This Is How The Air Force Doubles The Combat Range Of Its Fighter Jets


Photo: 126th Air Refueling Wing/ Joshua Strang

“Fuel is a weapon.”

James Dunnigan, author of How to Make War explains what this means for fighter pilots:

Essentially, if one aircraft has more fuel than another in combat, it can force its adversary into a situation where the disadvantaged pilot will crash with empty gas tanks. 

Mid-air refueling explained >

“The rule of thumb is that the combat radius is one-third the distance an aircraft can fly in a straight line on a full load of fuel. This assumes a trip out and back, plus one-third of fuel for combat operations.”

But the innovation of aerial refuel ling over the last century has modified this rule of thumb, so to speak.

Huge tanker aircraft take to the sky with gallons of extra fuel, ready for smaller planes to approach and replenish their tanks mid-air. Often, these tankers rescue pilots coming out of hostile airspace with depleted fuel supplies.

With air-to-air refueling, pilots can extend the combat radius of their planes, and more complex missions can be performed.

And they can take off with an emptier tank, which lightens the aircraft’s load — and makes carrying extra bombs possible.

Aerial refueling is actually a patented innovation. It all began in 1921, as an invention by U.S. War Department engineer Alexander de Seversky. It’s now practiced by air forces around the world, although the U.S. has the biggest aerial tanker fleet, using it to warfighters’ tactical advantage.

Think of the plane that enables the military to respond anywhere in the world on short notice. It's not a fighter jet — it's the tanker

The KC-10 Extender, just one tanker aircraft used for aerial refueling, can carry 356,000 pounds of fuel — jets don't have to land to gas up

Aerial refueling tankers and their crew are the quiet enablers of air power

Their missions send them around the world 24/7

An operator onboard a tanker will extend the boom into the aircraft being refueled — an A-10 Thunderbolt II here

Taken from footage of the F-35's first night refueling mission, the jet approaches the tanker and has to fly in steady formation

The two aircrafts' air speeds have to be in sync, making mid-air refueling a very difficult manoeuvre for the pilot on the receiving end

Fighter jets like the F-35 can accept fuel at 1,000 to 3,000 lbs per minute

An A-10 Thunderbolt II approaches the refueling boom of a KC-135 Stratotanker

And a B-2 bomber fuels up

BONUS: See below for the symbolism behind this patch

Ultramarine blue and Air Force yellow are the Air Force colours. Blue alludes to the sky, the primary theatre of Air Force operations. Yellow refers to the sun and the excellence required of Air Force personnel. The globe with the stylised aircraft represents the unit's ability and requirement to provide air refueling anytime, anyplace, under any conditions 20-four hours day or night. The olive branches symbolise the unit's contribution to the Air Force mission of maintaining peace.

Source: 126th Air Refueling Wing

The Air Force doesn't fail to impress

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