TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A KC-10 Extender crew from Travis Air Force Base, California, took part March 10 in a first-of-its-kind mission to move six U.S. Marine Corps MV-22 Ospreys to Morón Air Base, Spain.
The mission to move the MV-22s charted an alternative, transatlantic southern route as opposed to a northern passage used in previous efforts.
Departing from Joint Base Charleston, South Carolina, the Travis KC-10 rendezvoused with MV-22s leaving L.F. Wade International Airport in Bermuda. Together, the aircraft continued on to Lajes Field, Portugal, before arriving at Morón.
The mission was also the longest flight that an MV-22 has done by 600 nautical miles due to the change in route, according to a video by U.S. Marine Corps Cpl. Holly Pernell.
In the past, the same transit has taken a northern trajectory across Canada, according to 1st Lt. David Burleson, 9th Air Refueling Squadron KC-10 pilot. Inclement weather forced the change in flight path.
The return flight also saw the Travis crew drag two MV-22s back to Bermuda from Lajes. Burleson said, prior to this mission, he had never refueled Ospreys.
“There were some similarities to other missions that I’ve done, but it was also a little bit different exploring the capabilities of the KC-10,” said Burleson.
Burleson said that due to the mission requirements of the MV-22s, the KC-10 was forced to refuel the Ospreys at a slower speed and lower altitude than other missions. It’s common to refuel fighter jets at speeds just under 300 nautical mph while the Ospreys required closer to 200 knots, said Burleson.
“It was different, and it was pretty neat to explore what we’re capable of doing,” he said.
Refueling six aircraft at once was a first for Senior Airman Brandon Nicholds, 9th ARS boom operator, who took the challenge in stride.
“This is something we do every day,” he said. “It’s the mission and we’re going to get it done. We just need to make sure we have everything right. That’s where crew coordination comes into play. We need to make sure we all bring our own pieces to the table.”
Nicholds said the KC-10 crew needed to find the proper weight that allowed it to take off with enough fuel to supply the Ospreys, yet still having enough for their own aircraft to make it safely to Lajes as carrying more fuel slows flight.
“We had to come up with a good fuel plan,” he said. “I’ve never carried six receivers, definitely never flown this low and slow for such a long time.”
Burleson said that while it was an unusual mission for the 9th ARS, it demonstrated adaptability.
“We’re a really flexible force and this displayed how flexible we are as a fighting force,” he said. “(I feel) a lot of pride in the personnel that we have across the different airframes, in the different branches of service, coordinating through different agencies.”
The Ospreys are part of the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response Africa mission based out of Morón. The task force includes Marines and Sailors who respond to a range of crises across Africa.