• Gennette Cordova

US Air Force took large steps towards fuel optimization in 2019

Updated: Jan 2

In addition to projects designed to increase its utilization of alternate fuel sources, the U.S. Air Force has taken steps to expand its fuel optimization in 2019, from more efficient refueling techniques for their F-35 Lightning II fleet to new graduate courses intended to create a more energy-aware culture.

Over the past couple of years, Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command began researching a refueling process for the F-35, the single-seat, single-engine, multirole combat aircraft, designed for ground-attack and air-superiority missions, flying them at max range airspeed during overwater aerial refueling. This resulted in less flying-hour costs and lower overall fuel consumption. In 2019, this became the standard practice for all fifth-generation fighter aircraft, according the Air Force’s official website.

AFWERX, the Air Force's innovation program, in partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory and National Security Innovation Network, developed the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. This year, SBIR awarded Phase I funding to Vortex Control Technologies to test aft body drag reduction devices, on the C-130 Hercules, estimated to reduce drag, and therefore fuel burn, by approximately 4-5%. If there is a Phase II, it will be geared toward a flight test effort to validate fuel efficiency gains.

Additionally, for the first time ever in 2019, the Air Force established the Joint Force Energy Wargame, a series of military exercises focused solely on energy and fuel logistics. Sponsored by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Energy and Joint Staff J4 (logistics), the wargame appraised weak spots in fuel storage and distribution and evaluated the implications of threats to energy sources.

Rounding out its fuel sustainability efforts, this year, the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) began offering two graduate courses centered around defense energy systems. Both classes are geared toward supporting the Air Force’s initiative to build a more energy-aware culture. Research for this initiative includes: cost optimization of fuel, DoD alternative jet fuel and UAV fuel cell and battery optimization. Next spring, AFIT will launch a third energy course.

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