Hover Refuelling with TSW
When the phone rings in the Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) Ops Room at Camp Bastion, the TSW Operators know they are likely to have to react immediately, and with haste, as it could be a request for fuel from Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) Chinook; United States Air Force Rescue Ops; or AH64 Very High Readiness aircraft.
But a phone call taken earlier this year had an added impetus; the JAG Duty Watchkeeper informed the TSW Operator that an urgent Hover Refuel was required for a Chinook unable to land due to undercarriage damage and only enough fuel for ten minutes flying.
Taking charge of the situation, the shift JNCO issued a quick brief to his team, instructing them to don their PPE and get to the refuel spot as quickly as possible. The Team deployed with a Sheppard’s Crook static probe; a device used to discharge, to earth, the static charge generated by the spinning rotors. At the height of the Afghan summer, any spark has a chance of igniting aviation fuel well above its flashpoint.
After earthing the aircraft the three man team attempted to connect the fuel issue line but, due to unfavourable cross-winds, the Pilot was having difficulty keeping the aircraft in a static hover; for their own safety, the Team had to be waived off by the aircrew. With fuel running low and time running out, the Pilot was forced to rest his rear wheels on the ground to stabilise the aircraft. The team were then able to connect and issue fuel to the aircraft. This gave the Technicians time to deploy a makeshift stand for the aircraft to land on in lieu of the damaged part of its undercarriage.
The team were later informed that the whole event had been an Exercise designed to test the reactions and skill of the ground support teams and aircrew. Nevertheless, the team proved that their quick reaction and skill would have bought enough time to prevent a potentially catastrophic incident. The process has been subsequently exercised using a Merlin, as can be seen from the image above.