May 26, 2024

Increased military expenditure bolsters Aerial Refueling market

Aerial refueling using flying boom system.

Even though it sounds like a thrilling sport, refueling an aircraft without having it landed has fascinated the aircraft industry for nearly 100 years, since the first successful aerial refueling procedure in June 1923. The global aerial refueling market reached an estimated USD 2.9 Bn in 2021 and the figures are expected to touch USD 3.63 Bn by 2026. Increased production of military aircraft is the major driver to propel the growth.

Aerial refueling is the modern approach to refueling combat aircraft in mid-air using tanker aircraft for fuel supply. This increases the range of the aircraft. There are two types by which this challenging process can be accomplished, the Probe and Drogue system and the flying Boom system. The latter is significantly faster with a fuel transfer rate of 6000 lbs per minute while the former can transfer a fuel rate between 1500 and 2000 lbs per minute.

Though the Flying Boom has a faster fuel rate, it can only refuel one aircraft at a time and it requires a boom operator onboard while the Probe and Drogue system can refuel more than one aircraft but the hose is vulnerable to wind turbulence. It is expected that the Flying Boom system will lead the market.

Mid-air refueling saves a substantial amount of time while extending the mission for a longer time. Fighter jets, bombers and unmanned aerial vehicles are some of the military aircraft used for operations such as combat missions, maritime monitoring, precision bombing, intelligence and more where aerial refueling plays a vital role.

Over the years, the aircraft industry has witnessed an increase in collaboration to convert cargo aircraft and passenger aircraft into tanker aircraft to play the role of aerial refueler. Organizations across the world opt for the conversion as it is much cheaper than buying or manufacturing a new tanker aircraft. There have also been developments in getting tanker planes airborne on a shorter runway and capable of landing on rough terrain.

As per reports in October 2022, there has been progress in the development of blended-wing aircraft to employ as tanker aircraft for aerial refueling procedures. Blended-wing aircraft are the ones where the wings and the fuselage is one piece. An increase in the aerodynamic efficiency of more than 30% as compared to today’s tankers, enhanced flight stability and a decrease in fuel usage are some of the advantages that attribute to the pursuit of blended-wing aircraft for aerial refueling. The testing phase is expected to kick off by the year 2027.

Not so long ago, a renowned aircraft made an emergency landing due to the flying boom malfunction where the retraction failed and the tanker aircraft landed with the boom deployed. Evidently, the current technology for Air-Air refueling has its flaws. Events like these could affect the manufacturer’s business in the market.

Components involved in the business.

· Pumps – Used to generate pressure for the fuel transaction.

· Valves – Used to control the flow of the fuel, conducting the procedure safely.

· Nozzles – Used for coupling the probe from the receiver’s end to the hose deployed from the tanker aircraft.

· Boom – The system used for faster fuel transfer.

· Hose – A long flexible tube with a diameter of 67mm (varies from design to design) through which the fuel flows out to the receiver Aircraft.

· Probes – Installed to the receiver aircraft which is coupled to the hose deployed from the tanker aircraft during the fuel transfer.

· Fuel Tanks – A container in an airplane dedicated to aviation fuel storage.

· Pods – Fuel can be transferred to multiple airplanes simultaneously with the use of pods.

The fuel tank is expected to lead the market.

Types of Aircraft

Fixed-wing aircraft – The type of aircraft that is airborne with thrust generated from engines such as gas turbines and without the movement of wings. It is expected that Fixed-wing aircraft will lead the market.

Rotatory wing – The type of aircraft which has a spinning rotor to generate lift.

Aircraft is further divided into Manned and Unmanned aircraft. Manned Aircraft carry crew members to operate the control systems. Unmanned Aircraft do not carry crew members but are operated remotely from a ground station. It is expected that Manned aircraft will lead the market.

Apart from the two types of Aerial Refueling systems mentioned earlier, the latest technology in the business is the Autonomous refueling system which is yet to make an impact in the market. Autonomous refueling is a system where the entire refueling process is automated by the use of appropriate control systems, without any input from the pilot. Air force organizations across the world have been investing heavily to explore this technology for years. Reduced training expenditure, better efficiency, safer fuel transaction, and a substantial decrease in pilot fatigue drive the pursuit of this technology. Autonomous refueling is prophesied to be the future of Aerial refueling.

Specialized training, high installation and maintenance costs are some of the budget restraints in several countries across the globe which hampers the growth of the business.

Blog by Harish Rajulu



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