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F-35B First Transatlantic Flight – Aerial Refueling

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The video is of an F-35B aircraft making its first transatlantic flight. Three of these aircrafts flew from MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida and landed at RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England. They were assisted by Air Force KC-10 tankers and refueled 15 times over the Atlantic. The video is footage of one of its refueling efforts.

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The three F-35Bs are shown flying, the camera angle presumably being from the KC-10 tankers. The footage then cuts to one of the F-35Bs tankers pushing out its probe. A hose, or drogue, is released from the KC-10, which locks on and proceeds to run fuel to the jet as the planes fly steady. It takes precise maneuvering for the pilots to get the drogue at the exact location necessary to refuel. The tankers move away, and the F-35Bs are shown beneath them, steadily flying.

Aerial refueling, also called air refueling, in-flight refueling, air-to-air refueling or tanking, is when aviation fuel is transferred from one military aircraft, called the tanker, to another, the receiver, while both are in flight. This process allows the receiver to remain airborne for longer, extending its range. Multiple air refueling can give longer range to aircrafts, though crew fatigue and engine oil consumption are factors.

Receiver aircrafts that can be refueled in the air allow for takeoff with a greater payload either weapons, cargo or personnel, as the maximum takeoff weight is maintained by carrying less fuel and topping up in the air. Aerial refueling is also a means to reduce fuel consumption on long distance flights.

The two most common ways to refuel in the air is the probe-and-drogue, such as was shown in the footage here, or the flying boom. The probe-and-drogue is simpler to adapt in existing aircraft, but the flying boom transfers fuel faster, although it does require a dedicated operator station. The cost of outfitting aircrafts for air refueling is expensive, making the operation only for military use.


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