Repost from Feb 11, 2006
In the sometimes arcane language we’d use while flying, that was the call we’d make to inquire of our air controllers where some gas might be. Not gas on the ground, mind you, but where the airborne tanker was so we could plug in and grab a few thousand pounds of JP-5 fuel.
The Tomcat could carry, with the external tanks, 20,000 lbs of fuel. We would always talk of our fuel in “pounds” rather than gallons because weight is always the important factor when going flying. Weight is what determines take off speed, flying speed, landing speed, all those things that are good to know when you are slipping those surly bonds of earth.
(useless trivia time….one pound of jet fuel weighs 6.7 lbs/gallon, so 20,000 lbs is about 3,000 gallons. Doesn’t sound like much, does it, when you consider you are moving an object that weighs 60,000 lbs at speeds up to mach 1.5? )
Your fuel status was always one of the more critical things you managed while in the air. Run out of gas on I-95? Curse your forgetfulness, drift over to the side of the road and hope for a roadside assistance vehicle to stop by. Run out of gas while flying? Lose a multi-million dollar asset, see if your ejection seat works, and pretty much end your flying career right then and there.
We would make up what we called the “fuel ladder”, based on how much fuel we’d expect to have at various points in the flight. We’d know what time we were scheduled to take off and what time we were scheduled to land (carrier air plans – i.e. launch and recovery times – were pretty much fixed in stone) and how much fuel we were taking off with, and we’d factor in how much fuel we would need to fly to a divert field in case the carrier couldn’t land us (say, if an accident occurred on the flight deck that shut down the ability to land aircraft, or perhaps you have an aircraft problem that precluded landing back on the ship).
We’d know, from our aircraft charts and manuals, how much we’ll burn on deck and during take-off, and based on all that data, you’d create a list of 10 or 15 minute increments with associated fuel loads you should have at that particular time. Checking it at various times during your hop, you’d say “We’re above/on/ or below ladder”, and that would give you an instantaneous “howgozit” on your fuel state.
Needless to say, saying “ummm….we’re below ladder” was not a good thing.
As far as getting gas while airborne went, sometimes it was a scheduled give from the tanker, other times it was “gas of opportunity”, while yet other times it is needed in an emergency.
In any event, tanking for naval aviators is a supremely important aspect of our job. Navy jets tank differently than air force jets. Air force aircraft basically achieve a stable position behind their tanker, and the “boom” operator in the tanker itself (laying down, facing aft, with hand controls to manipulate the refueling boom) maneuvers the refueling boom into the aircraft’s refueling receptacle.
Navy guys extend their refueling probe (right side for the F-14), and using minute corrections of speed, attitude and lateral controls, maneuvers the entire aircraft so that the refueling probe engages a “basket” at the end of the refueling hose.
Organic tanking assets (tankers we had with the carrier) in MY day were the KA-6 and the A-7 and S-3 with refueling stores (called “buddy stores). Those organic tanking assets were one of the things that made aircraft carriers so unique – we could go anywhere and do anything and carry our own gas so as not to be dependent on most anything.
Here’s a look over the Nose0Gunner’s right shoulder at the whole shebang while plugged into a S-3B from VS-22:
Even when you DO get that refueling probe plugged in it doesn’t get much easier – the pilot needs to keep that aircraft in position to stay plugged in the entire time, not an altogether easy evolution.
When it is all and done, though, an dyou received your 1.5 or 2.0 from a KA-6D (or you received 5.0 or more from an Air Force KC-135) you disengage the probe, retract it back into the side of the aircraft, ease off to the right, give the tanking aircraft a thumb’s up that you are clear and there are no whacked-out problems with the refueling basket, and head off on your merry way with GAS to play with!