Refueling Operation Flintlock

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Two 100th Air Refueling Wing aircrews recently provided air refueling in support of Operation Flintlock, a joint military exercise in Bamako, Mali which concluded Nov. 20. 

According to a release by United States Africa Command Public Affairs, “The principal purpose of Flintlock is to assist partner nations to establish and develop military interoperability and strengthen regional relationships, in support of future combined humanitarian, peacekeeping and disaster relief operations. It includes participants from the Trans-Saharan nations and the U.S. as well as advisors from multiple European countries.” 

The exercise also included the first Air Force Special Operations Command CV-22 Osprey oceanic crossing, according to Lt. Col. Bruce McNaughton, 100th ARW director of staff, and aircraft commander of one of the KC-135 Stratotankers (from RAF Mildenhall) taking part in the mission. 

The Osprey is a self-deployable aircraft providing increased speed and range over other rotary-wing aircraft which enable AFSOC aircrews to execute long-range special operations missions, according to an Air Force fact sheet. 

The Osprey can perform missions that normally require both fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. It takes off vertically, and once airborne, the nacelles (engine and pro-rotor group) on each wing can rotate into a forward position. 

Max Blumenfeld, Operation Flintlock public affairs officer, wrote in an e-mail that the 352nd Special Operations Group’s MC-130s and the CV-22s are “significant platforms for an ongoing effort in the Trans-Sahara region for regional cooperation and security. Flintlock is an established SOF exercise which continually builds from experiences gained from previous Flintlocks and its smaller scale version; Silent Warrior.”

After launching from Lajes-Field, Azores, Portugal, Oct. 22, Colonel McNaughton and his aircrew refueled a 352nd SOG aircrew’s MC-130 – also from RAF Mildenhall – which in turn refueled the CV-22s. 

“I call it, ‘Slowin’ down the gas,'” said the aircraft commander. “Having that middleman (the MC-130) slows the refueling down (passing fuel from one aircraft to another then to another). We weren’t able to refuel the CV-22 directly; we used a boom to refuel the (SOG aircraft), then that aircraft used a probe and drogue system to refuel the CV-22. We do have that capability, but primarily use it for Navy jets; our drogues aren’t designed to operate at lower speeds.” 

The colonel explained that he and his aircrew met face to face with the MC-130 and CV-22 pilots in Lajes-Field, so they could brief them before the refueling took place. 

“We’ve refueled MC-130s before, but the question arose as to whether the Ospreys could keep up with us, and where they were physically going to be while we refueled the MC-130,” he said. “The briefing beforehand allowed us to iron out those problems and find solutions.” 

On Colonel McNaughton’s aircraft there were four crewmembers and three crew chiefs; three crewmembers flew on the other KC-135 from RAF Mildenhall. 

The co-pilot, 1st Lt. Jeff Lascurain, 351st Air Refueling Squadron, said he’d never seen or worked a mission with the Osprey aircraft before. 

“It’s always cool to see a new type of aircraft on your wing,” he said, explaining that during the refueling the Ospreys were positioned off the left wing, about one mile out. 

“I was on the right-hand side of the plane, so my best view of the CV-22s was as we were making our turn to rejoin with the MC-130 and CV-22 formation,” he said. 

Colonel McNaughton said he had no idea his scheduled mission would turn into helping refuel the new AFSOC aircraft. 

“We usually have a one-day run to Lajes-Field each week, and I volunteered for that particular week – and it turned into this,” he said. “It was a hoot being part of it.” 

Mr. Blumenfeld said the mission was evidence of the importance of aerial refueling. 

“The CV-22 ‘s range is dependent on your efforts and thus provides it that ‘far reach’ capability as evidenced by its transatlantic flight,” he wrote. “This reach capability is important due to the fact that Operation Enduring Freedom – Trans Sahara is conducted over a geographic area the size of (the continental United States).” 

He also said the exercise is the result of great interagency communication and coordination. 

Flintlock “has geo-political impact as the exercise involves African partner nations as well as European partner nations such as Germany, the Netherlands and the UK,” he explained.

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