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An F/A-18C Hornet with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 122 moves in to catch the basket during an aerial refueling mission with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia during Exercise Pitch Black 2016, Aug. 9, 2016. VMGR-152 provides aerial refueling and assault support during expeditionary and joint or combined operations like Pitch Black. This exercise is a biennial, three week, multinational, large-force training exercise hosted by RAAF Tindal.

Photo by Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg

Sumos provide aerial refueling during Exercise Pitch Black 2016

10 Aug 2016 | Cpl. Nicole Zurbrugg The Official United States Marine Corps Public Website

As a KC-130J Super Hercules prepares for takeoff, Marines with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 152 finish last minute preflight checks and secure the aircraft at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia, Aug. 9, 2016.

For over 70 years, VMGR-152, also known as the “Sumos,” has successfully carried out support missions by providing aerial refueling and assault support during expeditionary, joint and combined operations like Exercise Pitch Black 2016.

Aerial refueling is the process of transferring aviation fuel from a tanker aircraft to another aircraft midair. 

After soaring high over the outback, U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Colton Sizemore, KC-130J pilot with VMGR-152, positioned the tanker, waiting for the first batch of RAAF and U.S. Marine F/A-18 Hornets to detect the tanker on radar and arrive for refueling.

“Our main job for Pitch Black is to provide aerial refueling to our own aircraft and international aircraft as well,” said Sizemore. “It’s important that we support these missions because by providing fuel midair, we enable the pilots to continue training uninterrupted and extend the time spent in the air.”

As the jets approach, crewmasters situated in the rear of the aircraft relay the jet’s positions to the pilots.

“During refueling, crewmasters are the eyes for the pilots,” said U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Chris Lawler, crewmaster with VMGR-152. “The pilots have very little vision of what is going on in the rear during an aerial refueling. Crewmasters relay positions of the incoming jets relative to the refueling hose and basket and monitor the whole refueling process.”

U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Jarred Cox, F/A-18 pilot with VMFA-122, explained the process of refueling from a pilot’s viewpoint. The jets line up parallel to the wing of the tanker until cleared by the pilot, then maneuver to a stern position about 10 to 15 feet behind the hose, then to a precontact position three feet behind the basket until cleared for contact. At contact, the pilots plug in until refueled. 

Cox also said aerial refueling doubles their flying time and range helping successfully carry out the Pitch Black mission. Without the aerial refueling capability, the aircraft would have to land, refuel, and take off again, eliminating valuable training time.

Although the Hornet pilots make catching the basket, maintaining parallel speeds and direction while refueling look easy, it takes great skill and concentration. In a real world combat situation aerial refueling is vital to tactical mission accomplishment. The “Sumos” contribution during Pitch Black allows both the Hercules and Hornet pilots to hone their aerial refueling skills, preparing them for possible combat support. 

“Not only does midair refueling improve exercise training time and quality, but in combat conditions, aerial refueling is an essential component of operation and the pilots need to be confident of their ability to complete the process,” said Sizemore. “

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