The Business End: Tankers and their Air Refuelling Systems

David C Isby lays out the different options available to those wanting to buy an air-to-air refueller

A US Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey refuels during a mission in support of Weapons and Tactics Instructor course 1-17 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. Lance Cpl.
Danny Gonzalez/US Marine Corps

Air-to-air refuelling tankers in service today will be flying well into the 21st century incorporating improved versions of one or both of the two basic types of air-to-air refuelling systems, boom or drogue. Like armament is to fighter aircraft, they are the critical onboard systems that allow them to do their jobs. Reliability and interoperability with many different types of receiver aircraft throughout a wide operational envelope are the key criteria for air refuelling systems, but so are their rates of fuel transfer. While an operational tanker may seldom transfer fuel at its maximum rate, the ability to do so when needed is no less important than maximum speed is to a fighter.

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