Combat Kings to the refuel

From airdrop and combat search and rescue capabilities to performing helicopter air-to-air refueling, HC-130J Combat King IIs are essential assets for a variety of operations.

A Combat King assigned to the 79th Rescue Squadron from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., trained with HH-60G Pave Hawks assigned to the 56th RQS from Aviano Air Base, Italy, in aerial refueling tasks over southern Europe, Nov. 12-21, 2019.

“Refueling is often practiced so that HAAR can be done quickly and efficiently when a mission requires it,” said Capt. Kate West, 79th RQS combat rescue pilot.
The method used for air-to-air refueling between Pave Hawks and Combat Kings is known as probe-and-drogue.

Aerial refueling can be executed at a preplanned point or on-call,” said Capt. Joshua Gallipoli, 79th RQS combat systems officer. “We communicate that we’re going to be at this altitude, at this point, at this time.”

Capt. Kate West and 1st Lt. Chad Sufficool, 79th Rescue Squadron combat rescue pilots, prepare for landing in an HC-130J Combat King II at an airport in Maine, Nov. 25, 2019. Airmen from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., travelled back to DM after a temporary duty assignment that took place in Aviano Air Base, Italy, involving helicopter air-to-air refueling training. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristin Legate)

Once at location, crew members of the Combat King go through extensive checklists in preparation to get the aircraft ready to accomplish HAAR.

“It’s all coordination between the pilot, CSO and the loadmaster.” Gallipoli said. “Every crewmember has something specifically that they have to accomplish during these checklists in order to ensure that we can perform [HAAR] safely.”

At the appropriate altitude and speed, a long hose with a drogue at the end of it is unrolled from below the wing tip. Once the hose is fully extended, the Pave Hawk pilot maneuvers a probe mounted on the helicopter’s nose into the drogue to begin the refueling process.

Being able to provide HAAR allows Pave Hawk pilots to fly long distances without landing, extending the radius on complex missions.

Combat Kings are the only dedicated fixed-wing personnel recover platform, and Pave Hawks are primarily used for conducting personnel recovery and medical evacuation missions into hostile territories.

Capt. Joshua Gallipoli, 79th Rescue Squadron combat systems officer, monitors the status of a HC-130J Combat King II as it prepares for landing, Nov. 25, 2019. To ensure a safe landing, the fuel weight of the aircraft has to be balanced between its tanks and wings prior to landing. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristin Legate

West described a training scenario where a Pave Hawk became too heavy for takeoff after a personnel recovery operation had taken place.

“In these instances the HH-60’s fuel will sometimes be dumped to lighten the weight in order to take-off again,” West said. “That’s when they would need us to refuel them.”

With improved navigation, threat detection and countermeasures systems, Combat Kings have the ability to fly at low to medium altitude levels in contested or sensitive environments. Having night vision goggle compatible interior and exterior lighting allows them to execute missions at any hour.

With these specifications, HAAR can be conducted at night with crews using NVGs for tactical flight profiles to avoid detection.

For members of the 79th RQS, getting the opportunity to practice refueling with rescue partners they don’t often work with, in a location and environment they’re not typically exposed to, is beneficial.

“Flying under Euro control is very different from flying at Davis-Monthan,” West said. “By coming here, we gain experience flying in Europe and following their airspace rules while also getting familiar with our rescue partners. We don’t see them a lot, but there’s always the potential that we’ll deploy together and getting to meet people and put a face to a name helps make us more efficient to work together in the future.”

An HC-130J Combat King II assigned to the 79th Rescue Squadron sits on the flight line at an airport in Iceland, Nov. 25, 2019. (Air Force photograph by Senior Airman Kristin Legate)

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