Tag Archives: Aerial refueling

At the Tip of the Spear: Midair Refueling F-35As and F-15Cs With the USAF 514th Air Mobility Wing.

We Flew a Refueling Mission with the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter and F-15C Eagle.

Four miles above the open Atlantic I’m sitting in the cockpit of a KC-10 tanker with a hundred tons of explosive jet fuel under me. We’re flying at about 400 MPH. We gingerly inch upward toward another 181-foot long tanker aircraft. That enormous aircraft is only 30-feet away now.

And the air is getting rough.

Lt. Col. Brian Huster of the 78th Air Refueling Squadron of the U.S. Air Force Reserve, sitting left seat, pilot in command, works the plane’s control yoke like an arm wrestler in a cowboy bar. It swings forward and back, left and right through alarmingly large arcs. Despite, or rather because of, his rather physical control inputs our giant tanker remains rock steady. He somehow anticipates every buffet from the turbulent air coming off the vortex of the plane in front of us, anticipating control inputs to keep our KC-10 motionless under the big tanker only feet above our heads in the 400 MPH slipstream four miles above the freezing ocean.

We inch closer to the other aircraft, it’s massive hulk filling our windscreen above our heads. The refueling boom passes several feet over us, just feet from our windscreen. There is a low “clunk” above my right ear. We make contact with the tanker above us and the ride becomes decidedly smoother. Lt. Col. Huster’s job becomes a good bit easier now.
I’ve just joined the small fraternity of people who have refueled in a jet aircraft in midair.

As our KC-10 buffets in turbulence beneath another tanker, USAF Lt. Col. Brian Huster flies our aircraft onto the refueling boom. (All photos: Tom
Demerly/TheAviationist.com)

I’m flying with the 514th Air Mobility Wing, U.S. Air Force Reserve, out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst on America’s east coast. The 514th AMW is one of two units in the U.S. Air Force flying the KC-10 Extender. In addition to performing the air refueling mission the versatile KC-10 can also carry substantial cargo payloads over 4,000 miles making this aircraft an important strategic asset. Not only can the KC-10 support tactical aircraft in the midair refueling role, it can also deploy with their support crews and mission critical gear around the world, providing a unique combined tanker and cargo capability for rapid response around the globe.

Only two USAF units operate the KC-10 Extender.

We’re back over the U.S. mainland now. I’ve moved from the cockpit of our giant KC-10 tanker all the way back to the refueling bay in the rear of the aircraft. By comparison to other aerial tankers the KC-10’s refueling bay is spacious and comfortable. Strapped into my own seat just right of the boom operator I have a panoramic view of the earth 22,000 feet below. Broken cumulus at 10,000 feet over the snow-patched green east coast farms of New Jersey slowly cascade beneath us.

In utter silence a ghostly grey F-35A Lightning II slips under us from the right side of the aircraft. It’s eerie how quiet it is. Like a real-world Darth Vader its pilot sits under a tinted canopy wearing his custom carbon fiber helmet that interacts with the F-35A’s many sensors and systems. And exactly like a character from Star Wars his helmet helps the F-35A pilot see and hear everything around him throughout angles and at distances that would be impossible for normal human senses. My first impression looking down on the joint strike fighter pilot 30-feet from us is that he is a real-world cyborg, a living part of an advanced next generation machine that shares information with other aircraft and weapons systems, monitors the entire battlespace with clairvoyant reach and awareness and reacts almost automatically. The pilot under that custom carbon fiber helmet is the brains of it all.

An F-35A Lightning II forms up off our right wing before taking on fuel.

I had read the stories about midair refueling. The drama of the 6,800-mile-long Black Buck mission by the RAF to attack the Falkland Islands after the Argentinean invasion in 1982. The desperate tanker missions over North Vietnam in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s to save pilots from ejecting and being imprisoned in the Hỏa Lò POW camp, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton”. In 2016 CNN’s Zack Cohen reported on a story that apparently still remains partially classified. An F-16 from an unspecified country could not access his onboard fuel during a 2015 combat mission over ISIS held territory. As was the tragic case of both a Jordanian and Russian combat pilot, going down over ISIS held territory is a death sentence for a combat pilot even if he does survive the ejection. The tanker crew flew with the malfunctioning F-16, refueling the aircraft every 15 minutes to keep it in the air until it reached safety. I also read USAF Lt. Col. Mark Hasara’s excellent book, “Tanker Pilot, Lessons from The Cockpit”. In the literature of aviation history, there are too many stories of heroism and daring by tanker crews to recount.

None of the books or history lessons or classes in the military prepared me for the real-life science fiction of what is unfolding in front of me now.

Two F-35A Lightning IIs rendezvous with our aircraft to take on fuel.

With unusual grace and almost slow-motion gentleness the F-35A tucks under us and smoothly levitates upward toward our refueling boom. As a practical courtesy, our boom operator sitting to my left scoots the refueling boom over the right side of our aircraft, away from the dark-tinted canopy of the F-35A as it inches forward. Two small doors cantilever open on the F-35A’s back. The refueling receptacle on the F-35A is behind the cockpit where the pilot has to observe it with some kind of a sensor, maybe in his helmet, maybe from training, maybe both- it likely remains part of the vast amount of classified information about the F-35A.

Our refueling boom connects with the F-35A in one smooth attempt. A whirring noise over my head tells me fuel is flowing from our tanks into the F-35A now. The pilot below us glances up at us through his canopy, and I get goosebumps. This is the manifestation of the most modern warfighting capability on earth. The combination of the F-35A and the KC-10 grant the U.S. Air Force the ability to strike anytime, in any conditions, with impunity and without detection.

An F-35A Lightning IIs approaches the refueling boom.

Just a few feet below us the F-35A Lightning II remains rock-steady on the tanker boom. High overcast gives way to broken cloud and a spectacular backdrop of the Atlantic opens up beneath us. The lighting changes for the better, and I am hammering away at the shutter release on my camera.

In the history and literature of midair refueling there are countless stories of how difficult and dangerous it can be, but this crew makes the task look quiet, relaxed and effortless. Of course, this is daytime and the weather is fine. At night, in a thunderstorm, over enemy territory while low on fuel and with battle damage, it is an entirely different affair.

Aerial refueling started on a regular basis after WWII using techniques developed largely by the RAF and later improved upon by the USAF. In 1949, a USAF B-50 Superfortress, an up-engined version of the B-29, completed a non-stop circumnavigation of the earth using aerial refueling. According to historical references, nearly every mission flown during the Gulf wars and the Global War on Terror included aerial refueling.

In January 2017, B-2 Spirit long-range bombers used a total of 15 aerial tankers, both KC-10s and KC-135s, to fly a non-stop 30-hour strike mission against ISIS targets in Libya. The strategic implications of aerial refueling have completely changed the reach of U.S. airpower, effectively putting every place on the globe within range of a relief mission, security flight or strike mission from a U.S. base somewhere in the world. It has also subverted diplomatic constraints on U.S. air operations, granting virtual impunity to the air assets of our nation in the global theater. When France, Spain and Italy prohibited overflight of U.S. F-111 strike aircraft during the 1986 Operation El Dorado Canyon, the U.S. air strike on Libya in retaliation for a terrorist bombing in West Berlin where U.S. servicemen died, the aircraft had to fly an additional 1,300 miles. They simply used aerial refueling to fly around those countries.

The fly-by-wire refueling boom on the KC-10 Extender.

Especially in recent conflicts where air power is critical, the message is clear: Aerial refueling is a powerful strategic and tactical force multiplier.

The two F-35As refuel quickly and smoothly, on and off our boom in eerie near-silence. They scoot to our right wing as a beautiful two-tone F-15C Eagle slides into place below our tanker. The contrast between the fifth-generation F-35A and the F-15C is immediately apparent. The F-15C Eagle is from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard. The Eagle joins us from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Massachusetts. She takes fuel through her left forward wing root. Sliding into place on the tanker boom is a different procedure than the F-35A. Our Eagle driver plugs into the tanker boom on the first attempt. Fuel begins to whir into his gas tanks from the refueling boom over our heads.

Our tanker spends almost three hours “tanking” F-35s and an F-15C as it enters a wide oval racetrack pattern over the eastern U.S. I can’t help but wonder what this looks like from the ground, or if anyone down there even notices the aerial ballet unfolding four miles above them.

An F-15C takes on fuel.

This is the jubilance of flight, the wide-open view of the refueling window, the close company of the exotic fighters. Nothing in aviation matches this experience. One of our boom operators, TSgt. Rob White, a veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, and “more” he doesn’t want printed, has 2000 hours in the boom seat of a tanker, 500 of them in combat. He has been tanking planes for over 7 years and has put gas on board every aircraft in the U.S. arsenal with aerial refueling capability and many allied aircraft as well. He tells me the most interesting aircraft he refueled was an Australian P-3 Orion maritime patrol plane.

Jan Mack of TheAviationist.com tapes an aircraft taking on fuel as our boom operator flies the refueling boom.

Well before I’d like to we’ve left the tanker track and are descending back toward Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst to land. We talk about the future of KC-10 Extender, destined for eventual replacement by the new, modernized Boeing KC-46 Pegasus tanker. But a report by Samantha Masunaga for the Los Angeles Times published on April 11, 2018 says the new KC-46 may not be ready for the Air Force as soon as originally expected.

Masunaga reports, “Delivery of the first KC-46 aircraft — last planned for August 2017 — is now expected to be more than a year late, and technical issues have cropped up during development and testing.”

The new KC-46 will use several advanced systems that include a boom operators’ station served by a video feed from the rear of the aircraft instead of the wide window only feet from the aircraft taking on fuel in the KC-10. There are advantages to the new system, and the KC-46 represents a leap forward for the USAF tanker fleet, especially over the aging KC-135 tankers that are even older than the KC-10. But I will miss the view out of the back of the KC-10. If you love aircraft and our Air Force as much as I do, that seat at the back of a KC-10 is the best view in the world.

The Aviationist wishes to thank the 514th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs Office and Lt. Col. Kimberly Lalley for their generous assistance in the preparation of this report.

We Encountered The B-2 Stealth Bomber At Night in Stormy Skies To Get These Crazy Cool Photos. Here’s How It Went.

Close Encounter With Two Ghostly B-2 Spirit Stealth Bombers At Night.

“It’s go time!” The crew announcement snaps me from my sleep. It’s near zero hundred and we fly in dark skies over western Missouri. The anticipation amps up on FORCE 26, a 305th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) KC-10 from Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ (JBMDL). I hurriedly gather my camera equipment and follow the crew to the refueling station.

FORCE 26 skims the top of a storm front, slipping in and out of clouds. The KC-10 rattles, thumps and bounces in the bone jarring turbulence. I struggle to get seated and configure my camera for a hopeful, if not mercilessly difficult shot. I can see nothing but heavy grey clouds below and deep black skies behind. Unseen, three thirsty Spirits are surely closing quickly.

To my right the boom operator, Senior Master Sergeant Carl Wise buckles in. Wise has 10 years on the boom but an eighteen-month hiatus requires his requalification. Tonight, is his check ride. To his right sits active instructor and assessor, Tech Sergeant Adam Sochia. Sochia watches closely as Wise moves through system checks. An audible alarm sounds and warning light flashes. Oh no, not possibly now… No additional drama required, but tonight we have it in spades.

Outwardly Wise and Sochia appear calm, proficient and thorough, but the tension in their voices is palpable. Radios crackle between Wise and the flight crew in the KC-10 cockpit. They too have noted the alarm, and together discuss appropriate action. Despite years of experience Wise is now tested by the system and the conditions. His decision making and skills evaluated during in-flight refueling with the USAF’s most prized asset – in turbulent air at visibility limits. Wise extends the boom and verifies complete movement and control. Check. Proceed.

Eyes outward, I am only peripherally aware of their challenges. I have my own. I frantically move through camera settings – looking for something, anything that will work in darkness beyond what I had imagined. Autofocus is out of the question, ISO settings through the roof, lens wide open, shutter speeds impossibly low…. I am out of time. BAT 71 draws near at constant speed, her strobes flashing and command module glowing. Is she beast, or some machine from the future? Whatever the case, these are her skies and she rises through the fog like a wraith to take …. our fuel.
Before she can connect we slip into the clouds. I discern her outline a mere 100 ft off the boom, some 150 ft away. Enshrouded in cloud she stops and holds position, as if to study her prey before moving in. We cut in and out of cloud catching glimpses of her dark and mysterious form. Wisps of cloud flash eerily over her wings like flowing grey hair. City lights reappear as the jagged robe of her trailing edge passes by. We bounce and rattle through the skies, while BAT 71 glides smoothly behind. This unearthly Spirit is at home in the dark and turbulent skies.

The Spirit comes… BAT 71 B-2 from the 509th BW (Whiteman AFB) incoming on FORCE 26, a KC-10 from the 305th AMW (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst). 0 Dark Thirty over southwest Missouri.

Sights like this may be common for boom operators, but leave a word defying imprint on me. Surreal, Supernatural, Magic – no word, no description is adequate. Yet make no mistake, in another place and at another time encountering three wraiths can only mean one thing – the impending doom of someone or something. The B-2 Spirit is both the ultimate global deterrent and Grim Reaper.

Bouncing through the clouds and turbulence just after midnight and BAT 71 a 509th BW B-2 Spirit (Whiteman AFB) holds just off the boom of FORCE 26, a KC-10 from the 305th AMW (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst).

Radios crackle, “Kansas City Center, FORCE 26, request climb to clear weather.” “FORCE 26, Kansas City Center cleared to climb and work airspace block 23 – to 28,000 ft.” “Climbing to work airspace block 23 – 28,000 ft. FORCE 26”

The KC-10 starts upward and BAT 71 follows as if suspended just off boom. Breaking free from the clouds we find smooth, clear air. Wise, now in control of the refueling operation clears BAT 71 to connect. The Spirit slides forward. Though close to her home at Whiteman AFB, MO the B-2 Spirit has been aloft for near four hours and requests thousands of pounds of fuel.

Small talk non-existent, gas and go with a B-2 is often done with no words exchanged. In the best conditions an air to air connect is no simple task. It is a choreography of dance between aircraft of all types and sizes – the two platforms briefly becoming one. The team on both sides of this boom are seasoned professionals and make this connect look as easy as walking up and shaking hands. BAT 71 is on the boom and I ponder her mystery.

Operated by the 509th Bomb Wing at Whiteman AFB the B-2 is the premier platform of the United States Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC). Invisible by night, the stealthy B-2 bomber can penetrate heavily defended airspace and deliver a punishing knock-out blow. Traveling around the globe from Whiteman AFB, the Spirit is well-known to fly missions of over 24 hours. Earlier this year the B-2 recorded a mission of over 30 hours requiring 15 aerial refuelings!

The 305th AMW and their force of KC-10 tankers at JBMDL enable the Global Reach of the USAF. On this mission we fly with crew from the 32nd Air Refueling Squadron (ARS) with the clear and accurate motto “Linking the Continents.” It is a simple fact, without units like the 305th AMW the Global Reach of the USAF would be severely diminished.

The importance and value of the mission is not lost on boom operators like Wise, who comments “a boom operators job offers instant satisfaction. Every time we refuel an aircraft we enable it to complete its mission, whether in training, combat, or humanitarian relief.” This job satisfaction explains why I find myself with 3 very experienced boom operators. All three are Instructors, including Master Sergeant Jessica Stockwell with 11 years’ experience. The three are passionate and have found tremendous rewards in service. Stockwell notes that it is an incredible team effort from the maintenance group to the entire crew on the aircraft. As it relates specifically to her role as in-flight refueler she says, “during preparation and flight the 2 pilots and flight engineer are responsible for everything that happens in the cockpit, the in-flight refueler is responsible for everything that happens outside the cockpit, air to air refueling, cargo, people and more. It is very rewarding to have that mission responsibility.”

BAT 71 B-2 Spirit from the 509th BW (Whiteman AFB) takes fuel from FORCE 26, a KC-10 from the 305th AMW (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst). 0 Dark Thirty over southwest Missouri.

Buffeted by turbulence BAT 71 drops briefly off the boom. As the turbulence subsides she slides back making another connect look effortless. This Spirit is not leaving without getting all her intended fuel. The entire encounter speaks of planning, precision and the utmost professionalism. Dropping off the boom a final time, BAT 71 disappears into the night. Under duress, SMSgt Wise passes his review and moves forward toward instructor requalification.

BAT 71 – 509th BW B-2 Spirit head on as seen from FORCE 26 – 305th AMW KC-10 just after midnight in the skies over southwest Missouri.

Sochia and Stockwell fuel BAT 72 & BAT 73. Time passes too quickly. Their thirst satisfied the bombers disappear into the dark skies to destination(s) unknown. This was a training mission. In the same fashion, the Spirits loaded with deadly ordnance could be destined to strike a target on the other side of the globe. As happens, cable news quick to broadcast pictures of the impact of their undetected visit.

B-2 Spirits are each identified with a unique U.S. State, such as “The Spirit of Missouri.” I always considered the name “Spirit” in such context. Zero Hundred, October 3 has forever changed my perspective. “Spirit” as perhaps was always intended, is; “one emerging from the clouds, lights glowing, hair flowing, mysterious, ghostly – and most certainly, deadly.”

BAT 72 B-2 Spirit from the 509th BW (Whiteman AFB) takes fuel from FORCE 26, a KC-10 from the 305th AMW (Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst). 0 Dark Thirty over southwest Missouri.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to the 305th AMW, the 32nd ARS, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Public Affairs Team Shaun Eagan, SrA Lauren Russell, A1C Zachary Martyn, the exceptional team of in-flight refuelers and entire flight crew of FORCE 26! All professionals through and through in the finest sense.

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This Photo Shows The Damage Caused By A Tanker’s Refueling Boom To The Nose Of An A-10 “Warthog” Aircraft

No, that’s not a bullet hole.

Taken at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, by U.S. Air Force’s Staff Sgt. Ryan Callaghan, this photo features the A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft 81-0995 from the 75th Fighter Squadron taxiing down the runway prior to take off on Apr. 28, 2017, during Exercise Combat Hammer, an air-to-ground exercise hosted at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, designed to collect and analyze data on the performance of precision weapons and measure their suitability for use in combat.

The image is particularly interesting as it shows what looks like a large hole in the nose of the Warthog (as the A-10 is nicknamed in the pilots community). However, that is not a bullet hole but the damage caused by a tanker’s boom during AAR (Air to Air Refueling) operations.

Most of the A-10s have their noses more or less damaged by the flying boom that is inserted by the tanker’s “boomer” into the Warthog’s receptacle, in the nose of the aircraft in front of the cockpit. Usually, such dents don’t affect the aircraft’s ability to fly hence they are left there until the next major maintenance work.

By the way, a Moody pilot confirmed us that the one in the photo is a nose significantly damaged by a KC-135’s boom.

Click below for the full resolution version of the photo.

81-0995 is a 1981 A-10C Thunderbolt II C/N A10-0690 assigned to the 75th FS “Tiger Sharks”

 

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Marine MV-22 Osprey Tilt-Rotor Aircraft Complete First Pacific Crossing

Four U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys Have Crossed the Pacific for the First Time.

A flight of four U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft has completed a historic first ever long-range flight across the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Royal Australian Air Force Base Darwin. The aircraft stopped on Guam and Wake Island during the multi-day long-range training deployment and were supported by Marine Corps KC-130 tanker aircraft. Total distance for the multi-flight deployment was approximately 6,000 miles.

The four aircraft were part of Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268, or VMM-268 the “Red Dragons” based at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and operate under the command of Marine Aircraft Group 24 (MAG-24) and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing (1st MAW). Their ability to deploy over extended ranges proves additional capability for the unit throughout the Pacific theater.

The Ospreys will be joined by five AH-1W Super Cobra gunships and four UH-1Y Venom tactical transport helicopters also from Hawaii’s Kaneohe Bay. The aircraft are participating in a 6-month long Marine Rotational Force-Darwin training operation to build commonality between U.S. Marine and Australian operations and familiarize Marine assets with the operational area.

The Red Dragons, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 268, reached full operational capability this past January and are scheduled to receive another twelve MV-22 Osprey tiltrotors in 2018.

The Marine Corps version of the Osprey, the MV-22, has an unrefueled range of 990 miles and cruises at 322 MPH. This fast, long-range reach, complemented by large capacity of 24 combat troops and a flight crew of 3, gives the Osprey capabilities unmatched by previous legacy vertical takeoff utility aircraft like the Marine CH-46 Sea Knight and CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters.

This is not the first long-range deployment of Marine MV-22s. In 2013 a pair of MV-22 Ospreys completed a complex multi-stage deployment over the Pacific with stops at Clark AFB in the Philippines originating from Okinawa, Japan. The flight transited Darwin and continued to Townsville, Australia, for a total distance of more than 4,000 miles.

An even longer MV-22 deployment took place in 2015 when three MV-22’s flew over 6,000 miles from California to Brazil with crew breaks at various locations en route.

MV-22 pilot, Capt. Manuel Torres, USMC, told media, “It’s definitely exciting to be part of the history of this deployment.”

“Long hauls are definitely what the aircraft was designed for. This is going to prove the range and distance and speed of the Osprey and really shape the global reach we’re looking for in the Pacific region,” said Marine Corps MV-22 pilot, Capt. Aaron Brugman.

One of Four MV-22 Ospreys from Marine Tiltrotor Squadron 268 arrive in Australia. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Damion Hatch).

The primarily carbon-fiber composite MV-22 does have a very advanced fly-by-wire flight control system that incorporates an advanced autopilot to reduce crew workload during long flights. The autopilot is actually capable of transitioning the aircraft from level forward flight into a hover when programmed to do so. No doubt the advanced control features and avionics, along with the high-speed and long-range, contributed to the success of these long-range deployments.

 

Watch this Impressive Video of Midair Refueling With a Three-Ton Sling Load in a Marine CH-53E helicopter

One of the most difficult aviation evolutions made more difficult: incredible aerial refueling footage showing the extended refueling probe of the CH-53E move significantly from vibration and the boundary layer passing over it at speed…

Pilots will tell you midair refueling is a challenge. Add midair refueling a rotary wing aircraft like this U.S. Marine CH-53E Super Stallion carrying a 5,200-pound sling loaded HUMVEE vehicle while using a flexible drogue system and you have a very difficult refueling exercise.

This video shows a CH-53E from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 464, the “Condors” of Marine Corps Air Station New River in North Carolina operating as part of Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 29. The helicopter is taking on fuel from a U.S. Marine KC-130J from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 234 on Feb. 23, 2017.

Midair refueling with a large vehicle sling load could be a necessity for small U.S. Marine teams conducting special operations in a denied environment. This is especially important for the Marine’s own reconnaissance units, who provide tactical and strategic level intelligence in support of larger Marine operations as seen in the Gulf wars. Additionally, this type of unusual aviation operation would support the newest Marine Corps special operations asset, the Marine Special Operations Command or “MARSOC”.

Finally, a more mundane application of this type of midair refueling may simply be recovering a vehicle that broke down in normal operations.

Regardless of the reason for an operation like this, it is a difficult bit of flying. The KC-130J Hercules, assigned to Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR) 234, has a published stall speed of 100 knots (115 MPH, 185 KPH) while the top speed of the MH-53 helicopter is about 170 MPH without the sling load, and probably almost 30-40 MPH slower with the added drag of the big HUMMV hanging below the aircraft. This gives the two flight crews only about 25-40 MPH of airspeed variance between the aircraft in this configuration to work with. Add some unfavorable winds and this can be a difficult bit of flying.

When you watch the above video carefully you see a number of the risks inherent to midair refueling helicopters. Watch both the refueling basket or “drogue” oscillate in the boundary layer of air at speed and the extended refueling probe of the CH-53E also move significantly from vibration and the boundary layer passing over it at speed. In the instant prior to contact you may notice a bright spark of static electricity discharged into the refueling drogue. The charge is created by the rotation of the rotors. Finally, when the refueling drogue disconnects from the probe on the helicopter a significant mist of vaporized fuel is released. The entire inside of the MH-53E helicopter may smell like aviation fuel after the release of the drogue, making flight crews particularly concerned about any sparks igniting remaining fuel vapor.

This video certainly isn’t the first time this technique has been practiced, and Marine aviators will tell you it isn’t an unusual capability for them, just part of their mission set. Here are some even more remarkable photos taken over a year before this video of a Marine CH-53E with multiple sling-loaded vehicles, an extremely unusual mission requirement.

These photos and video support the Marine claims that they are among the very best and most versatile rotary wing, and fixed wing, aircrews in any air force in the world.