Posted 05/04/99 01:09:25 AM --- More CPAO Camp Butler news articles


By Cpl. Matthew R. Weir

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION FUTENMA, Okinawa, Japan (Apr 16) -- Marines are called upon to be Americas 911 force whenever there is trouble around the globe. Marines on Okinawa are keeping themselves capable by using the KC-130 "Hercules" ability to refuel aircraft in flight.

Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron (VMGR)152 practices this aerial refueling technique to extend the range and capabilities of aircraft taking off from Okinawa. It allows the wing to plan contingency operations at a moments notice, according to Capt. Kevin A. Schlegel, KC-130 pilot, VMGR-152.

"(Aerial refueling) supports the Marine Air Ground Task Force concept," said Schlegel. "It keeps us able to support our own aircraft and increases their capabilities greatly."

According to Schlegel, KC-130s can refuel two other aircraft at once, but others can be waiting to be refueled while still in the air.

"The gas we have on board is the only limiting factor as to how many aircraft we can refuel," he said.

To conduct a refuel, pilots must take the already extremely heavy KC-130 and fill it with approximately 65,000 pounds of added fuel.

This, coupled with the low speed at which pilots must fly to conduct the refuel, makes for a tough ride.

The fastest the KC-130 can be traveling while refueling fixed wing aircraft is 250 knots, and 120 knots when refueling helicopters.

"We usually stay at 115 knots to be safe," said Capt. David P. McMullen, KC-130 pilot, VMGR-152. "Controlling the aircraft at that speed is difficult. You are basically traveling 10 to 15 knots above stall speed. The controls get really sloppy and they just don't feel right."

Anytime two aircraft are flying next to each other, the possibility for error is increased. The probability for something to go wrong increases even more when the aircraft are connected by the refueling lines.

"It is a very dangerous evolution, but the occurrence of mishaps is low," said Schlegel. "Thankfully, the KC-130 is equipped to pump 600 gallons of fuel each minute."

According to Schlegel, during conflicts, aerial refueling takes place about 25 miles behind the forward edge of the battle area due to the volatility of the fuel on board.

We try not to go into enemy fire, he said.

Although the pilots try to stay well behind the battle area, their mission is essential to the well-being of ground troops.

"Any time you increase the capability of close air support, it directly contributes to the ground forces capabilities," said Schlegel. "Especially when increasing the capabilities of helicopters, which are normally in direct support of ground troops."

According to McMullen, it also increases the capabilities of jets that would normally be waiting for the call to come in and support.

"Jets may be 40 to 45 minutes out when they are called. With us out there, they can continue to circle. When they need fuel they just take a hit off us. It can cut their response time down to 5-10 minutes."

Whether it is jets or helicopters, VMGR-152 continues to train for any contingency imaginable, keeping Americas 911 capabilities in its sights.