HH-60W completes first aerial refuelling test

The USAF’s newest combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter, the Sikorsky HH-60W Jolly Green II, completed its first air-to-air refuelling sortie over southern Alabama on August 5.

During the mission, the HH-60W – assigned to the 413th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida – successfully connected with a Lockheed Martin HC-130J Combat King II tactical tanker/transport operated by the 71st Rescue Squadron (RQS) from Moody AFB, Georgia.

HH-60W [USAF/MSgt Tristan McIntire] #1
A HH-60W connects with a HC-130J Combat King II's fuel drogue for the first time during an air-to-air refuelling sortie over southern Alabama on August 5. USAF/MSgt Tristan McIntire

The passing of this milestone marked the start of a two-week-long developmental test period to evaluate the helicopter’s in-flight refuelling capabilities. Throughout the trials, the Jolly Green II will fly a number of sorties during daylight hours, but it will conclude with a night evaluation using night vision goggles. Aircrew and engineers will evaluate the HH-60W’s ability to connect with the fuel drogue and its handling qualities during the refuelling process.  

Joe Whiteaker, the 413th FLTS Combat Rescue Helicopter flight chief, said: “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… Our job is to evaluate how difficult aerial [refuelling] 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.”

This mission marks the passing of another major milestone in the Jolly Green II’s development in 2020. In this year alone, the HH-60W has completed a number of developmental trials, including defensive system, radar and extreme weather testing.