Aerial refueling

Aerial refueling is the process of transferring fuel from one aircraft (the tanker) to another (the receiver) during flight.

Aerial refueling procedure allows the receiving aircraft to remain airborne longer, extending its range or loiter time on station. A series of air refuelings can give range limited only by crew fatigue and engineering factors such as engine oil consumption.

The receiver aircraft can be topped up with extra fuel in the air, air refueling can allow a take-off with a greater payload which could be weapons, cargo or personnel: the maximum take-off weight is maintained by carrying less fuel and topping up once airborne.

Aerial refueling has also been considered as a means to reduce fuel consumption on long distance flights greater than 3000 nautical miles. Potential fuel savings in the range of 60% have been estimated for long haul flights.

Aerial refueling Consequences


  • Higher fuel flow rates (up to 1000 US gallons/6,500 lb per minute for the KC-135 tanker) can be achieved with the large diameter of the pipe in the flying boom, requiring less time to complete refueling operations than probe-and-drogue systems. Fighter aircraft cannot accept fuel at the boom’s maximum flow rate, requiring a reduction in refueling pressure when servicing these aircraft, reducing (but not eliminating) the flying boom’s advantage over the drogue system when refueling fighter aircraft.
  • The boom method eliminates the requirement for the receiver aircraft pilot to precisely fly a probe into a drogue, something that is easily performed by fighter-sized aircraft, but is more difficult for larger and less-maneuverable aircraft.
  • A tanker with a flying boom can be equipped with an adapter for probe-equipped aircraft.


  • The cost to train and employ the boom operator.
  • Complexity of tanker design.
  • Only one receiver aircraft can refuel at a time.
  • Cannot be used to refuel most helicopters.
  • Requires modification to support USN/USMC or NATO tactical jet aircraft.
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