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    Marine Helicopter Refuels Mid-Air Toting Retired F-35 in Strategic Test

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    CH-53K King Stallion” by Lutz Blohm is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    In a display of aerial prowess and technical finesse, a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53K King Stallion helicopter completed a complex mid-air refueling operation while carrying a non-operational F-35C jet on April 24, showcasing the military’s innovative approach to logistics and combat readiness.

    CH-53K King Stallion” by Lutz Blohm is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    A testament to precision and skill, the CH-53K from Marine Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VMX-1) seamlessly connected to a Navy KC-130T tanker aircraft for refueling.

    Lockheed KC.130T of the U.S. Marine Corps. coded QH at Stuttgart-STR (7822186500)” by Alec Wilson from Khon Kaen, Thailand is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    This operation, requiring pilots to push the aircraft to the edge of their flight envelopes, was performed over 160 miles from Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland to an airfield in New Jersey.

    Lockheed Martin F-35C Lightning II (BuNo 169601) (with VMFA-314 at Miramar NAS) and McDonnell Douglas (now Boeing) F/A-18A-15-MC Hornet (F/A-18A++) (BuNo 162442)” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The King Stallion, the Marine Corps’ most powerful helicopter designed for heavy-lift cargo transportation, demonstrated its dual capability by not only refueling mid-flight but also while hauling the F-35C, known as CF-01, which had been retired to serve as a non-flying test model. CF-01 was stripped of its mission and propulsion systems, outer wings, and additional equipment for this operation.

    An F-35C Lightning II flies over the Bay of Bengal during Maritime Partnership Exercise 2021.” by Official U.S. Navy Imagery is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The Marines demonstrated the King Stallion’s load-carrying abilities for “Helicopter Support Team operations” at Patuxent River in January 2023.

    The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion made its international debut during its demo flight at ILA Berlin, April 25, 2018.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The CH-53Ks have lifted various other large payloads during testing. The King Stallion’s initial official real-world mission also included retrieving the wreckage of a smaller MH-60S Seahawk helicopter that crashed in California in 2021.

    File:164106 NY a KC-130T of VMGR-452 landing at North Island NAS (3764850492).jpg” by Jerry Gunner from Lincoln, UK is licensed under CC BY 2.0

    The KC-130T, a rarity in Navy service with a history in both Air Force and Marine Corps operations, played a pivotal role in this unprecedented operation, having previously served as a tanker since its introduction in 1986.

    Lockheed KC-130T S/N 16-9228 – VMGR-234 ‘Rangers’” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    The KC-130T showcased its versatility, transitioning from its traditional roles to supporting this unique Marine Corps requirement.

    April 25, 2018 Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion at Opening Day for ILA Berlin – The CH-53K on display at the opening day of ILA Berlin.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    This multifaceted operation underscored the military’s ability to adapt and innovate, reflecting a shift in strategic priorities.

    Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    As the Marine Corps embraces new expeditionary and distributed concepts of operations with a focus on the Pacific theater, the CH-53K King Stallion proves to be a vital asset.

    Sikorsky CH-53E Sea Stallion and VH-3D Sea King – U.S.M.C. HMX-1 Nighthawks ‘Marine One’ and escort” by AV8PIX Christopher Ebdon is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

    It is set to replace the older CH-53E models, with the Marines planning to acquire 200 of the updated helicopters.

    The Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion made its international debut during its demo flight at ILA Berlin, April 25, 2018.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Despite developmental delays, the CH-53K achieved initial operational capability in 2022, with its first deployment expected in 2026.

    April 24, 2018, the Sikorsky CH-53K ‘King Stallion’ touches down at ILA Berlin Air Show.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    This move is indicative of the military’s investment in enhancing its capacity for island-hopping operations and long-range logistical support, potentially against high-end adversaries.

    April 24, 2018, the Sikorsky CH-53K King Stallion touches down at ILA Berlin Air Show.” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    Such an ability to transport inoperable aircraft and other outsized cargoes over extended distances is integral to the services’ forward-looking strategies.

    Lockheed Martin F-35C ‘Lightning II’” by aeroman3 is licensed under CC PDM 1.0

    The CH-53K’s successful refueling and transport of the F-35C highlights a new frontier in military operations, combining heavy-lift capability with aerial refueling to extend the reach of Marine Corps aviation assets.

    Relevant articles:
    This new Marine Corps helicopter refueled from a Navy tanker while carrying a Navy fighter, Task & Purpose
    Check Out This Marine CH-53K Carrying An F-35C While Refueling From A KC-130T, The War Zone
    KC-135 Stratotanker, AF.mil
    KC-46A Tanker, Military.com

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