U.S. Air Force’s new combat rescue helicopter begins aerial refueling trials

AvatarBy Vertical Mag | August 11, 2020

Estimated reading time 3 minutes, 43 seconds.

About 3,000 feet above Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on Aug. 5, an HH-60W Jolly Green II connected with a HC-130J tanker for the first ever aerial refueling by the U.S. Air Force’s new combat search-and-rescue helicopter.

The connection marked the start of two weeks of developmental testing of the aircraft’s aerial refueling capability by the Air Force’s 413th Flight Test Squadron.

An HH-60W Jolly Green II connected with a HC-130J tanker for its first ever aerial refueling over southern Alabama Aug. 5, 2020. The Air Force’s new combat search and rescue helicopter is currently undergoing developmental and operational testing. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Tristan McIntire

“This capability is essential for the CSAR mission since it greatly extends the operating range of the aircraft and thus allows the unit to extend their rescue capabilities over a larger battlespace,” said Joe Whiteaker, 413th FLTS combat rescue helicopter flight chief.

The aircraft was piloted by both Air Force and Sikorsky pilots and flew at 110 knots in order to perform the contacts with the tanker. The flight lasted just under two hours.

“The aircraft performed flawlessly during the testing and met all of the program objectives,” said Sikorsky test pilot John Biscaino.

Throughout the tests, the aircrew and engineers will evaluate the helicopter’s ability to connect with the fuel drogue and aircraft handling qualities during fueling. They also monitor the functionality of the systems and gauges to ensure the aircraft receives the fuel appropriately with the proper pressures.

“Our job is to evaluate how difficult aerial refueling will be for operational pilots and to identify any unforeseen hazards due to the unique configuration of the HH-60W, which may not have been present in the legacy HH-60G,” Whiteaker said.

Early missions will be conducted during daylight hours. Testing will conclude with a nighttime evaluation using night-vision goggles.

“This is a critical test milestone for the program as it reinforces the superior capabilities of the HH-60W and its ability to support the Air Force’s CSAR mission,” said Greg Hames, Sikorsky’s Combat Rescue Helicopter program director.

Maj. Andrew Fama, the Air Force pilot for the refueling mission, evaluated the handling qualities and made the first contacts. He and the aircrew spent extra time preparing for the mission that included talking through the test sequence and rehearsing the phraseology used during the refuel. It was that extra time spent that made for a smooth mission without issues, Fama said.

“It’s rare for a test pilot to have the opportunity to test a new aircraft replacing the one he or she flew operationally and to be the first one to do something like this,” Fama said. “It was an honor to be the pilot to fly this mission and work with a truly professional test team.”

The aerial refueling mission marks another 2020 milestone for the HH-60W program. So far, the Jolly Green II has undergone radar, weather and defensive system testing.

“The execution of this critical test is yet another demonstration of our successful partnership with the Air Force and brings us one step closer to delivering this much needed helicopter,” said Hames.

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