C-130, two C-2s and four Japanese F-35As refuel in a ‘hot-pit’

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Last month, a Japanese aircrew successfully performed a “hot-pit” refueling procedure on an F-35A Lightning II while its engines were running on Guam. This marked a first for Japan’s most advanced fighter jets. 

The event took place at the Andersen Air Force Base. The Air Force’s 36th Wing reported the operation, the first of its kind for a Japanese F-35 outside Japan. The hot-pit refueling can save up to 45 minutes per aircraft turnaround time. 

The procedure was part of the first F-35A training sessions conducted outside of Japan from August 21 to September 2. The exercises were designed to enhance “deployment capabilities” and explore potential rotational deployment according to the Air Self-Defense Force. 

Photo credit: Getty Images

Other activities during the training included long-distance navigation and aerial refueling. Approximately 160 personnel and four F-35As from Japan’s 3rd Air Wing took part. Support was provided by a C-130 Hercules, a KC-767 refueler, and two C-2 Greyhound cargo planes. 

The goal was to strengthen Japan’s ability to “project air power more rapidly” and become a more reliable partner in a contingency situation. The training aligned Japan’s capabilities more closely with the U.S, Australia and South Korea.

What is ‘hot-pit’ refueling?

‘Hot-pit’ refueling of combat aircraft, like the F-35, refers to a method of refueling where the aircraft is refueled while its engines are still running.

This allows for a quick turnaround time, as the aircraft does not need to shut down its engines and can continue its operations immediately after refueling.

This technique is commonly used in military operations where time is of the essence and the aircraft needs to be ready for action as quickly as possible.

‘Hot-pit’ refueling is often conducted on the ground, with specialized refueling vehicles and equipment to ensure the safety and efficiency of the process.

How ‘hot-pit’ refueling works?

During a ‘hot-pit’ refuel, the aircraft is typically positioned near a fueling station or a fuel truck, which is equipped with a hose and nozzle to deliver fuel to the aircraft.

Photo credit: UK MoD

The refueling process is carefully coordinated between the ground crew and the pilot to ensure a smooth and safe operation. The aircraft’s engines remain running throughout the refueling process, allowing the pilot to maintain control and readiness for immediate takeoff if necessary.

This method eliminates the need for the aircraft to go through a complete shutdown and startup sequence, saving valuable time in critical situations.

‘Hot-pit’ safety

Safety is of utmost importance during a ‘hot-pit’ refuel. Special precautions are taken to minimize the risk of accidents or fuel spills. The ground crew follows strict protocols and wears appropriate safety gear to protect themselves and the aircraft.

Photo by James Deboer

The refueling equipment is designed to prevent fuel leaks or spills, and regular maintenance and inspections are conducted to ensure its proper functioning.

Additionally, the pilot and ground crew communicate closely to maintain situational awareness and address any potential safety concerns that may arise during the refueling process.


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