In a First, Manned Helicopter Refuels Unmanned Helicopter

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  • 09:53 AM, August 23, 2023
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In a First, Manned Helicopter Refuels Unmanned Helicopter
HMH-361 helicopter and MQ-8C Unmanned Helicopter on the day of refueling experiment @U.S. military

Marines delivered fuel to a Navy MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned autonomous helicopter from a Marine Corps CH-53E for the first time recently.

The exercise took place at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, California, July 31, 2023.

The innovative trial was the first time a manned aircraft has provided fuel for an unmanned rotary wing aircraft, the U.S. military said in a statement.

Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 361, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, led the aerial delivered ground refueling (ADGR) trial with the MQ-8C Fire Scout from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 21, during Service Level Training Exercise (SLTE) 5-23.

The MQ-8C is a sea-based, vertical lift unmanned system that traditionally operates from a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a relatively small surface vessel designed for operations near shore. The MQ-8C supports the LCS in and around littoral waters through data collection and assessment. The Navy and Marine Corps seized the opportunity to test the tactical application of operating a shipborne integrated intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance platform for extended time ashore in a simulated littoral environment.

Marines leveraged the CH-53E's ability to provide fuel to air and ground vehicles in austere environments to maximize the range of the MQ-8C. The CH-53E transferred approximately 700 pounds of fuel, just under the maximum payload of the MQ-8C, which supports an estimated range of 150 nautical miles. By comparison, the CH-53E has a maximum 23,450 pound fuel payload and supports an estimated range of 540 nautical miles.

The maximum fuel payload of the MQ-8C is so minimal compared to the fuel payload of the CH-53E, that the CH-53E can refuel the MQ-8C multiple times while operating in a combat environment without sacrificing much of its own fuel. This supports the joint force by keeping the MQ-8C on the battlespace longer.

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