Military Review

Refueling in the air as a force multiplier

Refueling in the air as a force multiplier

Refueling in the air is the transfer of fuel from one aircraft to another, carried out mainly in order to increase the duration or range of its flight. The longer the flight time of the aircraft (LA), the greater the range of the combat vehicle and the range of the non-stop transport route. Refueling in the air is carried out either by a tanker (SZ) specially created for this purpose, or capable of performing the functions of cargo-passenger transportation and refueling in the air of a transport-refueling aircraft (TZS) with stationary or removable fueling equipment (TZO), or a combat aircraft the tanker (BSZ), which has the ability to refuel other aircraft due to the temporarily installed removable / discharged TZO. Usually, all aircraft that are capable of performing refueling in the air are called refueling aircraft.


The idea of ​​air refueling was first put forward in 1917 in Russia and patented in 1921 in the United States by the Russian émigré Alexander Seversky. The first refueling in the air from one plane to another using a flexible hose was made in 1923 in the USA. In 1933, the USSR carried out refueling of the reconnaissance aircraft, and in the UK in 1934, the bomber. According to 1941, the year of mastering this method with the aim of increasing the duration of the flight was not so much applied as much as sporting. The Americans and the British began to embody the idea of ​​airborne refueling for military purposes during World War II. Thus, in the USA, in order to increase the range of the B-1942 bomber in the USA, a certain number of B-24 bombers were converted into KV-17 bomber aircraft.

After the beginning of the Cold War, the US Air Force command was tasked with delivering strikes, including using nuclear weapons, for facilities located throughout the Soviet Union. Taking into account the vast territory of our country, the American command realized that the solution to this problem depends on the presence of refueling aircraft capable of providing the necessary combat radius of action for strategic and tactical aircraft aviation. The US Air Force began to create a new type of aviation - refueling aviation - with its inherent scope.

To support the actions of the B-29 and B-50 bombers over 210 B-29 aircraft from 1948, the aircraft were converted into NW KV-29. From the 1947-1953 X-NUMX X-Bombers produced over the 370 50 bomber machines over the 160 year, they were turned into NW KV-1950 for refueling strategic and tactical aircraft. In 50 – 1950, the Americans built the 1956 B-2049 aircraft and from 47 onwards started building 1951 units for the bomber and reconnaissance aircraft of this type of KS-97 refueling aircraft. In the 888 – 1954, the B-1962 bomber was built in the USA in 744, and the B-52 bomber, with jet engines, 1956 TZS KS-47, was launched for them in 732. An idea appeared in the USA to make a B-135 bomber (244 was actually built in 1 – 100) and make nuclear weapons about F-1984 fighters (the first squadron became X-NUMX in the 1988 of the year) starting with nuclear weapons, and already with the 800, the Air Force began to receive the first from 16 newest CS-1979 TZS.

At the end of 1946, the B-148 bombers did not have a single NW on the 29 Bomber, but in 1948, the decision was made to create an NW KV-29, and in the same year they began to refuel the B-29 bombers, and in the next year - and B-50 bombers. By the end of the 1953, the 762 strategic bombers already had 500 SZ, and by the end of 1957, with 1655 strategic bombers, there were more than 750 SZ. At the turn of 50 – 60-s, the leadership of the Air Force decided to have one tanker in a Strategic Aviation Command for one bomber. In the middle of the 60-ies, this decision was implemented, and subsequently exceeded. At the beginning of 1998, B-68 and B-52 nuclear bombers on 2, which had SIOP / OPLAN 8044 targets for the destruction of facilities in the Russian Federation, were allocated over 200 of KS-135 tankers of regular forces, national guards and Air Force reserve. As a result, one tanker accounted for three tankers. US Air Force tactical aviation in 1950 began non-stop trans-oceanic flights with air refueling, and in 1952 began to conduct combat operations while providing refueling aircraft.

In the American Navy in the last century, tankers performed at various times over 200 aircraft. Starting from 1953, KAJ-1, KA-3, KA-6 and KS-3 alternately served as tankers, and the KS-1960 filling station became the tanker for helicopters in the marines from 130 of the year. Incidentally, on the basis of the C-130 military transport aircraft, not only tankers, but also rescue and special aircraft of the US Armed Forces, which had the function of air refueling, were created. Already in the 70-s in the US, refueling of transport aircraft in the air was worked out. By 1980, 4500 US aircraft were able to receive fuel in the air. Nowadays, in the US Armed Forces up to 5%, and in the US Air Force, up to 11% of all aircraft are airplanes capable of refueling other aircraft in the air.

In the Air Force / Air Force of the USSR, the Tu-50, Tu-4, M-16 and 4М bombers became tankers from 3-s, which later replaced the NW Il-78, created on the basis of the Il-76 military transport aircraft. In the British Air Force, with 1958, the 55 order from 323 of the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan bombers successively became the tankers. They were then replaced by the VC-30 and Tristar transport aircraft converted into TZS over 10. The French Air Force, with its American-made 14 SZ (KS-135) and the same number of its own production NW (C-160), practiced refueling tactical aircraft from fighter jets with removable fueling equipment.

In 2001, about 30 countries of the world had more than a thousand NW, TZS and BSZ, with more than 80% of these machines accounted for the Air Force and the US Navy, and about 90% was produced in the USA.


What role did refueling aviation play in peacetime and wartime operations? Here are just a few examples showing its necessity and importance.

In the spring of 1956, aerial reconnaissance of the United States sharply intensified its activities over the territory of the USSR and over the adjacent seas from the Kola Peninsula to the Bering Strait, carrying out invasion of the Soviet airspace by single reconnaissance aircraft, in pairs and even a squad of six RB-47 aircraft. The flights were carried out from the Tule airbase in the northwestern part of Greenland, where a consolidated air group of 20 photo and radio reconnaissance aircraft and 28 aircraft KS-97 providing them were created. When removing reconnaissance objects up to 4000 km from Tula, the B-47 aircraft, which had a nominal combat radius of 3800 km, could not do this work, therefore all reconnaissance missions were carried out while providing refueling operators with a 0,5 ratio, one or two refueling aircraft per reconnaissance aircraft . Approximately for April-May 30, 48 RB-47 and КС-97 completed 156 departures.

During the ten years of war, the United States in Vietnam carried out about 135 thousands of sorties and carried out more than 200 air refueling operations in the air, actually turning American tactical fighter bombers into long-range aviation bombers.

In May 1982, during the Anglo-Argentinean military conflict, the British Air Force launched a bombing attack using the Vulcan bomber on targets in the Falkland Islands area while securing 12 NW Victor, which completed six bomber air refueling and nine themselves to increase the refueling radius .

In April, 1986, the US Armed Forces struck Libya in an attempt to destroy the head of state. From the United States Air Force, the air group created in the UK as part of the 57 aircraft (24 fighter-bomber F-111 and 5 EW EF-111 aircraft) were involved in this operation were represented by the 28 KS-10 and KS-135 escort teams. After takeoff and the first refueling, 25% of combat vehicles and 25% of vehicles of the support groups, which were reserved for equipment failure, returned to takeoff airfields, while the remaining 75% aircraft under radio silence continued flying over the ocean and sea. When conducting a non-stop flight with a return to bases in the UK with a total duration of 13 hours and a total length of 9600 km, the escort tankers performed six refueling operations (four on the way to Libya and two on returning home).

During a military operation in Iraq in 1991, 42 46 10 and 262 135 15 US Air Force performed 66 thousand sorties lasting 52 thousand hours in 375 days, carrying out 2003 thousand air stations with 268 thousand tons of fuel. In 15, the refueling aviation grouping of the forces of the anti-Iraqi coalition consisted of 30 airplanes (9064% of the entire composition of the aviation group of the combined operational formation), for 22 days of this operation they performed 550 departure for air refueling (189% of all sorties), making on separate days before 786 departures, and transferred thousands of tons of fuel in the air to 20 (one third of the aviation fuel consumed during this period). Air refueling allowed the Allied air forces and means of attack (involving 733 fighters, attack aircraft and bombers on 29 345 departures) to use 19 898 bombs and missiles to attack 2011 88 aiming points. According to the 544 data for the fiscal year, the United Central Command (BCC) refueling aircraft of the United States made XNUMX thousand air refueling stations, transferring XNUMX thousand tons of fuel.

Refueling in the air has become commonplace for bombers and fighters, reconnaissance, transport, rescue and special aircraft and for US helicopters. For example, a transport aviation pilot must practice refueling in the air at least once every 45 day.

Refueling in the air enables the combat aircraft of the United States, Great Britain and France not only to operate continuously in the conflict zone, but also to carry out the quick transfer of the necessary forces to any part of the world. In particular, during the years of the Cold War, the "Rapid Enhancement Plan" of NATO for the first 10 days of an emergency situation envisaged the transfer of 60 squadrons of tactical aviation from the USA to Europe across the Atlantic Ocean. It was believed that for a quick non-stop transfer from the USA to the FRG of one fighter squadron as part of 24 vehicles with hundreds of tons of military equipment of this squadron, it was necessary to use 11 aircraft KS-135. Later, the Americans demonstrated the capabilities and space stations of the KS-10 to support tactical aviation during 13 – 15-hour flights across the Atlantic and the Pacific to Asia or back.

The development of aerial refueling has become commonplace for various types of aircraft of the US Armed Forces.


What is the refueling equipment of a tanker aircraft?

First of all, it must meet the requirements of fire and flight safety, ease of deployment and coagulation, ease of setting the hook, the speed of transfer of fuel. There is a rigid and flexible refueling system with fixed or removable equipment. The basis of a rigid stationary system is a retractable telescopic rod, the tip of which the SZ operator inserts into the fuel receiver of a refueling aircraft. The basis of a flexible stationary or removable system is a flexible hose with a cone into which the pilot of the refueling aircraft inserts a fuel receiver located near the pilot. If necessary, a rigid refueling system can be quickly turned at the aerodrome into a flexible one by connecting a flexible hose with a cone to the telescopic rod.

The node of the rigid refueling system is located in the tail part of the tanker, and the node of the flexible stationary system can also be placed there. The nodes of the flexible system are placed one under the wing consoles and one in the tail or one under the wings only. The fuel receiver can be recessed or protruding, stationary or sliding straight or curved. It is placed either behind the pilot’s cabin and above it, or next to the pilot in his visibility zone (in front of him or on his side).

Currently, one to four refueling units are installed at the NW and the TZS. This allows you to refuel either one large aircraft (bomber, transporter, tanker) through a central hub, or two smaller aircraft at the same time (fighters, helicopters) through wing assemblies, or three fighters or attack aircraft at the same time through one central and two winged refueling nodes. The fuel from stationary or removable tanks SZ with the help of pumps under the necessary pressure through a rigid rod or flexible hose SZ and through the fuel receiver of the refueling aircraft enters his tanks.

The length of the telescopic bar in the working (folded) form is, for example, about 18 (11) m for TZS KS-10 and about 14,5 (8,5) m for TZS KS-135. The length of the flexible hose in the working position of different aircraft varies from 14 to 25 m. Fuel transfer speed in flexible systems 900 – 1800 kg / min (US helicopters charge at speed 500 kg / min), and in hard systems the transfer rate is in the range 2700 –4500 kg / min. The process of receiving fuel in one refueling does not exceed 6 minutes for a helicopter, 20 minutes for a bomber and 45 minutes for a tanker. Helicopter refueling is carried out at the optimum speed for them by aircraft KS-130. Refueling aircraft are practically capable of refueling aircraft at speeds from 300 to 900 km / h, but pilots prefer to perform it at speeds of 520 – 650 km / h. Refueling in the air is carried out in the absence of turbulence, at a temperature not lower than minus 56 degrees Celsius (the American norm), at altitudes from 300 m to 9 km (usually at a height 6 – 9 km).

This operation requires the concerted action of the crews of the transmitting and receiving aircraft. It is especially complicated by the need to control the speed and altitude of the flight when transmitting / receiving large amounts of fuel in one refueling. Air refueling is managed by the NW operator. It is regulated by a colored traffic light in the tail of the NW. The course of refueling is illuminated for the pilot of the aircraft receiving the fuel on the NW panel. These devices allow for refueling at night and in conditions of complete radio silence. The actions of refueling aircraft of the main Western countries are complicated by the difference in the types of fuel used and the incompatibility of the fuel transfer equipment with the fuel receiver. The deck aircraft of the US Navy cannot be refueled from the KS-135 Air Force Spacecraft with only a rigid refueling system assembly, besides, the Navy carrier aircraft works on the type of fuel that is not used in the USA Air Force. The American intelligence agents RC-135 handed over to the UK are not in a position to use the services of the new English Voyager filling station because of the peculiarities of the fueling equipment of this machine.


Refueling in the air - the pleasure is expensive. According to calculations carried out in 2006, in the US Air Force the cost of one gallon of fuel transferred during air refueling exceeded the cost of the same amount of fuel transferred by refueling at the airfield 18 times (obviously, taking into account depreciation costs for delivery vehicles), and only for refueling 6% of the fuel consumed by aviation was spent in the air (in the 2006 of the fiscal year, the US Air Force planned to purchase 9,8 billion liters of all types of fuel for ground and flight structures). This probably did not take into account fuel consumption, including refueling in the air, and the cost of fuel to the BCC, which were financed separately in connection with the conduct of hostilities in the south-western part of Asia.

The most massive and successful NW of the last century was the KS-135, created on the basis of the Boeing-717 glider. He entered the Air Force in 1957 – 1966, and is scheduled to be removed from service in 2048. The CS-135R filling station has four turbofan engines, the cruising speed is 850 km / h, and the maximum fuel supply in the 92 t with the maximum take-off mass 146 t provides the distillation range 14 800 km. At a distance of 1850, 3700 and 4500 km from the base of departure (with the condition of returning to it), he can transfer respectively 67, 50 and 43 tons of fuel with a transfer rate of 3600 kg / min for rigid and 1800 kg / min for a flexible refueling system.

TCS KS-135 was designed for 39 – 41 thousand hours of flight time. In the first 15 years of operation, the average annual flight time on the aircraft reached 480 hours, and then ranged from 300 to 700, although the average rate of flight was considered to be 350 hours per year. During military operations against Iraq in 1991 and 2003 for the duration of 42 and 30 for 24 hours, each KS-135 in the BCC zone performed 1,12 – 1,13 departures per day (maximum two). Today it is believed that in an emergency period, the KS-135 filling stations available in the US Air Force will be able to carry out air refueling on 900 per day. For example, in the 2012 fiscal year, one US Air Force filling squad had — on average, 91 departures a year for each 20 KS-135R — the average annual flight time on an aircraft at 351 an hour (at the end of the 2012 fiscal year, the Air Force had 416 KS- 135 and 59 KS-10).

All KS-135 are equipped with one node of a rigid refueling system, part of which has an additional two nodes of the flexible system, some of which can be refueled from another NW. For each hour of flying in a circle, one KS-135 must refuel the 1 – 2 fighter (when entering refueling, the fighter makes the 1 – 2 a dry hook and one replenishment of fuel reserves) or for every two hours a bomber. When accompanied, he leads up to 6 – 8 fighters with 18 – 24 refueling. Proper maintenance (over 30 hours per flight hour at the aerodrome, every five years maintenance and repair at the factory) makes it possible to have technically sound up to 80% machines (in the BCC up to 86%). Decommissioned TZS KS-135 in the majority are subject to conservation for possible future use. The ability to quickly wind up all engines through 1,5 – 2 minutes since the alarm was declared was provided during the Cold War years by the wing of the air wing group (5 B-52, 5 KS-135) from the fifth to the eighth minute from the alarm time with the minimum takeoff interval ( 10 aircraft for 180 seconds).

Since 1981, the aviation aviation masterpiece has become universal for combat aircraft of the USA and its allies KS-10 fuel filling stations (three engines, cruising speed 900 km / h, maximum weight 267 tons, including 161 tons of fuel, distillation range 18,5 km, four refueling unit), capable of transmitting 45 tons of fuel with a radius of action in 6 thousand km. The main tanker aviation of the Marine Corps was the KS-130 modification J; having 37 tons of fuel, he can transfer 26 tons at a distance of 925 km from the base of departure and return. Deck BSZ F / A-18 "Super Hornet" with a removable / discharged TZO, having 14 tons of fuel, can transfer up to 10 tons at a distance 500 km from the aircraft carrier.

The KS-135 and KS-10 tankers, grouped into wings and squadrons, are part of several commands and the US Air Force National Guard; in an emergency period, up to 50% of the KS-135 TZS is transferred to the operational subordination of the commander of the Joint Strategic Command, creating the 294th operational connection. TZS Marine Corps and BSZ fleet are part of the wing of these types of US forces. Refueling aircraft of other countries are part of the Air Force, being combined into squadrons and squads.

But the possession of tankers is not a privilege of the sun. In the current decade in the UK, a private consortium is funding the construction of the 14 A330 MRTT Voyager filling station (an aircraft with two engines is a cross between the KS-135 and KS-10, approaching its advantages to the KS-10). Most of the Voyager aircraft will be operated on loan to the Air Force as a TZS, and five cars are provided to private tenants with the obligation to return them to the Air Force when such a need arises. An example of a reasonable approach to the use of SZ was shown by the US Navy and the Marine Corps (ILC). In the past decade, it was reported that an American private company that leased several converted from civil aircraft "Boeing-707" and DC-10 in NW machines, provided military training for the aircrew of the Navy and ILC in the eastern United States. On average, approximately 325 departures for air refueling were performed during the year, with an average of 17 tons of fuel being transmitted in each departure. The use of civilian NW instead of military allowed 11 – 13% to be saved on the cost of flight hours: in 2008, in virtually the same type of machines K-707 and KS-135, the cost of flight hours was 7500 and 9750 dollars, and in almost identical KDC-10 and KS- 10 –12 500 and 13 910 dollars respectively (in those years, the share of the cost of fuel in the cost of the flight hour approached 40%). And here you ask yourself a question: why should not this Anglo-American experience be adopted by Russia?


What are the prospects for the development of refueling aviation?

US Air Force will take place in 2016-2048 years of systematic replacement of its remaining 390-400 TZS COP-135R / T by approximately 350 average TZS COP-46A (coming in 2028 year's level 179 COP-46 and 200-230 COP-135), after 2048, we can expect the arrival of a heavy TZS KS-10 of a new TZS to replace it. In the coming 10 – 15 years, all the KS-130 filling stations of the previous modifications will give way to the KS-130J aircraft (marines will get 104 such machines, in the Air Force over 115 C-130J they will be able to refuel special operations helicopters). In the carrier-based naval aviation, it is not yet foreseen to use an aircraft as the BSZ, other than an F / A-18 with removable equipment for refueling. The EU will continue to increase its fleet of refueling aircraft to 70 TZS and its update. Military vehicles А-330М with removable rigid and flexible fueling equipment can be added to the new A400 MRTT filling stations. In Russia, 2030 20 NW IL-78 will give way to 31 new, already TZS. The PRC will increase the composition of tankers, probably due to the acquisition and copying of foreign-made SZ and TZS. Other countries, depending on their needs, opportunities and preferences, may turn to buying or renting heavy TZS (A330 type), medium (such as Boeing 767, KS-46А, A-400М, KS-135), light (KS type -130J). Brazil’s ability to launch an affordable and competitive tanker aircraft should also be considered. There has been a slight increase in the number of tanker aircraft in Asian countries.

Russia needs transporting aircraft and removable fueling equipment to equip combat aircraft acting as tankers. Our country is huge. From Novorossiysk to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky - about 8 thousand km, and to Severnaya Zemlya - more than 4 thousand km. The length of land and sea borders about 60 thousand. Km. Without a sufficient number of SZ and TZS, a quick maneuver of operational-tactical aviation in the territory of the country is impossible, just as its operations on marine and oceanic theaters are impossible. We should not forget that our "reusable" tactical aviation aircraft had to replace disposable ballistic and cruise ground-based missiles destroyed in our country with a range from 500 to 5500 km. One should also bear in mind the possibility of attracting our operational-tactical aviation to global coalition military operations, where it should not become a stepchild due to the lack of its own refueling aircraft. The Americans are already more than 60 for years, constantly chasing their military aircraft with refueling in the air through the oceans, from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern and back, and for the Russian Air Force a squadron or regiment Su-24 on 8 thousand kilometers or less with refueling in the air is an event which happens almost once a decade.

In order for aviation of the Russian Armed Forces to spread its wings, it is necessary, firstly, to equip all of our combat aircraft with equipment for receiving fuel in the air, and secondly, to increase the number of aircraft capable of refueling airborne combat aircraft; thirdly, create at least two types of airplanes for refueling other aircraft in the air: heavy or medium fuel filling stations for military use and light trainer training aircraft for mass training of flight personnel in doses Changes in air refueling and maintenance of skills in the air at the flight of the Air Force, Navy and Army Aviation ST. Postponing this matter to "later" is dangerous.
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  1. Professor
    Professor 18 March 2014 11: 31
    I would add refueling in the air with the helicopters and drones of my fellow tribesmen and everyone.

  2. datur
    datur 18 March 2014 13: 05
    all right, naykh sprats konfrashka enough !!! repeat
  3. StolzSS
    StolzSS 19 March 2014 17: 35
    Refueling drones is power and saving would be great to have.