Air Force's New Search-and Rescue Helicopter Gets 1st Aerial Refueling

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HH-60W Jolly Green II connects with an HC-130J tanker
An HH-60W Jolly Green II connects with an HC-130J tanker for its first aerial refueling over southern Alabama, Aug. 5, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tristan McIntire)

The Air Force's newest combat search-and-rescue helicopter, the HH-60W Jolly Green II, hit another milestone Aug. 5, as it began two weeks of developmental tests on its aerial refueling abilities at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

The rescue helicopter, based on the Army's UH-60M Black Hawk and designed for locating and rescuing pilots who have gone down in hostile territory, has already undergone radar, weather and defensive system testing, according to a base news release. The Air Force has a contract to purchase 113 of the HH-60W helicopters to replace its HH-60G Pave Hawks.

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The helo, named the Jolly Green II by the Air Force in February, connected with a HC-130J tanker for a successful refueling approximately 3,000 feet above the ground, the release states. The 413th Flight Test Squadron and its mission partners will continue developmental testing of the aircraft's aerial refueling capabilities, which will be conducted both in daylight hours and at night with night-vision goggles.

"This capability is essential for the CSAR 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," Joe Whiteaker, 413th FLTS Combat Rescue Helicopter flight chief, said in a statement. "Our job is to evaluate how difficult aerial refueling will be for operational pilots and to identify any unforeseen hazards due to the unique configuration of the HH-60W, which may not have been present in the legacy HH-60G."

The aircrew and engineers will evaluate the helicopter's connection with the fuel drogue and its handling qualities during refueling, according to the release.

The Jolly Green II is manufactured by Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and carries advanced and improved defensive systems. In addition to its combat duties, it will also provide civil search and rescue; medical evacuation; disaster response; humanitarian assistance; security cooperation and aviation advisory; NASA space flight support; and rescue command and control, according to the release.

"This is a critical test milestone for the program as it reinforces the superior capabilities of the HH-60W and its ability to support the Air Force's CSAR mission," Greg Hames, the Sikorsky Combat Rescue Helicopter program director, said in a statement. "The execution of this critical test is yet another demonstration of our successful partnership with the Air Force and brings us one step closer to delivering this much needed helicopter to our Airmen."

Maj. Andrew Fama, a 413th FLTS pilot, flew the helo during the refueling mission. "It's rare for a test pilot to have the opportunity to test a new aircraft replacing the one he or she flew operationally and to be the first one to do something like this," he said in the release. "It was an honor to be the pilot to fly this mission and work with a truly professional test team."

-- Bing Xiao can be reached at bingxiao2020@u.northwestern.edu.

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