USAF Mobility Fleet to Receive New Aerodynamic Technologies

The US Air Force is developing new aerodynamic technologies to improve its mobility fleet’s flight capabilities.

The effort is expected to produce innovations to address maintenance issues, enhance airflow, cut fuel consumption, and increase the payload capacity of platforms such as the C-17 Globemaster III, C-130 Hercules, and KC-135 Stratotanker military transport aircraft.

The US Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center are carrying out work for the program in collaboration with industry partners.

“My office has been working to advance initiatives that not only make us smarter about how we consume fuel, but also help to prevent maintenance issues, increase engine performance and improve mission planning,” US Air force Operational Energy Deputy Assistant Secretary Roberto Guerrero explained.

Ongoing Aerodynamic Projects

Each program area is funded through the US government’s Fiscal Year 2022 Presidential Budget.

These areas include the airworthiness certification of microvanes; small, 3D-printed, fin-shaped components attached near the plane’s fuselage that lessen fuel consumption by one percent and save more than $10 million per year.

The drag reduction devices known as microvanes are shown on the aft-end of a C-17 Globemaster III
The drag reduction devices known as microvanes are shown on the aft-end of a C-17 Globemaster III. Photo: USAF

The air force is also testing vertical wiper blades to replace horizontal variants used by KC-135s for over 60 years to save energy.

The new wiper blades can optimize mobility flights by one percent, resulting in fuel savings of $7 million.

The KC-135s’ aluminum engine fan duct panels will also be replaced with a composite material to minimize corrosion and contamination from exposure to water and debris. This one-time fix will address the repetitive two-day maintenance on this recurring issue, saving $5.5 million annually.

US Air Force Modernization, Climate Action Plan

The US Air Force works simultaneously with defense and commercial partners on other optimization initiatives such as legacy engine sustainment, mission software upgrades, aircraft redesign, and related performance projects.

“As part of the Air Force’s effort to ‘Accelerate Change,’ these programs aim to increase readiness and capability, and address a ‘Logistics Under Attack’ scenario,” an air force statement said.

“At the same time, they support the Department of Defense’s climate mitigation goals as part of  President Biden’s executive order: Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, as well as the newly released Department of the Air Force Climate Action Plan,” it added.

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