Airborne Helicopter Refueling
(Source: Israeli Air Force; issued Feb 25, 2019)
Many of the IAF Helicopter Division's missions are performed in dangerous faraway places outside of Israel's territory. In order to operate properly, the helicopters require the help of refueling aircraft, which allow them to fly for longer periods of time and safely reach their destination. However, this must be performed in the air, with equipment and dozens of aircraft onboard. How are aerial refueling missions performed? The IAF Site provides you with all the answers.

A lot has been said about aerial refueling in the field of fighter jets, and the cooperative work between the small fighter jets and the "Re'em" (Boeing 707) refueling aircraft remains ever impressive. However, did you know that helicopters are able to participate in aerial refueling missions as well?

"The 'Yas'ur' (CH-53) Division performs long-range missions, some of which are revealed to the general public while some are clandestine", said Maj. D', a pilot at the 118th ("Night Riders") Squadron, which operates the "Yas'ur" helicopter. "The 'Yas'ur' can remain airborne twice as long as the 'Yanshuf' (Black Hawk) can, and the large cargo hold acts as an operational advantage. As a result, it is our goal to transport equipment, vehicles and troops as far as possible".

Three Stages

Aerial "Yas'ur" refueling is performed by the 131st ("Knights of the Yellow Bird") Squadron, which operates the "Karnaf" (Hercules C-130HI) aircraft. In order to perform the mission properly, the "Karnaf" must decelerate and adjust its speed according to the "Yas'ur", thus allowing for proper attachment of the boom. "We have to perform the mission as safely as possible – the two aircraft meet at the same altitude and we have to make sure that they don't collide", described Capt. A', an aircrew member at the squadron.

"Sometimes the mission needs to be performed secretly, and so we use different systems. During operational sorties, the aircraft needs to maintain a considerably low altitude while carrying large cargos. Sometimes we are sent on unplanned missions in which we have to know how to handle potential malfunctions that may impair the refueling process".

Aerial refueling is made up of three stages: the first is the encounter of the two aircraft; the second is the boom attachment; and the third and final stage is the detachment. "The detachment is the hardest part because the two aircraft are practically near collision in mid-air", elaborated Maj. D'. "Even after the two aircraft are connected the hard part isn't over, because we then have to maintain the distance between them in order to prevent a collision".

The pilot-in-command is responsible for flying the aircraft and connecting it to the boom. There is an overload on the radio communications, and the "Karnaf" crew is in contact with the helicopter crews regarding performance of the mission. As a result, the co-pilot is responsible for safety, transport and management of the event.

Hours in the Air

Aerial refueling is challenging – how is it performed? The answer is spending many hours airborne in the helicopter. "We fly alongside refueling instructors – experienced pilots who've performed many aerial refueling sorties. The flight is like any other instruction flight, but with a focus on refueling", elaborated Maj. D'.

"The instructor tells the trainees what they need to do and emphasizes the importance of teamwork. Instructors are necessary because oftentimes there are extreme scenarios. A large number of combatants in the cargo hold means that the aircraft is heavier, and so we try to be gentler. We don't want to damage the aircraft or the equipment. Our goal is to successfully perform the mission and allow everyone to come home safely".


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