Air-to-air refuelling during RIMPAC Exercise 2014

Video / August 5, 2014

A look at the air-to-air refuelling role of the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) CC-130T Hercules and CC-150T Polaris aircraft during the Exercise Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC). The Hercules is seen refuelling the RCAF’s CF-188 Hornets, while the Polaris refuels United States Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets.

The CC-150 Polaris aircraft behind me there is used for strategic airlift for the Canadian Forces, it’s VIP transport, moving troops and humanitarian aid around the world as well as it’s an air-to-air refueling asset. So we provide support to the pointy end, to fighting force, as well as foreign receivers here at RIMPAC, to offload thousands of pounds of gas to them to extend their flight. So we’re considered a force multiplier. We allow them more on-station time by basically being an airborne gas station if you will, for the fighters. 

We’re a Winnipeg-based aircraft and half of our mission is air-to-air refueling, the other is search and rescue. Here at RIMPAC we work with our Canadian jets, but also with the American Navy and Marine F-18s and most of our missions are over water, so they will be taking right off of their aircraft carrier and joining right up on us to get our gas so they can complete a longer mission that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. 

When we do an exercise with the F-18s in Bagottville or Cold Lake normally there’s not that much going on so we’ll be the only tanker out there with a few jets.  This is a lot more complex, they create highways in the sky, different training areas, different refueling tracks so there’s a lot more moving parts to an exercise like this. There will be multiple tankers, here at RIMPAC you’ll have up to a couple hundred sorties per day so a lot of aircraft moving, flying. 

RIMPACs a very complex exercise and we’re working with nations we don’t normally work with and every airplane has different offload rates, different procedures, different policies when it comes to air refueling so we have to learn how to work with them. 

The airplane behind me you can see is fitted with two refueling pods on the outboard of the wings and they are basically connected to our fuel tanks inside the belly. Normally where the baggage and cargo would go below we have four massive centerline tanks which through all the piping and magic there we extend the hoses, the rubber hoses with a drogue, a basket, a drogue it’s called, on the end and the receivers have a probe that they can extend from the nose of the aircraft. They basically more or less just kind of plug in, fly up the basket and plug in to the hose to get fuel.

It’s very tricky, it takes some delicate flying by the fighter guys as well as by the tanker crews, it takes a lot of coordination and as you can imagine the basket isn’t always stable for them up there. Weather can be a huge role, visibility, maneuvering of both airplanes to stay in our associated areas given the overall picture of RIMPAC where you have multiple packages operating in different regions, different airspace.

We have a fuselage tank in the aircraft that basically takes up the whole cargo compartment. That gives us an extra 23,000 lbs. of gas, and with extra pumps in there it makes it so we can give them our fuel a lot faster. Since we’re a slower aircraft and the F-18s are pretty fast we actually have to speed up to about 220 knots then we’ll deploy our hoses off of our pods that are on the external part of our wing. So the hose is 74 feet long and there’s a basket at the end and the F-18 with their retractable probe will connect and we’ll be able to pass gas to them at about a couple thousand pounds a minute.

It’s very exciting to be working with over 20 nations, and nations we don’t normally see.

I love my job.

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