Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 refueled two F-35B Lightnings of Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501 over the Gulf of Mexico during a training exercise May 30.
Refueling is a major part of VMGR-252’s mission. The squadron’s pilots train repeatedly for aerial refueling missions, which they then perform when detachments from the squadron are sent out for training exercises and in support of contingency operations.
Capt. Jonathan Buckland, one of the pilots on the mission, deployed with a detachment Sunday in support of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which carries three different kinds of aircraft capable of being refueled by air.
“The training maintains our proficiency to make sure when we do these missions overseas, we can execute them without flaw,” said Buckland. “We’ve done it dozens of times and the crew is very proficient at this, but maybe something different will happen that I’ve never seen before, and that will further prepare me. Each mission has something to learn.”
The 26th MEU carries AV-8B Harriers, MV-22B Ospreys, and CH-53E Super Stallions, all of which can refuel by VMGR-252’s KC-130Js. Each different model of aircraft, however, has special considerations when linking up for a refueling mission.
Lance Cpl. Andrew A. Sandoval, a crew master with the squadron, watches refueling missions outside a window in the back of the aircraft to make sure nothing goes wrong. When refueling jets like Harriers or Lightnings, he watches to make sure the jets are in a stable flight. While refueling jets, the tanker is moving as fast as it can, but the jets are moving nearly as slow as they can, which can make them harder to control.
Conversely, helicopters like the Super Stallion are flying as fast as they can while the tanker is moving as slow as it can. The crew master watches the refueling hose, drogue, probe and aircraft so he can relay directions to the pilots to prevent any accidents.
Ospreys and the tankers move at about the same speed. However, their large rotors present a possible collision hazard that the crew master monitors.
According to Sandoval, watching aerial refueling is about 40 percent of his job, which he does to maintain the safety of the aircraft, pilots, crew and passengers.
“You could theoretically do it all with nobody there, but it’s not worth the risk,” Sandoval said.
Buckland said the operational payoff is that the tanker aircraft can greatly improve the range of a MEU’s aviation component. Because the KC-130J is too large to operate from the flight deck of Navy ships, the detachment operates from friendly countries as close to the ships as possible. When aircraft need refueling, the detachment can intercept them en route for uel, allowing those aircraft to reach destinations that would normally be outside of their range.