Exhibit brings air-to-air refuelling down to earth

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Filling up a fighter jet’s fuel tank is a little more involved than gassing up a car at the local station, but imagine trying to refuel a jet as it travels hundreds of kilometres an hour thousands of feet above the earth’s surface.

That’s exactly what happens nearly every single time a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet takes to the air.

The amazing feat that plays a vital role keeping fighter jets flying safely above us is coming down from the clouds for a new exhibit coming to Winnipeg’s Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada.

“It’s one of those things that’s often overlooked but there’s no way that a CF-18 can take to the air without the use of this technology,” explained the museum’s curator assistant, Davide Montebruno.

Winnipeg’s Royal Aviation Museum of Western Canada will host the exhibit starting June 1. (Travis Golby/CBC)

“There’s no way that we could participate as an international partner in conflicts around the world … without having this capability.

“Most people don’t even know it happens and, then of course, that means that most people don’t know that it’s something that is right here in Winnipeg, in our own backyard.”

While CF-18s can travel long distances at high-speeds, the fighter jets use a whole lot of fuel to do so and need to be refilled after about an hour-and-a-half in the air.

The air-to-air refueling process — which sees large C-130  Hercules planes fly over CF-18s to fill the jet’s tank using a hanging 70-foot long hose — means the jets never need to land to fill up.

The procedure saves time and wear-and-tear on the expensive jets, says Montebruno.

A routine process

It takes a lot of practice to get everything lined up, said Montebruno, but once the pilots get the hang of it, the feat is repeated so often many in the air force don’t even think about it.

It becomes like stopping for gas on a long road trip, he says.

“Talking to pilots on both sides of the hose it’s fairly routine once you’ve done your training,” he said. “But obviously a big part of the CF-18 pilot’s training is to learn to do this refueling.”

And the Royal Canadian Air Force’s flying fill-up stations are stationed right here in Winnipeg — it’s pilots from 17 Wing Winnipeg’s 435 squadron who take to the skies to jump to the pump.

435 Squadron first arrives in Winnipeg in 1994. (CBC)

“If they’re headed overseas somewhere or on training missions outside the country, 435 Squadron always goes with them to provide that service.”

435 Squadron is also responsible for search and rescue missions and help with evacuations during emergencies.

The exhibit will see some of the equipment used in the refuelling process on display at the museum, including the large pod that’s mounted under the wing of the Hercules, as well as the massive hose, basket and probe used for the mid-flight fill-ups.

“The whole thing is just enormous, it’ll take up about 20-feet of space to show-off and it will give people a real sense of how this is accomplished in the sky,” said Montebruno.

“It’s the sort of thing people will never get the chance to see up close.”

So why Winnipeg?

Montebruno says plane-to-plane refueling was routinely used during the Second World War but the process has only become standard practice in the Royal Canadian Air Force in the last 25 years.

The 435 Squadron moved to Winnipeg from Edmonton in 1993 when the RCAF began using the procedure.mb-435squadron-052718 0:22

“Winnipeg is geographically central, so it’s just about right between the two CF-18 bases in Canada,” explained Montebruno. “This allows the squadron to relatively easily meet these aircraft as they traverse across the country.”

A C-130 Hercules taxying after landing at Cambridge Bay, Nunavut. (MCpl John Bradley/submitted by Royal Canadian Air Force)

He says perfecting the process has allowed the RCAF to keep up with much larger forces on the international stage.

“We have a relatively small air force and a huge amount of ground to cover,” he said.

“So this technology is central in our ability to use our small air force effectively to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the United States Air Force and other air forces around the world.”

The exhibit opens to the public June 1 and marks the 25th anniversary of 435 Squadron’s arrival in Winnipeg.

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Originally posted 2018-05-27 12:49:27. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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