HomeNews

Aerial refueling probe light evaluations flown with KC-135: Effort to clear Navy, USMC F-35 night refueling envelope

Caption: A U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II is drogue refueled by a KC-10A during a training mission near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, April 10, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Kelly)

Caption: A U.S. Navy F-35C Lightning II is drogue refueled by a KC-10A during a training mission near Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, April 10, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Kelly)

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. --

The F-35 program recently completed testing on an improved lighting assembly with the KC-135 that will enable the Navy and Marine Corps F-35 variants to refuel behind the tanker at night. Flight testing of the redesigned light, which attaches to a refueling probe, was led by Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland, and supported by Edwards Air Force Base, California.

The test demonstrated teamwork across three services and between test units located on opposite coasts, all focused on quickly evaluating this lighting fix under specific nighttime conditions to ensure that F-35 operators can expand their night refueling operations to include all configurations of the KC-135.  

The purpose of the probe light on Navy and Marine aircraft is to illuminate the refueling receptacle, or “basket,” to ensure that the F-35 pilot can see adequately and make contact to begin refueling. However, the existing lighting design made it difficult for the KC-135 boom operator to see the silhouette of the F-35, which is an Air Force requirement in order for the boom operator to monitor refueling operations and help the F-35 pilot maintain safe separation from the refueling boom. One main objective of this redesign is to ensure better visibility for the KC-135 boom operator.

“An issue with the current probe light was that it was too bright, blinding the KC-135 aerial refueling boom operators,” said Michael McGee, 418th Flight Test Squadron, Aerial Refueling project manager at Edwards AFB. “The new light was designed to be less bright, but still bright enough for the F-35 pilot to see clearly.”

For this test, an F-35B deployed to Edwards AFB from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23), Naval Air Station Patuxent River, and was paired up with a KC-135 and test aircrew from the 418th FLTS. Both ground and flight tests posed interesting challenges for the team consisting of 418th FLTS and 461st Flight Test Squadron personnel.

“For the ground test we used a hangar,” McGee said. “The environment needed to be completely dark. We had to remove emergency lighting from the facility and place mats on the floor to reduce light glare. The boom operators were raised on a scissor lift to simulate the KC-135 tanker. The team had to simulate the drogue basket approaching the F-35B so the 461st FLTS maintainers mounted the basket onto a B-4 stand.  Since the stand is on wheels, we could simulate the basket approaching the probe while the F-35 pilot assessed the brightness of the light.”

The ground test evaluated two types of lights with different color tones - a warm white light and an amber light - across various brightness levels. The warm white light was assessed as the best choice for both of the boom operators and the pilots, McGee said.

The first flight test lasted four hours and accomplished all of the required test points. 

“Our biggest concern was completing the test during the lowest moon illumination; worst case lighting scenario timeframe, which was March 1-11,” said McGee. “For the flight test, we planned a minimum of two flights, but captured all test points on our first flight.”

The evaluation had favorable results and the design will now be considered by the Air Refueling Certification Agency to be incorporated into a revised flight clearance for the Navy and USMC, anticipated by early this summer.

The F-35A — the U.S. Air Force variant — does not have a probe so no light change is required for that model.

USAF Comments Policy
If you wish to comment, use the text box below. AF reserves the right to modify this policy at any time.

This is a moderated forum. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect. We will not post comments that contain abusive or vulgar language, spam, hate speech, personal attacks, violate EEO policy, are offensive to other or similar content. We will not post comments that are spam, are clearly "off topic", promote services or products, infringe copyright protected material, or contain any links that don't contribute to the discussion. Comments that make unsupported accusations will also not be posted. The AF and the AF alone will make a determination as to which comments will be posted. Any references to commercial entities, products, services, or other non-governmental organizations or individuals that remain on the site are provided solely for the information of individuals using this page. These references are not intended to reflect the opinion of the AF, DoD, the United States, or its officers or employees concerning the significance, priority, or importance to be given the referenced entity, product, service, or organization. Such references are not an official or personal endorsement of any product, person, or service, and may not be quoted or reproduced for the purpose of stating or implying AF endorsement or approval of any product, person, or service.

Any comments that report criminal activity including: suicidal behaviour or sexual assault will be reported to appropriate authorities including OSI. This forum is not:

  • This forum is not to be used to report criminal activity. If you have information for law enforcement, please contact OSI or your local police agency.
  • Do not submit unsolicited proposals, or other business ideas or inquiries to this forum. This site is not to be used for contracting or commercial business.
  • This forum may not be used for the submission of any claim, demand, informal or formal complaint, or any other form of legal and/or administrative notice or process, or for the exhaustion of any legal and/or administrative remedy.

AF does not guarantee or warrant that any information posted by individuals on this forum is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. AF may not be able to verify, does not warrant or guarantee, and assumes no liability for anything posted on this website by any other person. AF does not endorse, support or otherwise promote any private or commercial entity or the information, products or services contained on those websites that may be reached through links on our website.

Members of the media are asked to send questions to the public affairs through their normal channels and to refrain from submitting questions here as comments. Reporter questions will not be posted. We recognize that the Web is a 24/7 medium, and your comments are welcome at any time. However, given the need to manage federal resources, moderating and posting of comments will occur during regular business hours Monday through Friday. Comments submitted after hours or on weekends will be read and posted as early as possible; in most cases, this means the next business day.

For the benefit of robust discussion, we ask that comments remain "on-topic." This means that comments will be posted only as it relates to the topic that is being discussed within the blog post. The views expressed on the site by non-federal commentators do not necessarily reflect the official views of the AF or the Federal Government.

To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information, such as name, Social Security number, DoD ID number, OSI Case number, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. If you do voluntarily include personally identifiable information in your comment, such as your name, that comment may or may not be posted on the page. If your comment is posted, your name will not be redacted or removed. In no circumstances will comments be posted that contain Social Security numbers, DoD ID numbers, OSI case numbers, addresses, email address or phone numbers. The default for the posting of comments is "anonymous", but if you opt not to, any information, including your login name, may be displayed on our site.

Thank you for taking the time to read this comment policy. We encourage your participation in our discussion and look forward to an active exchange of ideas.

News Search