Aerial refueling is mainly defined as the process of sending aviation fuel from one aircraft to another, when both are in their flight modes. The aircraft which transfers the fuel is called the tanker whereas the aircraft which gets the fuel is called the receiver. Flying boom and progue-and drogue are two main methodologies that are used to carry out the aerial refueling processes. The former process is substantially faster than the other, but needs the setup of a specific type of boom operator station.
Aerial refueling processes are highly important, especially for military aircrafts, wherein the extra fuel received can lead to aircrafts to remain airborne for a longer time. In this way, the range of the aircraft as well as its functioning capability can significantly increase. For military aircrafts, some of them could compensate with less fuel maintained while lifting off. This could be done in order to compensate the heavy weight of weapons, armor and other similar objects, by reducing the maximum takeoff weight. After being airborne, the same aircraft can receive additional fuel, thus avoiding burning excess fuel initially during liftoff, and hence conserving it. An efficient take-off roll is also possible for aircraft who start with minimum fuel and receive an extra dose after being airborne. In this way, an aircraft can receive a significant boost while taking off thus making it attain a substantial height in a short time. As per reports, potential fuel saving can be made by aerial refueling amounting up to at least 35-40%, especially for flights with longer durations.
While carrying out a probe and drogue refueling system, the aircraft in charge of receiving fuel has a retractable probe attached at a particular point near the engines. This probe makes it possible for fuel to flow through a flexible hose that usually arises out of the tanker aircraft’s back portion.
In case of a flying boom refueling scenario, the tanker aircraft is fitted with an articulated boom in a telescopic form, which is managed by a boom operator. This method is carried out after the receiver aircraft is stabilized in an appropriate position by which a smooth contact can be made. After this, the boom is steered onto the receptacle spot, thus starting the fueling process.
The aerial refueling of an aircraft is conducted during scarcity of aviation fuel on the aircrafts during flight. This process is carried out by different procedures such as tanking, air-to-air fueling, and inflight refueling. The air refueling system is mainly done on the defense aircrafts and are being introduced in the commercial sector. The tanking system is employed heavily in both defense and commercial sectors.
The demand for air-to-air refueling is growing because it helps in takeoff with lesser payload. The defense aircrafts consists of weapons, cargo as well as personnel, in addition to this if the aircraft is fully fueled, it may hamper the aircraft to takeoff. The air-to-air refueling helps to top up the aircraft for long range flying and also to loiter. This factor is driving this aerial refueling market to a greater extend. Moreover, inflight refueling or air-to-air refueling has been considered as a means of reducing the fuel consumption for long distant flights. The reduction in fuel consumption will reduce the fuel charges which will in turn be financially beneficial for the respective airlines as well as the air forces. The air-to-air refueling is poised to fuel the market for aerial refueling market.
The major limitation to aerial refueling market is the procedure of refueling aircrafts in the rough air or bad visibility. The procedures of refueling is possible in smooth air but not in rough air, as it is totally dependent on the communication between the tanker aircraft pilot/ hose operator and the receiver aircraft pilot. The boom mechanism have few limitations likely it can refuel one aircraft at a time, and it is also required to reduce the refueling pressure while aerial refueling a fighter aircraft. Thus, the limitations in the boom mechanism is also acting as an inhibiting factor for the aerial refuelingmarket.
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Researches and development are being conducted to design a smart drough system to overcome the rough air refueling. The research idea is to design a smart, stabilized drough which will be connected to the existing hose. This drough will have sensors onboard that constantly monitors the basket movement. This drough then acts as an active buffer and the movement of the drough will reduce greatly. The result of this is that the refueling will be uninterrupted even in bad weathers such as intense turbulence, rough air. The research and development of smart drough system are expected to grow huge opportunity in the market for aerial refueling.
The aerial refueling market can be segmented based on refueling method, end user and based on geography. There are different method to refuel an aircraft while in flight such as flying boom method, hose and drough system, wing-to-wing refueling and multiple systems. The flying boom method uses a rigid boom that is extended from the tanker aircraft and is attached to the receiver aircraft’s upper frontal structure. The tanker aircrafts equipped with boom mechanism, consists of only one boom which is capable of refueling only one aircraft at a time.The other method of refueling is the hose and drough method where the hose is extended from the trailing part of the tanker aircraft and the drough at the end of the hose stabilizes it in the flight and provides a funnel for the receiver aircraft. The drough then inserts a probe into the hose with which aircrafts are refueled.While the aircraft equipped with hose and drough system, can refuel two aircrafts simultaneously as this system can employ two mechanism at a time.
The end users of the aerial refueling market are the defense sector and the commercial airlines. The aerial refueling is carried out heavily by the air force of all the major defense forces across the globe as it helps the fighter/combat aircrafts to takeoff with less fuel load and more payload. The commercial airline uses the aerial refueling systems during long haul flights. Based on geography, the aerial refueling market can be segmented as North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, Middle East-Africa and Latin America.