VIDEO: Refueling Over Iraq

Photojournalist Ed Darack watches the action from the open cargo door of a C-130J

Aviators of Marine Attack Squadron 23—the "Ace of Spades"—based out of Cherry Point, North Carolina maneuver their AV-8B Harriers for an aerial refueling mission high above Iraq's Al Anbar Province. Ed Darack

While embedded with Marines flying out of Al Asad air base in Iraq, photojournalist Ed Darack got a chance to shoot some air-to-air aviation photography. This video footage shows what it looks like to capture warbirds in their natural environment—in this case a pair of refueling F/A-18s set against a dusky desert sunset.

Darack describes the experience:
“Some of the most exciting moments of my two-week embed with 2nd Marine Air Wing (FWD) came when the cargo door of a C-130J cranked open miles above Iraq’s Anbar Province, as the craft motored through the air at hundreds of miles per hour. I flew with Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 on their state-of-the-art C-130Js on a number of missions as they performed the delicate art of in-flight refueling for both Marine F/A-18D Hornets and AV-8B Harriers.

“Of course, photographing the jets while they ‘plugged’ was best done through open air—unhindered by scuffed windows—and from the aspect closest to the aircraft, from the very edge of the deployed ramp.

“The first of two of these shoots would come at dusk. Lt. Col. Kenneth Zieleck, commander for the mission, chose the shoot location based on the least amount of ground-to-air threat, then depressurized the cabin and cargo hold, and dropped our altitude (to a level safe from hypoxia, but within potential, albeit nonexistent, antiaircraft fire).

“Strapped in, I was guided to the very edge by Staff Sergeant Mike Torres, a loadmaster. Out of the gray distance, two dots emerged—F/A-18D Hornets, call signs Covey 60 (lead) and Covey 61. The jets roared up to the rear of the 130, deployed their refueling probes and connected. The Hornets were so close I had to switch to wide-angle lenses for my cameras.

“The shoot lasted about 12 minutes, with the Coveys, operated by Major Neal ‘Rudy’ Rickner and 1st Lieutenant Adam “Tigo” Gable (Covey 60), and Captain Michael ‘Big Slew’ Miklos and 1st Lieutenant Matthew ‘Dobber’ Tavernier (Covey 61) demonstrating precision flying as intricate as any to be seen at airshows back stateside, but loaded with live weapons—and over a war zone. The entire scene was captured on video by Corporal Chris Watson, a loadmaster with the transport squadron.”

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