KC-130's flexibility extends commander to reach further

Capt Reid Houck

Capt Reid Houck, co-pilot, VMGR-352, 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), fastens his seatbelt while Maj Angel Hooper, aircraft commander, VMGR-352, 15th MEU, conducts a pre-flight inspection in the cockpit of a KC-130 Hercules before beginning an aerial refueling mission, Feb. 9. The 15th MEU is deployed as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group as a U.S. Central Command theater reserve force, providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. Photo by GySgt Jennifer Antoine.

CAMP LEMONNIER, DJIBOUTI (February 21, 2013) - Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 364 (Rein.) is the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit's Aviation Combat Element, providing a wide range of capabilities to the MEU's commanding officer. Many of these tasks would not be possible without the assistance of Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 352.

The MEU's air assets have missions such as transporting a few Marines or cargo from one place to another to inserting a platoon of Marines into a hot landing zone to providing close air support for ground operations. Many times, the distance for these missions is beyond the reach of aircraft to get there on just one tank of gas.

Reaching these extended locations is only accomplished when VMGR conducts aerial refueling or is able to land to refuel aircraft on the ground, which can significantly increase the distance the MEU's aircraft would be able to fly.

When refueling aircraft such as the AV-8BHarrier, the KC-130 Hercules flies at 310 knots true air speed. The 92,000 pound aircraft uses nearly 5,000 pounds of fuel per hour and can hold up to 58,000 pounds of fuel, allowing it to fuel multiple aircraft at a time in a single flight. 

During aerial refueling, the pilots of the massive Hercules extend the fuel line as approaching aircraft pull up close to it and connect with it. Once the connection has been made, the transport can move 8,000 gallons of fuel in just under 10 minutes. 

Aerial refueling and aerial delivery ground refueling are not the only tasks on VMGR's mission essential task list. It is also required to conduct aerial delivery of cargo and personnel, support logistical runs and be able to land in austere landing zones.

"We are able to execute every mission skill set required," said Maj Angel Hooper, officer-in-charge, VMGR 352, 15th MEU. "We come with a full complement of skills to provide the MEU the most flexibility possible."

The Hercules has enough brute strength to transport two up-armored High Mobility Muti-Wheeled Vehicles plus cargo or hold up to 92 passengers and their equipment. Depending on the weight of cargo, the KC-130 can fly up to 12 hours without having to land to refuel. 

A workhorse of aircraft, the KC-130 can land where most other aircraft cannot. It can go anywhere and do anything, said Hooper.

Teaming up with the Marine Mobile Air Traffic Control Team, the KC-130 can land in extremely undeveloped areas, which allows for Marines on the ground to receive much needed resupplies such as food, water, equipment, ammunition and fuel.

"The beautiful thing about being a Marine C-130 pilot is that we use the plane as it was intended to be used," said Hooper. "We're not a one-trick-pony. We've added a gunship variation to our fleet called Harvest Hawk, which fires Hell Fire and Griffith missiles. We're the perfect platform because we can provide assault support and close air support," said Hooper. 

The 41-Marine detachment's non-deployment home is Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and the small number of Marines in the unit is just enough to have three flying crews and maintainers to directly support the MEU. 

"The Marines have been working really, really hard to ensure all airplanes stay flight-ready 24/7," said Hooper. "We are the epitome of doing more with less."

The 15th MEU is deployed as part of the Peleliu Amphibious Ready Group as a U.S. Central Command theater reserve force, providing support for maritime security operations and theater security cooperation efforts in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility.

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