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Air Force energy: Getting the most fight from our resources

Graphic for SAF/IE

(U.S. Air Force graphic/Brandon DeLoach

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- A group of panel members discussed Air Force energy and getting more mission out of every gallon of jet fuel during the Air Force Association's Air and Space Conference and Technology Exposition, Sept. 14.

“[We have] the people who are actually doing the work on making aviation energy more efficient, more affordable and getting more mission out of every gallon of jet fuel,” said Miranda Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force installations, environment and energy. “(Energy) underpins everything we do; it fuels every sortie, it launches every satellite and it powers every single mission control. Without energy, we don’t have a mission.”

One topic of discussion was the importance of starting with pilot training and making slight changes in order to save fuel.

“The idea that we can operate flight missions in pilot training without regarding fuel is a thing of the past,” said retired Lt. Col. Mark Lyons, T-1A Jayhawk instructor pilot. “We felt (pilot training) was a perfect place … to plant that seed. It’s going to pay huge dividends further down their career when they go out into the bigger Air Force.”

Another way the Air Force is saving energy and money is by redesigning air refueling tracks and optimizing the use of air space, saving roughly $30 million per year.

“Taking that idea and looking at other aspects of flight, we have airdrop training (at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma), and, usually, we will have eight passes across the drop zone, but we only need to fly the low-level route one time, so the next seven times we are just wasting time,” said Capt. W. Austin Street, the 97th Air Mobility Wing commander’s executive officer. “So we just redesigned … and that saved another $3 million per year. Putting the AR tracks closer saved $29 million per year.”

Talking about taking a page out of the books of commercial airlines, the Air Force has adopted some strategies in order to be more fuel-efficient.

“Typically when you fly at constant Mach, constant airspeed, constant altitude is inherently inefficient,” said Col. Richard Eccher, the Air Mobility Command acting division chief of fuel efficiency division. “We have learned that from commercial partners and our new flight-plan software that came out last year takes that into account. No longer will a C-5 (Galaxy) or C-17 (Globemaster III) fly a 12-hour sortie at the same altitude and same airspeed. It changes now. The reason it’s so critically important from a mission standpoint is … they may run out of gas.”

Saving fuel, energy and money can also be done through technology.

“(At the) Air Force Research Laboratory, we are leading the discovery and development of technology across airspace and cyberspace, and, as we have already heard, aviation fuel is the thing that eats most of the lunch,” said Dr. Leslie Perkins, the Air Force Research Laboratory energy office director. “We have been investing a great deal of money in the research laboratory (in developing) an engine that can, on all levels of throttle, still give me fuel efficiency … When we get this into the aircraft, there will be a noticeable difference. (Buying more sorties or greater range with the same amount of fuel).”