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Sen. Rosen requests ‘Super Hercules’ aircraft for Reno-based Air Guard

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U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) today requested Reno’s Nevada Air National Guard be one of a handful of Air Force and National Guard bases to receive C-130J aircraft from the federal government. 

Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) signed on to a letter with Rosen to request the aircraft from the Secretary of the Air Force and Director of the Air National Guard. 

Nevada’s Air National Guard 152nd Airlift Wing, nicknamed the High Rollers, uses its C-130s for various activities, including to fight wildland fires. The High Rollers are one of four military C-130 units around the nation equipped with MAFFS for large-scale wildland firefighting. 

MAFFS is shorthand for the USDA Forest Service’s Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System. The equipment is loaded into the cargo compartment of a C-130 aircraft and can drop up to 3,000 gallons of water or fire retardant in six seconds through a nozzle on the rear left side of the plane.

During a busy fire season, crews in the 152nd Airlift Wing can fly hundreds of firefighting missions monthly and drop several million pounds of retardant on fires. 

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U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)

“The decision to upgrade the Nevada Air National Guard’s C-130H fleet with C-130Js would have a substantial impact on their readiness and firefighting capabilities in Nevada, California and throughout the western United States, a vast region plagued by devastating wildland fires,” the senators wrote. “The [Nevada Air National Guard’s] 152nd Airlift Wing [in Reno] flies its legacy C-130s in some of the hottest temperatures, highest elevations, and in the most challenging mountainous environments of any C-130 unit.” 

The C-130J “Super Hercules” is the newest of Lockheed Martin’s four-engine turboprop military transport planes. The model was introduced in 1999 as an overhaul of the C-130H “Hercules” — an older model introduced in 1956, which the Nevada Air National Guard currently flies — with new engines and other upgrades like digital avionics.

Securing the aircraft has been a multi-year effort for Rosen. In 2022, she introduced the Modernizing Aerial Fire Fighting Support (MAFFS) for the National Guard Act. The bipartisan bill would have improved Reno’s chances of receiving C-130Js by requiring the U.S. Air Force to include the MAFFS mission in the selection criteria for aircraft placement.

That bill didn’t pass through Congress, but Sen. Rosen said she continues to press Air Force officials to take MAFFS capabilities into account for C-130J allocation. 

The High Rollers were activated during the 2020 fire season to help with fire suppression efforts in the West, resulting in their most extensive firefighting activation—from July 29 through Oct. 3. They were activated again for the 2021 fire season.  

Last year, the unit doubled the number of aircraft commanders certified on MAFFS, anticipating lengthier firefighting deployments and busier wildfire seasons. 

Major General Ondra Berry, Nevada Adjutant General, said the Nevada National Guard has for years worked to upgrade its aging fleet of C-130s. 

“The Nevada Air National Guard was named as the newest MAFFS unit in 2016, flying low and slow over treacherous terrain and dangerous wildland fires,” Berry said. “If any unit is in need of the most capable airframes, it’s the Nevada Air National Guard, with its C-130 unit centrally located in Reno near the majority of these conflagrations that have increasingly plagued western states in recent years.”

The four senators who penned the C-130J request letter sent today agreed. 

“As devastating wildland fires become more common occurrences in Nevada, California and the western United States, it is critical to have increased capabilities for these firefighting missions,” the senators wrote. “In light of this, we believe basing determinations should be made based on location and the missions served in particular regions of the country. Ensuring that the Air National Guard is ready to assist and respond to these emergencies should be a priority as you consider where to base more capable aircraft.”

The use of military assets in firefighting—limited to those units with MAFFS—has been in place since 1974. The units provide surge capacity and are called into service once private, contracted air tanker resources are exhausted and additional support is necessary.

Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth
Kristen Hackbarth is a freelance editor and communications professional with more than 20 years’ experience working in marketing, public relations and communications in northern Nevada. Kristen graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a degree in photography and minor in journalism and has a Master of Science in Management and Leadership. She also serves as director of communications for Nevada Cancer Coalition, a statewide nonprofit. Though she now lives in Atlanta, she is a Nevadan for life and uses her three-hour time advantage to get a jump on the morning’s news.

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