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Into the pits

In the Pits

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Knight, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, talks to the pilot during an F-16 hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

Staff Sgt. Jacob Kramer, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, hooks up the fuel hose to an F-15 for a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

Maintainers and refuelers haul the fuel hose out to an F-15 for a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

Senior Airman Adam Nop, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, hooks up the fuel hose to an F-16 for a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

An F-16 and an F-15 undergo a hot pit refueling session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

An F-15 goes through a maintenance check prior to entering the refueling area during a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Knight, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, keeps the fuel flowing during a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

A hot pit refueling session begins on an F-15 Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits

Staff Sgt. Jacob Kramer, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, marshals out an F-15 after a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits
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An F-16 goes through a maintenance check prior to entering the refueling area during a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

In the Pits
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Staff Sgt. Jonathan Knight, 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, marshals out an F-16 after a hot pit session Dec. 14 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The 96th Test Wing established the quarterly hot pit refueling capability six months ago. Hot pitting is when an aircraft pilot flies a sortie, returns, refuels with engines running, then takes off again for another mission. This new enhancement provides the aircrew more sorties and the maintainers more time to work on the aircraft. Although hot pitting is new for the test wing, it is a common occurrence for operational wings. (U.S. Air Force photo/Samuel King Jr.)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Fly, refuel, fly, repeat. That’s the new mission capability occurring on the 96th Test Wing flightline.

This method of quick-turn fueling and flying is called hot pitting.  The 96th Maintenance Group and the 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron provide the quarterly service to 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron and 40th Flight Test Squadron F-15 and F-16 aircrews.

“Hot pit refueling allows us to get two sorties for the price of one. It is a great tool for ops and maintenance to leverage in order to generate sorties,” said Lt. Col. Patrick McGarry, 85th TES director of operations. 

During hot pitting, an aircraft will fly a mission, land, refuel with the engine running, take off and fly another mission.  The practice, which began here for the 96th TW in June, is a common occurrence at operational fighter bases and happens regularly on the 33rd Fighter Wing side of the base with the F-35 Lightning IIs. 

Typically, after a sortie, the aircraft shuts down and requires up to three hours of maintenance before it can be flown again.  With a hot pit, it eliminates that down time.

“It helps ops because our pilots get additional training and test points on the aircraft. It helps maintenance because we are flying two sorties for the cost of generating one in terms of their personnel,” said McGarry.

Even with the extra planning required, both operations and maintenance leadership see benefits in the “Pits.”

“It basically adds two additional sorties per day without expanding the flying window,” added Dale Mullins, the 96th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s maintenance supervisor. “It also gives the Airmen more time to accomplish routine and heavier maintenance projects on the aircraft once it lands for the day.”

The hot pitting capability was approved by Air Force Materiel Command in March.  Maintenance and Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants worked together to create the training needed to accomplish the new requirement.

Maintainers and POL employees had to complete hands-on training in a cold (engine-off) and hot pit scenarios to be qualified to oversee and administer the hot pit operation.  POL employees required specific refueling training for each type of aircraft and model.

With training completed, the hot pits began.  To date, the units performed four pit missions so far. 

Upon landing, an aircraft is de-armed, checked, then taxies to an R-11 fuel truck.  A POL employee hooks refuels the aircraft while the crew chief supervises the operation.  With a full tank of JP-8, the aircraft is re-armed and takes off again.

Crucial variables presented challenges to accomplishing the hot pitting schedule.  Test sortie requirements and the high demands for Eglin’s airspace and range resources required the operations mission planners to be creative.  The test squadrons’ schedulers had to coordinate range space, times and mission sets that would accommodate the back-to-back flights the hot pitting allows.

“Much of the credit for making this initiative a success rests with those squadron schedulers,” said McGarry.

The plan is to make hot pitting an ongoing capability as the benefits continue to improve operational performance.

“Although it isn't ideal for all types of test and training, there are certain areas where it makes a lot of sense and can produce great results,” said McGarry. “We intend to use this quite a bit during the holiday flying windows in order to reduce maintenance manpower requirements while also providing effective training to our aircrews.”