ZADAR, Croatia — As special operations forces personnel conduct tactical missions, they are reliant on various aerial assets to insert them on the battlefield without hesitation. Both rotary and fixed-wing pilots are responsible for getting the troops on the ground, but the pilots also must work and train together to ensure they are fueled to stay in the air and maintain their range near the fight.
As part of training on their aerial refueling support mission, U.S. Air Force MC-130P Combat Shadow pilots assigned to the 67th Special Operations Squadron (SOS), 352nd Special Operations Group conducted helicopter aerial refueling over the coast of Croatia during the multi-national Jackal Stone 09 special operations exercise. The procedure, known as HAR, allows the Shadow to transfer fuel to a special operations helicopter in flight, which is critical in conducting long range operations into enemy territory.
According to an MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft commander assigned to the 67th SOS, the procedure is one of the unit's primary missions.
"The HAR saves time because the helos (helicopters) don't have to ground gas (land on the ground to refuel)," said the aircraft commander. "Most importantly, the helos stay closer to the fight because they have enough fuel."
Although mostly conducted at night, the HAR can also be conducted in daylight hours. Either way, the challenges and risks are still the same, according to the aircraft commander.
"We're flying at low-level altitude which means we're closer to the terrain," the aircraft commander said. "There could be a hydraulic failure or the valves could stick."
Critical to the success of the HAR, pilots in the fixed wing and rotary aircraft must synchronize their positions in the air flying at speeds of up to 200 knots per hour and at altitudes of up to 10,000 feet in the air. There is no verbal communication between the pilots during the maneuver as each sends light signals to give the okay to connect the fuel line.
Depending on the mission and how far the rotary aircraft has to fly, as much as 5,000 gallons of fuel can be refueled during a HAR mission.
"We're trained to do this mission and we recognize how important it is to keep the helos flying," said the aircraft commander.