Multiple Aerial Refuelings From KC-130J Tankers Keep HH-101A “Caesar” Helicopters In Flight For +6 Hours

A KC-130J refuels an HH-101A during the record mission that saw the helicopter remain aloft for +6 hours. (Image credit: ItAF)

Record flight for the Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force) that showcases a new capability.

KC-130J tankers from the 46^ Brigata Aerea (Air Brigade), based at Pisa airport, and HH-101A helicopters of the 15° Stormo (Wing) from Cervia Air Base, have recently carried out a complex night mission that saw the helicopters flying for 6 hours: a real record for the Italian Air Force.

The Italian Air Force is one of the few air arms in the world to be able to carry out autonomous HAAR (Helicopter Air-to-Air Refueling) to extend the endurance and range of its special operations chopper.

The record mission involved three plugs of the HH-101A removable IFR (In Flight Refueling) probe into the KC-130J hose.

A KC-130J refuels an HH-101A. (Image credit: ItAF)

The HH-101 “Caesar” is a military variant of the civilian AW.101. They ItAF use it to perform a wide variety of tasks, including CSAR, Personnel Recovery, medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) as well as Slow Mover Intercept (SMI).

The HH-101A is able to accommodate up to five crew members plus twenty fully equipped troops or six crew members plus 8 troops for special operations, ensuring maximum mission flexibility.

It features three M134 7.62 mm pintle mounted Gatling-type machine guns installed on right and left sides and on the rear ramp provided by Finmeccanica Defence Systems Division, armoured cockpit seats, ballistic protection for machine gun operators as well as for critical systems and an Integrated Electronic Warfare System.

The chopper is also equipped with some cutting-edge avionics, sensors and self-protection systems including radios, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), crypto, Link 16, intercommunications system, Gabbiano radar system, Laser Warning Receiver (LWR) and a Missile Launch Detection System (MILDS).

The Italian Air Force has ordered 12 HH-101As with an option for 3 more examples. The first one was delivered in 2015 and the type was declared operational in 2016.

On Jan. 29, 2020, the 23° Gruppo took delivery of the first HH-101A in overall grey livery, MM81873/15-12, that replaces the Black Helo Drab used on all the previous “Caesar” already in service with the Italian Air Force: a dark color that was replaced with a lighter one in order to prevent cabin and cockpit overheating especially during daylight missions in the summer season.

The first grey HH-101A of the 23° Gruppo/15° Stormo at Cervia Air Base, Italy. (Image: ItAF)

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.