Fueling the Fight : Optimizing Air Refueling Procedures for the KC-135
AIR COMMAND AND STAFF COLL MAXWELL AFB AL MAXWELL AFB United States
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The KC-135 has been the backbone of the US Air Forces aerial refueling tanker fleet since 1957, and is projected to serve until the 2040s. The idea of fuel conservation was not at the forefront in its design process when the main concern was refueling strategic bombers that served as nuclear deterrents during the Cold War. The same idea, under the scope of fiscal responsibility, has come into sharper focus since that time. New technologies and operating procedures, coupled with the KC-135s projected longevity, warrant an examination of how it is currently employed with a goal of seeking more efficient and cost-effective methods of operation. The research for this project used a problemsolution framework with adaptations from the quantitative analysis framework to investigate inefficiencies in KC-135 flying operations. It examined cost factors and employment methods, specifically with a focus on time spent conducting various operations such as taxiing and flying at specified air refueling airspeeds. The employment steps and fuel usage during those times were scrutinized for any opportunity to find efficiencies that could be amplified through an economy of scale for the entire fleet. The findings showed potential for fuel savings. However, in the case of individual sorties, these savings were generally miniscule. For instance, 437lb of fuel saved by flying maximum endurance airspeed for a 15-minute rendezvous orbit versus the standard speed specified in the flight manual. It would only be by the adoption of new procedures throughout the KC-135 fleet that any significant fuel savings would be accrued. In conclusion, any advantages would be realized by a minimal cost of implementing changes in procedures, coupled with the effect gained by fleet-wide adoption of those procedures, causing even small savings to compound into meaningful values.
- Military Aircraft Operations
- Economics and Cost Analysis