Tag Archives: Aerial refueling

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.

Salva

Salva

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”

 

Salva

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.

Rare footage provides interesting details about the world’s most advanced F-16s flown by UAE in the Air War on ISIS

The UAE Air Force takes part in the air war on Daesh with the most advanced F-16 in the world. And here’s some interesting footage.

Filmed from aboard a KC-135 Stratotanker with the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, the video below shows United Arab Emirates F-16 Block 60+ Desert Falcons refueling during a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the US-led coalition’s air war on ISIS in Syria and Iraq, on Dec. 16, 2016.

The clip includes some rare close-up footage that provides interesting details about the payload of the world’s most advanced F-16s flown by the UAE Air Force in the anti-Daesh campaign.

There appear to be two configurations (both featuring CFTs, Sniper targeting pod and two drops tanks): the first one, includes 2x AIM-9M Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and 2x GBU-12 LGBs (Laser Guided Bombs), whereas the pilot wears the JHMCS (Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System); the second one shows the Desert Falcons with 2x AIM-120B AMRAAMs (Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles) and 4x Mk-82 or BLU-111A/B “dumb bombs” (although they can’t be easily identified, hence they could also be Joint Direct Attack Munitions…).

Both F-16s seem to wear the national flag on the tail: in 2015, two F-16 Block 60 deployed to Jordan to support the anti-ISIS air war without the UAE flag, something we explained with their participation in the air strikes on Islamist militias in Libya in 2014.

Since 2005, the UAE Air Force operates the Block 60 F-16E/F a variant dubbed “Desert Falcon” described as “the most advanced F-16 variant in the world” for being equipped with a Northrop Grumman AN/APG-80 AESA (active electronically scanned antenna) radar.

Considered “a half-generation ahead of the F-16 C/D Block 50/52+” the Block 60s, that the UAE Air Force has also flown in 2011’s Libya Air War, are also equipped with Northrop Grumman’s AN/ASQ-32 IFTS (Internal FLIR Targeting System) that is coupled up with the FLIR sensor on top of the nose in front of the cockpit, and with an Electronic Warfare that includes the Northrop Grumman Falcon Edge Integrated Electronic Warfare Suite Radar Warning Receiver and the AN/ALQ-165 Self-Protection Jammer.