29-Aug-2011 Source: US Marine Corps
PATROL BASE WOLFPACK, Helmand province, Afghanistan — From this remote desert outpost just miles from the Pakistani border, two Marine Corps attack helicopters were heard before they were seen.
â€œFour miles out,â€ shouted Capt. Orion Jones over the growing percussion of their blades. Jonesâ€™ Marines emptied out of their waiting heavy-lift helicopter, running with a fuel hose in tow toward a nearby landing pad.
The AH-1W Super Cobras were soon seen on the horizon speeding toward the outpost.
Marines with Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 conducted rapid ground refueling of the smaller attack helicopters from a CH-53D Sea Stallion, Aug. 17.
Though a hallmark of Marine Corps aviation since the 1960s, this marked the first time the CH-53D had been used to rapidly refuel helicopters in a combat environment, said Jones, a Sea Stallion pilot who served as the officer in charge of the forward arming and refueling point.
The Super Cobras came to the ground in a cloud of dust. Marines affixed the hose, giving the helicopters fuel from the Sea Stallionâ€™s own tanks.
As heavy lift helicopters, Sea Stallions fill a variety of missions for the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). The Marines of HMH-463 seemed to relish the chance to add rapid ground refueling to an already formidable list of capabilities that include heavy-lifting, aerial resupply, and troop movement.
â€œItâ€™s a pretty simple system and itâ€™s something we train to do,â€ said Sgt. Benjamin R. Schlicht, crew chief with HMH-463 and native of La Crescent, Minn. â€œEssentially, we use the same mechanism we use to dump fuel, but now we divert it into the hose for refueling. We can carry an awful lot of fuel.â€
Patrol Base Wolfpack marked the southernmost point in Afghanistan the CH-53 D Sea Stallions had ever traveled, according to Staff Sgt. James H. Crimmins, a maintenance chief and aerial observer with HMH-463, and a native of Sullivan, Mo.
â€œThis aircraft has performed amazingly in every conflict since Vietnam, and Afghanistan is no exception,â€ Crimmins said.
Jones explained the many advantages of the refueling system.
â€œItâ€™s all about projecting firepower,â€ Jones said. â€œWeâ€™re putting [the attack helicopters] in a position to better conduct deep airstrikes and deep air support. Additionally, by not having to set up a permanent refueling point, we donâ€™t have to drive trucks and risk roadside bombs, and we can get down here quickly.â€
In just a few minutes, the attack helicopters were back in the sky.
â€œAt the end of the day, what we want to do is extend the reach of the Marine air-ground task force and help the people here build a safe country,â€ Jones said.