeklong training exercise hosted by the U.S. Forest Service – the federal agency overseeing its mission.
It’s C-130s can drop 3,000 gallons – or 27,000 pounds – of fire retardant in under eight seconds. The retardant is used to box in a fire, containing it so that ground crews can put out the flames.
The C-130s are deployed by the Forest Service, which can mean they are not always available to fight local fires, although the 302nd was used during the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires.
Once a blaze becomes dangerous enough, the incident commander will request capabilities provided by the 302nd and other similar units.
“We are supposed to give 48 hours,” said Dave Condit, Forest Service deputy forest and grasslands supervisor for the region. “But sometimes they have gotten out and to the fire quicker.”
During that 48-hour window, Reserve airmen must leave behind civilian lives and scramble to prepare the planes and thousands of pounds of retardant necessary to battle any blaze.
Once airmen have loaded the large holding tanks and prepped the aircraft, the four-engined, 100-foot-long planes fly over the flames at 200 feet and at just above stall speed – about 120 mph.
Retardant released from the plane forms a fire line that’s 20 yards wide and up to a quarter-mile long.
Airmen say it is one of the military’s most challenging and rewarding jobs.
It’s also a job that has kept airmen coming back to the 302nd. Most of the pilots and crew members involved in battling fires for the wing have been doing it for a decade or more.
“It is especially satisfying,” said Maj. Kate Schifani, the maintenance officer in charge of keeping the planes operational. “We get to help our fellow citizens, and it is another way for folks to serve their country.”