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A Gripen jet aircraft during an air-to-air refueling.

In-Flight Refueling: An important Factor Behind Gripen's Operational Readiness

2 min read

Imagine an aircraft landing in the middle of a long range mission to get refueled. It is not just about the extra time that is needed to turn around the fighter again, but also about the extra resources as in most cases, a second plane is sent out to complete the mission. To solve this issue, air-to-air refueling, the process of transferring fuel from a tanker aircraft to a fighter aircraft mid-air, comes in handy.

The first air-to-air refueling was conducted in the year 1923 where two De Haviland DH-4B Army Air Service airplanes from the US Air Force participated. Over the years, the process has become very critical for most tactical aircraft that are sent for modern missions. Gripen uses the probe-and-drogue system for aerial refueling. In this process, there is a mid-air interlocking of a retractable probe with a funnel-like mouth of a long hose between Gripen and the tanker.

Air-to-air refueling is a complex process that requires a lot of patience, efficiency and precision from everyone in the fighter aircraft and the tanker aircraft. The two planes must maintain a constant proximity and adhere to the rules and commands of the process.

In a report in, Brazilian Air Force (FAB) Major Aviator Ramon Fórneas stressed on the importance of air-to-air refueling. "When the aircraft is refueled in flight, you have it available for a longer time, thus minimizing the exposure time on the ground and flying the intended distance", he said.

The report added that something like air-to-air refueling is practically mandatory for country with continental dimensions like Brazil which has more than 8 million km² of territories. For refueling the Brazilian Gripens, the Embraer military transport aircraft, KC-390 will be used. Air-to-air refueling extends the range of Gripen, ensuring maximum availability. With more time in the air, Gripen pilots are always ready for the next mission whether they are on land or mid-flight.

Learn more about Gripen here