MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. (Jan. 27, 2011) --
Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 Marines took off from Cherry Point Jan. 26-27, aboard one of the squadron’s KC-130Js to refuel F/A-18 Hornets from Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, S.C., and AV-8B Harriers from Cherry Point’s Marine Attack Squadron 223, as part of a large-force exercise in the Eastern Carolina skies.
During a night refueling mission Jan. 27, 10 aircraft stacked in formations at an altitude of about 18,000 feet in complete darkness behind one of VMGR-252’s KC-130Js, waiting to be refueled.
“Traditionally we don’t have that many aircraft at once,” explained Staff Sgt. Paul Folk, crew chief with VMGR-252 on the night’s flight. “When there are that many aircraft in close vicinity, it can get a little hectic.”
Vision wasn’t an issue though, as all personnel wore night vision goggles.
Folk said a pilot once explained to him what it was like conducting missions in the middle of night – “Scary,” the pilot said as he lifted his NVG’s up, “Not scary,” putting them back over his eyes.
“They’re essential,” said Folk referring to the goggles. “That pilot pretty much summed it up.”
Demonstrating the vision of all involved, the 11 aircraft flew in a near flawless formation like a flock of birds, except at speeds of more than 200 mph.
“We have to fly at our top-end speed,” explained Capt. Justin P. Betz, pilot with VMGR-252 on the night’s flight. “The aircraft we typically refuel have to slow down substantially.”
Once all the aircraft are in place, the KC-130J releases its two refueling hoses, one off of each wing, for the receiving aircraft to begin refueling.
When the refueling starts, communication plays a key role in completing the mission. It also helps that the all the pilots and crewmembers work from the same standard operating procedures.
“We use a system in which we work the aircraft left to right, low to high,” Folk explained about the aircraft waiting for fuel. “The system alleviates people from flying all over the place.”
When the aircraft come in, they join in a formation behind the KC-130J on the lower left, where they wait to receive fuel. Once they’ve been refueled, they go up and to the right of the KC-130J until all aircraft are refueled.
Each night’s refueling missions on the Jan. 26-27 flights lasted about four hours.
“It just gets busier,” said Betz. “The more receivers there are, the less fuel we’re able to give each one because the fuel we’re using to refuel is the same fuel we’re burning. Not to downplay the danger of it, but it is a mission we do often and it is what we’re most professional at.”
The KC-130J gave out over 42,000 pounds of fuel that night, about 4,000 pounds of fuel per aircraft.
“It was a rare opportunity to have 10 aircraft behind," Folk said. “It was good training for our younger crewmembers.”