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Joint force hot pitting saves time, money

Air Force petroleum, oil and lubricant personnel work alongside members of the VAQ-129 Electronic Attack Squadron assigned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., to perform a hot pit refueling Nov. 13, 2014, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The U.S. Navy is the first branch outside the Air Force to be approved to hot pit at MHAFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy L. Mosier/RELEASED)

Air Force petroleum, oil and lubricant personnel work alongside members of the VAQ-129 Electronic Attack Squadron assigned to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., to perform a hot pit refueling Nov. 13, 2014, at Mountain Home Air Force Base, Idaho. The U.S. Navy is the first branch outside the Air Force to be approved to hot pit at MHAFB. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jeremy L. Mosier/RELEASED)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Joint training is an important part of the modern U.S. military, but it can sometimes complicate simple things like refueling a jet. Airmen from the 366th Logistics Readiness Squadron petroleum, oil and lubricant flight recently took a big step in supporting Mountain Home Air Force Base's training mission with the U.S. Navy Electronic Attack Squadron 129.

The Airmen qualified to work alongside their Navy counterparts to perform "hot pit" refueling on the Navy EA-18G Growlers which frequent the base, saving time and money in the process. Hot pit refueling is the relatively common practice of refueling a jet while the engines are still running, but qualifying to do so on a sister service aircraft is uncommon at best, and a first for the 366th Fighter Wing.

"It's always a learning experience when working with other agencies, or sister services, like the VAQ-129," said Tech. Sgt. Richard Schaefer, 366th LRS fuel distribution supervisor. "Not only does each branch have a unique way of performing their operations, but they also have different requirements."

While there are differences between the services, joint training is something members of both the 366th FW and VAQ-129 do daily. The 390th Electronic Combat Squadron is assigned to the 366th Operations Group but stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash., to man, train and equip Air Force aircrew to employ expeditionary EA-18Gs. Due to the already existing partnership and frequent training VAQ-129 performs at the Mountain Home Range Complex, the visiting unit requested to have the ability to hot pit refuel here.

The request was granted by major command after a three- to four-month process. Both branches had to outline the differences they had in refueling procedures and how they would overcome them.

Although the hot pit qualification process was extensive, it presents many advantages.

"It saves hugely on man power ... and it also cuts the refueling process from 45 minutes to roughly 15 minutes," said Schaefer. "Everyone gets it done as quickly as possible so we can get the bird back in the air to perform its mission."

The positives from hot pit refueling stretch past just benefiting MHAFB. Prior to hot pitting here, VAQ-129 would either have to fly back to Whidbey Island to refuel or perform the regular refueling process at MHAFB, which consists of turning the aircraft off, as well as conducting the routine maintenance checks that come with shutting down engines and firing them up again. Additionally, VAQ-129 would have to send additional sailors on temporary duty to perform the maintenance checks, costing taxpayers money.

Whether we had our aircraft fly back to Whidby Island or do a full-length refuel here, we wasted a lot of time and resources, said U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Loza Sanchez, VAQ-129 aviation structural mechanic. "We can save about an hour by performing a hot pit here."

The new joint hot pit refueling is a testament to the close working relationship between the airmen at MHAFB and the sailors of Whidbey Island.

"It was great working with the VAQ-129," said Schaefer. "Let's face it ... everybody enjoys saving money."