KADENA AIR BASE, Japan: A team of HH-60G Pave Hawk pilots here provided a three-day intensive course on air refueling to Japanese Self Defense Forces helicopter rescue pilots in late March over Japan.
The training, given by pilots from the 33rd Rescue Squadron, gave JASDF members hands-on helicopter air refueling training.
American pilots put together a refueling training program for four JASDF helicopter pilots with the hopes of providing them the tools to begin conducting long-range rescue missions.
“This training will significantly help the JASDF forces by giving them the ability to refuel in the air and increasing their range for rescue operations,” said Capt. Kyle Kimberlin, an HH-60 pilot from the 33rd RQS. “So if there’s a rescue mission that’s outside the (normal) range of a helicopter they will now have the ability to go even further out over the water to pick guys up and help them out.”
The air refueling training was a joint endeavor with support from Marines from VMGR-152 who flew a KC-130J tanker and the 17th Special Operations Squadron who flew an MC-130 tanker. Coordination with the two tanker teams took place in the days prior to the training, ensuring the location, altitudes and air speeds were prepared for the training flights.
“The main goal for the Air Force was basically to help the JASDF get this capability by taking this first step,” said Capt. Andy Gray, a 33rd RQS HH-60 pilot. “For the ground training, we basically put together a training syllabus specifically for guys who were very experienced in the aircraft — the JASDF pilots — but had no experience air refueling.”
The training syllabus centered on the JASDF becoming familiar with air refueling operations and included a day of ground training and two hours of actual hands-on refueling for each of the four JASDF pilots.
The air refueling training was a four-part process which included pre-air refueling, what to do on approach with the tanker, how to get off the tanker, and post-air refueling procedures. In addition, they also practiced training in an emergency situation.
“One thing that we got out of it is, we got to talk to those guys, hear their techniques, and build our coordination and our standard terminology because the language barrier is one of the big things we have to overcome when we work with the JASDF,” Captain Gray said. “Mainly we just shared that professionalism between the units so that when we do have to operate together we’ll be able to do it smoothly.”
This exercise gave the JASDF forces an insight on the standard way the Air Force does training, the captain said. The next step is to understand the way the JASDF does training by going through a Japanese training program.
JASDF Maj. Sekine Eiji, a UH-60J pilot with the Akita Air Rescue Squadron, said the training was the first step of the JASDF’s new program to obtain C-130 and rescue helicopter air refueling capability.
“In the beginning of the training, I was nervous because I had never come as close to a C-130 as we did in order to connect to the drogue,” the major said. “I had to maintain precise aircraft control within a 1-inch margin for every motion. In the end, myself and the other JASDF pilot each successfully refueled our aircraft.”
The expectation for this training was to build a stepping stone for the Japanese to begin their own training program on how to do daytime helicopter refueling. The next step is to teach night refueling.
“Personally I just enjoy instructing in general but this was extra special because you know that they’re going to develop their program now,” said Capt. Gabe Brown, a 33rd RQS HH-60 pilot. “They are the first ones to do this and they are going to pyramid the JASDF air refueling capability and it’s going to be neat to look back and know that we started that.”