Military News

Friday, July 17, 2015

Hungarian air force performs first historic air refueling with help from NATO ally, partner

by Senior Airman Kate Thornton
100th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

7/17/2015 - RAF MILDENHALL, England  -- The Hungarian air force hosted U.S. and Swedish air force personnel between June 21 and 30, 2015, at Kecskemét air base, Hungary, to learn air-to-air refueling for the first time.

Following a recent tasking to perform close air support for global operations, the Hungarian air force made this new capability a priority.

The NATO allies and partners met for a two-week familiarization period enabling the Hungarian JAS-39 Gripen pilots to perform air-to-air refueling in a safe and controlled environment before applying the new skill in combat.

"To get the right mission strength, we need to have air-to-air refueling, that's why we turned to the U.S. to get some AAR capability and initial training," said Hungarian air force Brig. Gen. Csebe Ugrik, Kecskemét AB commander.

As the only permanent U.S. Air Force air refueling wing in the European theater, the aircrew and tanker assigned to the 100th Air Refueling Wing at RAF Mildenhall, England, was the go-to unit to provide practical training after the classroom portion.

"Now we could finally start this training and get this very important force multiplier capability for the Hungarian Gripen fleet," said Hungarian air force Lt. Col. Tamas Szvath, Hungarian AF fixed wing training commander.

Although the Gripen aircraft has the ability to air refuel, the Hungarian pilots needed training.

Three instructor pilots from the Swedish air force Gripen Operational Testing and Evaluation unit were responsible for the training syllabus, basic training and the Hungarian instructor pilot training.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Benjamin Kline and Tech. Sgt. Daniel Maas, 351st Air Refueling Squadron instructor pilot and boom operator, instructed the Hungarian students using the KC-135 Stratotanker as the training platform, which gave them an idea of what to expect when communicating and air refueling with the U.S. tanker.

After three days of academics taught by representatives from the two guest air forces involved, the pilots took flight for hands-on familiarization.

"In the beginning of the training we're trying not to focus on [a quota of successful contacts]," Swedish air force Capt. Fredrik Borgström, Gripen instructor pilot said. "We want to make sure the performance is safe, corrections are made after feedback and they continue to improve. Then in the end we want them to handle those corrections by themselves and analyze their own behavior."

Along with learning air refueling, the Hungarians needed instructor pilots to maintain the new skills. The Swedish instructor pilots trained two individuals after they had completed their basic air refueling training.

"You have to start somewhere," Borgström said. "It is not ideal to become an instructor when you've just recently done your basic training, but we show them the tool box so they have a way to move forward with training."

The tanker and Gripen aircrew flew approximately six hours daily for six days to ensure the pilots understood their new capability. The training event also developed better interoperability between the air forces.

"Our job is to sustain and project air power," Kline said, "We're here to enable the Hungarians with this new military skill set."

After days of performing only dry contacts with the tanker, the pilots were confident enough and took fuel for the first time, proving they were ready to perform air refueling safely and correctly.

"For the future of the Gripen fleet, it means we have a capability the Hungarian air force has never had before," Szvath said. "Our partners who provided this help to us have written their names in the history of Hungarian military aviation."

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