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An F-35B Lighting II with Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 takes on fuel from a Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 KC-130J Hercules during a training exercise over the Atlantic Ocean April 9.

Photo by Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

Instructor pilots maintain aerial refueling proficiency

18 Apr 2013 | Cpl. Scott L. Tomaszycki

Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 and Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 crews conducted aerial refueling training over the Atlantic Ocean April 9.

There were no student pilots among the three F-35s taking on fuel. The goal was to maintain the instructor pilots’ proficiency at aerial refueling so they can continue to provide the best possible training to replacement pilots in the squadron. Aerial refueling is a critical capability, extending the reach of Marine air power on the battlefield.

“Aerial refueling is used in a variety of operational environments,” said Maj. Adam Levine, the operations officer of VMFAT-501. “One is to extend the range of aerial interdiction and another is to extend [time on station] while conducting close air support or anti-air warfare operations. In the context of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, aerial refueling will provide the MAGTF commander with greater operational range and endurance.”

Mid-air refueling is also a key component of VMFAT-501’s primary mission of training pilots destined to fly the F-35B in operational units as the Corps continues its transition to the fifth-generation fighter. During the summer of 2012, test pilots took their experience from the F-35 research and development program and created a training syllabus. By the fall of 2012, the test pilots had created a cadre of instructor pilots who were in turn training operational pilots destined for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, the Corps’ first operational F-35 squadron. VMFA-121 officially activated Nov. 20 at MCAS Yuma, Ariz.

To ensure only the best-qualified pilots are accepted into the program, all students are selected by a board from among active F/A-18 Hornet and AV-8B Harrier squadrons. Each class has about four students and lasts two months.

Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point