A question concerning aerial refuelling.

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Nov 11, 2004
Halifax, Nova Scotia
I've often wondered, and have never really found a satisfactory answer, as to why the US Air Force uses the exact opposite refuelling probe arrangement on it's aircraft from the Navy and Marine Corps.

The Air Force has the probe on the tanker, with the receiving aircraft having the "female" connection. The Navy/Marine tankers release a drogue to the probe on the receiving aircraft.

Is there an actual reason for this difference, or does the Air Force just like being difficult? ;)
I'm just curious.
I wondered about that myself years ago, especially after Operation El Dorado Canyon, of which I took part. It was a joint AF/Navy operation that required each to provide their own tankers. I will have to see if I can find out if anyone at the museum knows any "gas passers". It is indeed a mystery...
To be honest I really dont know, but I would say it is because in tradition the US military can not agree on anything whether it is uniforms, equipment or aireal refueling.

The best guess that I can come up with is this. The Airforce uses large tankers such as the KC-135 which can carry more fuel in it because the fuel is carried in the fuselage. For this reason it uses a rigid fueling boom. It is easier to attach a rigid fueling boom to an aircraft if the boom has the male part and the aircraft has the female part. The KC-135 can not land on a carrier adn the Navy and Marine Corps needs refuelers that can take off from there carrier. The aircraft are too small to carry the fuel in the fusalage so most of the time the fuel is carried in external tanks. You can not attach a rigid boom to an external tank. It is therefore that a flexible hose is extended with a female part and the aircraft with the male part "penetrates" the hose. Like my terminology there! :lol:
In all actuallity though all Airforce tankers are equipped with a flexible hose that has the female attachement so that Navy and Marine aircraft can refuel from it also.
It probably has to do with fuel flow rates.

The airforce needs to be able to re-fuel Bomber/Transport/VIP planes with large offloads that would take forever through a hose a drouge but the higher flow of a boom makes it easier.
I talked to some people that used to fly for the navy and they did say that it was not the only reason but one of the reasons was the fact that none of the naval carrier refuelers could operate a boom because the aircraft were too small. They did not know the actual main reason though, and they did confirm that they did refuel from Airforce tankers also.
The refueling boom is actually a "spec" part and only certain companies can legally produce it. There was also an attempt to put a Boeing Boom on an Airbus by BAE, but Boeing quickly protested when they learned of this plan. It is true that the drogue system takes up the least amount of space. BAE Flight Systems of Mojave CA produced a "Bolt On" Drogue system made to go on 707s - Instant Tanker!

Go to http://www.sargentfletcher.com/ars.htm and you could read about the company that makes these units


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