11 Marvelous Facts of Aerial Refueling by Aircraft

(Last Updated On: November 9, 2017)

11 marvelous facts on aerial refueling by aircrafts

11 Marvelous Facts of Aerial Refueling by Aircraft



Have you ever come to know about refueling of aircraft in the air?

If your answer is No, then this post will amaze you.

If your answer is Yes, then I would like to add some more marvelous facts about aerial refueling.

Refueling of aircraft in the air is possible and this procedure is known by many names like air to air refueling, in light refueling, tanking, and aerial refueling.

This is a refueling process which is used in military aircraft. Military aircraft like USAF HC-130P(tanker) refuels an HH 60 Pave Hawk(receiver).

Civilian aircraft are not using this method for refueling. This method is mainly used for long distance air missions.

Aerial refueling saves the fuel consumption and helps in maximum takeoff weight.

Let’s know about 11 marvelous facts related to aerial refueling by aircraft.


1.First Successful Attempt

Aerial refueling first tried successfully by Capt. Lowell H.Smith and Lt. John P.Richter on June 27, 1923. This was tried on biplane flown by Lt. Virgil Hine and Lt. Frank W. Seifert.

first aerial refueling attempt in history

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2.Different systems in Aerial Refueling

Two systems of aerial refueling used by military aircraft i.e

  1. Probe and Drogue(simple to adapt to existing aircraft)
  2. Flying Boom (for faster fuel transfer)


3.Probe and Drogue System

Probe and Drogue system is simple to adapt to existing aircraft.

In this probe and drogue refueling system, the receiver aircraft is equipped with a retractable probe that allows fuel from a flexible hose that extends out the back of the tanker aircraft.

The drogue system stabilizes the hose in the freestream and helps it correctly fit on the receiver fuel.

The pilot of the receiver aircraft can also adjust the position for perfect coupling of probe and drogue system.

aerial refueling using the probe and drogue system


Advantages of Probe and drogue System

  • It has simpler tanker design.
  • Tankers can be equipped with buddy pod which can refuel more than one aircraft.
  • It saves lots of fuel consumption of many aircraft at a time.
  • This system can also equip with helicopters and light combat aircraft.
  • No boom operator is needed.


  • It has lower flow rate as compared to flying boom due to limited hose diameter.
  • It requires modification in the fuselage for higher fuel flow rate.
  • It is susceptible to turbulence and aerodynamic forces.
  • It requires filaments of refueling probes to receiving aircraft.
  • It is more dangerous refueling process than flying boom.

4.Flying Boom System

In flying boom refueling system, the tanker aircraft has an articulated telescoping boom that can be controlled by the boom operator. Boom operator has a very clear screen to see the receiver aircraft receptacle.

The receiver pilot first flies his aircraft into the contact position, and then keep it on auto pilot. The boom steers the boom into the receptacle.

flying boom system in aerial refueling

Advantages of Flying Boom System

  • It has higher fuel flow rate up to 1000 US gallons that are equal to 3800 liters.
  • It is achievable only in flying boom due to the large diameter of the pipe.
  • It is less susceptible to receiving aircraft pilot error and fatigue.
  • It is less dangerous in adverse weather conditions.
  • It is convertible to multisystem refuel methods.


Disadvantages of flying boom

  • It requires a boom operator.
  • It has the complexity of attaching a boom to an aircraft.
  • It allows the only receiver at a time.
  • The military fighter aircraft cannot allow fuel at the boom maximum flow rate. It needs to reduce the fuel flow rate.

5.Why Aerial Refueling?

Aerial refueling system is taken as a means to allow the receiver aircraft to remain airborne for the longer time. It increases the range and loiters time on station.

It reduces fuel consumption on distance greater than 5600 Kilometers. It saves the fuel consumption in the range of 35 -40% that is estimated for flights.

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6.Role in Different Wars

Aerial refueling was shortly employed before world war 2 and largely employed after world war 2 for many different military aircraft operations like Gulf war and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

7.World Record Set 

There is a world record set by two crew members for the longest continuous manned flight without landing of 64 days, 22 hours,19 minutes and five seconds in 1958 by using aerial refueling system. This world record set on Cessna 172 Skyhawk with a crew of two members.

8.Current operators 

Currently, this aerial refueling system is used by 34 countries air force including India. The Only USA is using this system for both naval and air force. USA naval force uses the probe and drogue system while air force uses the flying boom system.

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9.Introduction to Buddy Store or Pod 

A buddy pod is an external pod on aircraft hardpoint that contains a hose and drogue system. This advanced system allows military aircraft for buddy tanking. This system can be used probe and drogue system to refuel more than one receiver aircraft at a time.

10.Compatibility Issues 

The probe and drogue system is not compatible with flying boom equipment. It creates a problem for missions where mixed forces are involved.

It requires huge investment for installing both systems on the same aircraft.

11.Future Inventions in Aerial Refueling

In coming years unmanned aircraft like drones will be used for air to air refueling. NASA is researching on the best design for refueling aircraft during long distance air missions.



Aerial refueling is a boon for long distance air missions. It not only saves the fuel consumption but it also increases the maximum takeoff weight of aircraft.

Civilian aircraft are currently not using this technique because it has more flaws and dangers.

NASA is researching on designing of drone for aerial refueling.

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