Air Force keeps rescue operations fueled

COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AFNS) -- The Berlin Airlift marked an historical period in U.S. military innovation, the ability to resupply a blockaded city in Germany. As Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc on South Texas, the storm left areas of Texas flooded and completely unreachable by land.

Airmen from 71st Rescue Squadron and 23d Logistics Readiness Squadron conducting forward area refueling point operations were the life blood to air search and rescue missions going Aug. 31, 2017 in Beaumont, Texas.

Bringing refueling capabilities to an area cut off by water, the 71st RQS utilized the FARP capabilities of the HC-130J Combat King IIs to extend missions out of Jack Brooks Regional Airport to support search and rescue operations.

Due to flooding in Beaumont caused by Hurricane Harvey, the airport was unable to receive fuel shipments to supply fuel to aircraft conducting operations in and around the city.

“Despite dire shortages of fuel and battling constant weather, HC-130J capabilities reduced rescue asset refueling by an hour, thirty minutes each way,” said 1Lt. Dan Cole, a Rescue Tactical Operations Center officer. “They were absolutely vital in saving lives today.”

The HC-130J is the only dedicated fixed-wing personnel recovery platform in the Air Force inventory. It has the capability to carry over 9,000 gallons of fuel which can be transferred to other aircraft in flight or on the ground. It this instance, the crews used their ground refueling capability to refill the airport’s empty tanks.

“We passed over 23,000 gallons of fuel to aircraft operating in Beaumont and Port Arthur area,” said Capt. Nelson Willingham, a 71st RQS HC-130J pilot. “Our efforts saved lives and I am extremely proud of the incredible work that our Airmen put into this.”

Willingham also noted that because of the training they do every day it allows aircrew who operate the HC-130J to be able to rapidly deploy and support these kinds of operations.

The 71st RQS and other Airmen from the 23rd Wing were tasked to support Hurricane Harvey relief operations through coordination with Federal Emergency Management Agency and Texas state agencies.