The US Air Force’s (USAF’s) Sikorsky HH-60W Jolly Green II combat rescue helicopter completed its first in-flight refuelling after drawing fuel from a hose and drogue carried by a Lockheed Martin HC-130J Combat King II on 5 August.

The helicopter is undergoing two weeks of developmental testing of its aerial refuelling abilities at Eglin AFB near Pensacola, Florida, the service said on 11 August. The Jolly Green II is intended by the USAF to rescue downed pilots, as well as stranded military personnel from other service branches.

“This capability is essential for the [combat search and rescue] mission since it greatly extends the operating range of the aircraft and thus allows the unit to extend their rescue capabilities over a larger battlespace,” says Joe Whiteaker, combat rescue helicopter programme flight chief.

The combat rescue helicopter has an unrefuelled 195nm (361km) combat radius.

As part of the tests, the helicopter’s ability to connect its probe to a refuelling drogue, as well as its handling qualities during in-flight refuelling, will be assessed by USAF aircrew and engineers. In particular, personnel will examine whether the rotorcraft receives fuel at the correct pressure, and search for unanticipated hazards with the aircraft.

The USAF plans to conduct most in-flight refuelling tests during daylight hours, but will conclude the evaluation with a night refuelling flight using night-vision goggles, it says.

The HH-60W has already undergone radar, weather and defensive system tests.

The USAF’s programme of record calls for 113 of the next-generation helicopters to replace its HH-60G Pave Hawk fleet. The first production example of the HH-60W is scheduled for delivery in April 2021.