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Marines, Air Force train together to refuel

US Marine Corps News

6/23/2011 By Lance cpl. Charles T. Clark, Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan — Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 pilots and weapon systems operators conducted aerial refueling training with Air Force KC-135 Stratotankers here June 13.

Aerial refueling extends the range of fighter aircraft on transits across great distances, increasing the operability of pilots and weapon systems operators to complete missions and training operations.

“Aerial refueling is the only reason we can go from operation to operation in the western pacific,” said Maj. Douglas Glover, a VMFA(AW)-533 F/A-18 weapon systems operator.

The F/A-18 has enough fuel for approximately an hour and a half of flight time.

Without the aerial refueling, the aircraft would not be able to fly from the continental U.S. to the Western Pacific. Aerial refueling has become a standardized operation throughout the military to ensure there are no conflicts with the various aircraft attempting to refuel from the same tanker.

The pilots communicate with each other to know who is refueling and how much fuel the jets can receive. The aircraft take turns approaching the tanker, refueling, detaching and re-forming to continue operations.

The most commonly used aircraft for aerial refueling is the Air Force’s KC-135s, but the Marine Corps is capable of aerial refueling with its KC-130s. The KC- 130s are often busy due to operational commitments.

“The Air Force really does a lot of the leg work to help us out here,” said Capt. Phillippe C. Brule, a VMFA(AW)-533 pilot. “We say they need to be at this place at this time, and they usually get there early to do their pre-fueling checks. By the time we get there, they are ready to go.”

The Air Force and Marine Corps plan months prior to operations to ensure the Air Force KC-135s will be at the right place at the right time.

The pilots who operate the aircraft and the refueling probe go through simulated training and a real world qualification for aerial refueling while the weapon systems operators attend to the logistics of the refueling process, said Brule.

Re-qualifying for both day and night aerial refueling prior to long term operations in combat zones and training operations is another reason this training is essential for pilots.

“We requalify on the KC-135 because it is the hardest aircraft to link up with to refuel in the air,” said Capt. Matthew D. Humphries, a VMFA(AW)-533 weapon systems operator.

One of the most common challenges pilots face during aerial refueling is steadying the aircraft during refueling.

Aerial refueling preparation and training continues to provide interoperability between the Marine Corps and the Air Force to ensure the mission gets done.

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