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Marine Corps Reserve KC-130 aircraft conduct refueling missions over Morocco during AFRICAN LION 2010

Par, le 9 Juin 2010

Marine Corps Reserve KC-130 aircraft conduct refueling missions over Morocco during AFRICAN LION 2010
Marines and sailors from Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 234, a Marine Forces Reserve unit based in Fort Worth, Texas, are here on a two-week reserve summer deployment with the primary mission of conducting aerial refueling flights in support of the Royal Moroccan Air Force. The squadron has flown more than 10 sorties in the past week, refueling Moroccan F-5 jet fighters at high altitude.
“I was impressed with them,” said Capt. David Grosso, a KC-130 pilot with the squadron after his first refueling mission with the Moroccans May 31. “They’re really proficient in aerial refueling. You could tell when they had an experienced pilot or when they had a new guy in the seat, just like with (U.S.) Marine Corps pilots.”
In aerial refueling, the KC-130s extend hoses, which are housed in large pods under the plane’s wings. At the end of the hoses are paradrogue assemblies, which are about the size of 50-gallon drums and are commonly called “baskets.”
The jets have refueling probes on their front of the aircraft. The jet pilots line their probes up with the KC-130 baskets. The jet slightly increases its velocity to move its probe into the paradrogue. This is done at about 16,000 feet.
Metal spokes on the paradrogue assembly, which the Marines refer to as “turkey feathers” because of their shape and configuration, guide the probe into the refueling coupling. A cloth parachute on the basket catches the wind and opens up the turkey feathers wide, giving the jets a clear target.
The KC-130 flight engineer, who sits up in the cockpit with the pilots, is in charge of extending the in-flight refueling hoses. The flight engineer monitors the aircraft systems and regulates both the fuel usage and fuel transfer simultaneously.
To conceptualize what the refueling experience is like for a jet pilot, imagine having a long, steel arm rising out of the hood of your car, just in front of the right-hand side of your windshield. You have to speed up slightly to insert this steel arm into a small parachute dangling from the back of a tractor trailer going more than three hundred miles an hour on a bad road with an excessive cross-wind blowing.
A successful refueling mission therefore requires extensive skill and experience on the part of all involved, particularly the jet pilot.
“It went smooth. Those guys are good to go,” said Gunnery Sgt. Richard Warren, one of the squadron’s flight engineers, who has been in Marine Corps aviation for about 16 years.
“They follow all the same procedures in NATO publications,” explained Warren. “The hardest part is the link up. Everyone has to be at the right altitude. Putting a bunch of airplanes together in the same air space is inherently dangerous, regardless of what country they’re from.”
The American KC-130 flight crew communicates simultaneously with the Moroccan air traffic control center in Rabat or Casablanca on one radio. With a second radio, they talk to the Moroccan F-5 pilots whose aircraft they are refueling.
Although the native languages in Morocco are Arabic and French, all Moroccan military pilots, air traffic controllers and flight operations personnel are proficient in English, the international language of aviation.
“Once we get in the air, the procedures are all the same,” said Cpl. Brice Kippes, a VMGR-234 flight mechanic from Iliff, Colo.
Kippes’ job during a refueling mission is to look out the windows of the paratrooper doors on each side of the plane to ensure the successful link-up between the refueling pods and jets’ probes. He is in communication with the flight crew in the cockpit via intercom, so he can let them know if there are any problems.
“Everything in the air is very strict and standardized,” said Kippes, who trained with the Moroccan Air Force during last summer’s African Lion, as well. “They use the same (Naval Air Training and Operating Procedures Standardization Manual) procedures that we do. They know what’s going on pretty well.”
The Moroccan Air Force also has KC-130 aircraft, which they routinely use to refuel their jets. The Moroccan “H” models are very similar to the Marine Corps Reserve’s “T” models, which makes training all that much easier, according to Staff Sgt. Stephen Rubel, a flight engineer with VMGR-234.
This aerial refueling is just one element of African Lion 2010, a theater security cooperation exercise between the United States and Morocco involving more than 1,000 U.S. troops, mostly reservists.
For the past seven years, African Lion has been conducted annually to further develop joint and combined capabilities between the two countries, who have been allies since Morocco became the first foreign country to recognize the United States’ independence in 1778.