Air Force tests flight with greener fuel

Flying toward a future less dependent on foreign oil, Air Force takes a jet on test flight powered by fuel made from animal fats and plant oil.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

An Air Force Thunderbolt jet took to the skies Thursday powered with help of a synthetic substitute made with animal fats and plant oil.

The A-10C Thunderbolt II lifted off for its demo flight from the Eglin Air Force Base in Florida with its tanks filled with a 50-50 blend of synthetic Hydrotreated Renewable Jet fuel, or HRJ, and JP-8, a traditional jet propellant, according to the Air Force Web site. The flight marked the first demo to determine the feasibility of using synthetic fuel in Air Force jets.

An A-10C Thunderbolt II flies along Florida's coast on Thursday during the first test flight of an aircraft powered by a biomass-derived fuel blend. Senior Master Sgt. Joy Josephson/U.S. Air Force

The test flight marked one of the key initiatives on the part of Air Force to start to go greener and reduce its reliance on foreign oil. The Air Force uses up 2.4 billion gallons of jet fuel each year, making it the largest consumer of traditional fuel in the Department of Defense. The new goal is to ensure that all Air Force planes are qualified to use alternative fuels by 2012.

"The Air Force is committed to reducing our reliance on foreign oil," Terry Yonkers, assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and logistics, said in a statement. "Our goal is to reduce demand, increase supply, and change the culture and mindset of our fuel consumption."

Though the Air Force still has to examine the full mission data, the flight was considered "uneventful and predictable" by its pilot.

The fuel that powered the Thunderbolt was partially created from oil from the camelina plant, a weed that doesn't need much water or fertilizer and isn't used as a food source. The fuel's refining process and emissions are considered cleaner than those of traditional jet fuel.

The Air Force said it's eyeing a second demo this summer using an F-15 Eagle, followed by two more tests later this year with a C-17 Globemaster III, which typically consumes a lot of fuel, and an F-22 Raptor test, which is a more complicated aircraft to handle.

Updated 9:00 a.m. PDT with fuel mixture ratio and more details on camelina plant.