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U.S. Air Force Synthetic-Fuel Program in Limbo

Latest flight tests demonstrate that synthetic fuels are safe, but the cost and the carbon may not be worth it

4 min read

10 September 2008--A series of flight tests by the U.S. Air Force late last month using a synthetic jet-fuel blend comes at an awkward time for the service. Part of a two-year-old program to integrate domestically produced, non-petroleum-based jet fuels into the Air Force's fuel supply, the tests included an F-22 Raptor, which underwent the first aerial refueling using a synthetic jet fuel, and an F-15 Eagle, which became the first fighter jet to fly at Mach 2.2 on synthetic fuel. However, the departures of two key supporters of the synthetic-fuel program have cast doubt on its future and the likelihood that the service will become as aggressive a promoter of the petroleum substitutes as it had stated in the past.

Much of the impetus for the certification and proposed adoption of synthetic fuels came from William Anderson, the assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment, and logistics. But a little over a month ago, he resigned, citing a lack of support for his plans. Anderson's departure followed the exit of Michael Wynne, the former secretary of the Air Force who initiated the program and was forced out of office in June after security lapses were found in the Air Force's handling of nuclear weapons. The two officials had spoken widely about a goal to certify all Air Force airframes to fly on synthetic fuels by 2011 and to fly half of its North American fleet on a blend of domestically sourced synthetic fuel by 2016.

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Technicians at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems facilities in Redondo Beach, Calif., work on a mockup of the JWST spacecraft bus—home of the observatory’s power, flight, data, and communications systems.


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