MARINE CORPS AIR STATION, Calif. --
In a combat zone, a pilot can’t exactly pull a fighter jet into a gas station and “top off the tank.” He needs an aerial gas station flying at more than 17,000 feet with the capability of pumping 300 gallons or more of fuel per minute -- a KC-130J “Hercules.”
Simulating aerial refueling was part of the Marine Aerial Refueling and Transportation Squadron 352 “Raiders” four-hour training flight they performed in a KC-130J Hercules over southeastern California Jan. 14.
The flight supported aircraft participating in Exercise Mojave Viper, a 30-day pre-deployment training event held at Marine Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif.
The crew prepared for the flight by inspecting the aircraft and reviewing specific flight details such as how much fuel they would need. About two hours before the flight, the crew also held a brief that reviewed all of the flight planning details.
“This flight is pretty routine,” said Capt. Christopher Robb, a pilot with the squadron. “We perform these kinds of flights around three or four times a week. We help support just about every squadron that we can.”
During the flight, the Raiders simulated fueling two AV-8B “Harriers” from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 211, Marine Aircraft Group 13, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, at 17,000 feet.
Both Harriers maneuvered to less than 100 feet away from opposite sides of the tanker and connected with the 80-foot refueling tubes that were stretched out from the sides of the KC-130J. Although they did not actually receive fuel, the aircraft practiced moving into position several times.
While the Harriers positioned themselves toward the refueling tubes, KC-130J loadmasters watched through small observation windows at the rear of the tanker and relayed information to the pilots through an inner communications system.
“We act as the aerial observers during refueling missions,” said Lance Cpl. Michael Vanausdoll, a loadmaster with VMGR-352.
Without aerial refueling, ground units would have to wait for supporting aircraft to fly from an installation. Instead, the KC-130J can circle an area for long periods of time and remain on-call.
Although the flight was routine for the Raiders, the training and practice they provide to pilots of aircraft will lend itself to not only more extensive training missions but to enhanced flying time and mission capabilities in combat zones.