US Marine Corps pilots flying the F-35B short take-off vertical landing (STOVL) version of the Joint Strike Fighter at Eglin AFB, Florida, recently completed their first aerial refueling on 2 October.
While aerial refueling is a relatively mundane task that every US fighter pilot routinely undertakes, the F-35B is in its infancy. The initial instructor pilot cadre at Eglin has to ensure that the aircraft is safe enough for future student pilots to train on, as such the idea was to “validate the system.”
Photo by USMC Corporal Wesley Martins, crew chief KC-130 from 2nd MAW.
USMC Majors Tye Bachmann and Paul Holst, both assigned to Eglin’s VMFAT-501, flew the unit’s aerial refueling sortie. The two F-35Bs took on fuel from a Lockheed Martin KC-130 Hercules tanker over the Gulf of Mexico using the probe and drogue aerial refueling system. The aircraft were at 15,000ft and flying at about 250 knots.
“It was different refueling an F-35, but not hard,” says Holst, the first non-test pilot to aerial refuel the F-35B. “The system worked as advertised. At the end of the day, the pilot still has to plug the probe into the drogue.”
Later that afternoon, USMC Colonel Art Tomassetti, vice-commander of the 33rd Fighter Wing, and Major Adam Levine also took-on fuel from the KC-130 tanker.
Now that the aerial refueling procedure has been validated, all of the Marine aviators at Eglin will start qualifying on the procedure–including two who are bound for the first operational squadron in Yuma, Arizona.