In an Australian first, a RAAF KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport has refuelled a United States Marine Corps (USMC) F/A-18C Hornet with engine trouble over Iraq.
The USMC Hornet was flying a combat mission against Daesh over Northern Iraq when it was forced to shut down one of its two engines due to a mechanical issue.
Short on fuel, the Hornet requested air-to-air refuelling support from the RAAF KC-30A.
A challenging feat at the best of times, air-to-air refuelling with an engine-out Hornet had only ever been conducted in flight testing scenarios and never before from the RAAF aircraft over a war-zone.
The RAAF KC-30A aircraft’s captain, Squadron Leader Jamie, said the situation demanded some brainstorming and clever flying.
“The hardest part was that the Hornet couldn’t maintain the required altitude or speed that we normally refuel at due to the hostile environment over Iraq,” Squadron Leader Jamie said.
“The first option was to accept refuelling at a reduced speed, lower than normally required, and refuelling at that speed had never been done by me or my crew.
“The other option was to do what we call tobogganing, where we refuel while descending to allow the Hornet to gather more speed. This option would have brought us below a safe altitude, so we went with the first option.”
Squadron Leader Jamie said the USMC pilot demonstrated incredible skill and the RAAF KC-30A and USMC Hornet were able to conduct the complicated manoeuvre in order to enable the jet to refuel, fly out of Iraq and land safely.
“The Hornet had also dropped bombs from one of its wings, making his aircraft already less stable, which when combined with the loss of an engine, makes refuelling in mid-air a real challenge.
“He did a great job in the end and it was a good feeling to help him out.
“If we hadn’t been able to assist, he would certainly have had to make a less than ideal landing in Iraq.”
The Australian Air Task Group comprises six F/A-18A Hornet aircraft, a KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport and an E-7A Wedgetail airborne early warning and control aircraft.
As part of Operation OKRA they participate in close air support operations, air to air refuelling and airborne command and control in Iraq and Syria as part of the international coalition formed to disrupt and degrade the Daesh threat.