TESTING FOR the US Navy’s fighter aircraft to receive fuel from the Aeronautica Militare Italiana’s (AMI – Italian Air Force) Boeing KC-767A aircraft is currently underway at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland.
In a media release on September 12, US Naval Air Systems Command said this six week test period is designed to meet US Central Command’s operational requirement for joint interoperability and increased air refuelling capacity within that area of responsibility.
Captain Jaime Engdahl, the US Navy’s Precision Strike Weapons programme manager, who oversees the Navy’s aerial refuelling efforts, said:“It has been great to work with our Italian Air Force partners to strengthen our joint warfighting capability. With the team’s continuing good work we will be able to clear all of our operational strike aircraft for coalition aerial refuelling and extend our combat strike range capability.”
To facilitate the trials, the aerial refuelling team co-ordinated with its Italian counterparts, US Navy Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23), VX- 31 and Marine Aircraft Group 14 to organise flights at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, using the F/A-18 Hornet, AV-8B Harrier and EA-6B Prowler.
During each flight, the aircraft completes a pre-requisite wake survey before doing initial contacts at a given altitude/airspeed condition. The aircraft manoeuvres to various positions behind and abeam the tanker that correspond to where it would be if actually taking fuel. At each position, the pilot evaluates the relative difficulty of capturing and maintaining the desired position.
Following a successful wake survey, the KC-767A’s hose/drogue is extended and initial contacts with the basket are completed at various altitudes and airspeeds. Hose reel system response is tested with slow and fast closure-rate engagements to ensure the system will operate at all conditions for operational pilots.
Erin Kennedy, PMA-201 aerial refuelling class desk engineer, said: “Testing is going very well and we are encouraged by the results we have seen so far with the F/A-18. In the weeks ahead, we will conduct additional flying quality evaluations with the AV-8B and EA-6B.”
The goal of the certification testing is to authorize KC-767A refuelling of these three aircraft in an operational environment. Testing is scheduled to be complete in early October.