339th FLTS Makes First Flight in F-15D Using Synthetic Fuel at Robins, AFB

8/21/2008 - Robins AFB, GA. -- Team Robins made history Aug. 19 during an afternoon test flight of an F-15E Strike Eagle. The test flight was like none other before as the fighter jet embarked on its first flight using synthetic fuel.

The flight ended Tuesday as Retreat signaled the end of another work day, but for those lucky enough to experience the landmark test flight the day ended with a promise of a future less dependent on foreign oil.

"You could have had JP-8 in there and I wouldn't have known the difference," said Maj. Dan Badia, who was one of the pilots for the test flight.

Ryan Mead, an F-15 fuels engineer said he was pleased with the flight test because for all practical purposes the aircraft functioned in the same range it would have with the JP-8 jet fuel and he expected the jet to be certified on the fuel as a result of the test flights.

The test was done as part of a direction from the Secretary of the Air Force to certify the entire Air Force fleet on the synthetic fuel by 2011.

"By accomplishing what we have accomplished with the synthetic fuel, we can now see the fuel is safe for operational use and does not decrease performance of a high-performance aircraft," said Jeff Braun, director of the Air Force Alternative Fuels Certification Office.

Engineers from the 830th Aircraft Sustainment Group, maintainers with the 561st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron and pilots from the 339th Flight Test Squadron joined with the Air Force Alternative Fuels Certification Office for the first airborne test of the F-15 using a 50-50 mix of JP-8 jet fuel and a natural gas- based synthetic fuel.

The fuel made its debut in the twenties, but had never been tested in a fighter jet until Maj. Badia and Lt. Col. Jim Luzzi, both pilots with the 339th flew the Strike Eagle Aug. 19.

During the flight the F-15 flew at Mach 2 or two times the speed of sound, did a max climb of 1,500 feet and did throttle slams, which are going from idle to maximum atmospheric pressure.

Maj. Badia said we took the aircraft to about 43,000 feet to see how the engine performs at Mach 2.

He added that during the supersonic run the pilots traveled from Columbus to Dublin in four minutes, while travelling at 1,300 miles per hour.

The fuel was developed by two German researchers, Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch, who devised a way to convert coal into liquid fuel and was used by the Nazi Regime during World War II to meet fuel shortage needs of Germany and Japan.
The fuel has come back into the spotlight as the Air Force and the rest of the U.S. continue to explore options that could reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Mr. Mead pointed out that the 50-50 mix could allow the Air Force to be less dependent on foreign fuel sources, without affecting our ability to achieve our mission.

"The whole initiative here is to develop alternative sources for jet fuel with the intent of securing national security," Mr. Braun said.

One of the most important strides to making the flight test a reality was engine tests using the synthetic fuel at the Arnold Engineering and Development Center in Tennessee, Mr. Bruan said.

The tests done prior to the airborne test eased the minds both of the F-15 maintainers and the F-15 fuel engineers involved in the project test flight.

Mr. Mead, said he couldn't stress the importance of the extensive testing that occurred on the engines using the synthetic fuel enough.

"We wanted to make sure our pilots were safe. We didn't just run out and do it," Mr. Mead said.

George Reid, flight chief for the 561st Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, said in the beginning he was concerned about the prospect of using a different fuel, but the more he learned about the preparation done the less anxious he was.
In the end the apprehension proved unmerited as the flight went off without any hitches.

"We are all excited about being the first fighter jet in the world to fly on this synthetic fuel," Mr. Reid said.

Mr. Mead said now that the initial flight test was successful he hopes the future will offer the opportunity to do a more long-term fuel test such as a field service evaluation, where one or more aircraft uses the fuel for a period of a few months. This would give the sustainers of the aircraft the opportunity to see the effects of usage of the fuel on aircraft components such as pumps, engines and turbine blades.

Mr. Reid said although the implementation of the fuel in everyday operations might be years into the future, he was glad to know he and his maintainers played a role. He added he knows it will have a positive impact on the future of the F-15 mission sustained here and the Air Force.

He added along with less dependence on foreign fuels the fuel also offers other advantages because it is cleaner burning and gets better gas mileage.
Though the F-15 was the first fighter jet to operate on the fuel, it wasn't the first Air Force aircraft to do so. The B-52 Stratofortress had already been formally certified to use the fuel and the B-1B Lancer and the C-17 Globemaster III are still undergoing the final certification process.

Next week the second fighter jet the F-22 Raptor and the KC-135 Stratotanker will undergo flight tests operating on the synthetic fuel. Once the initial flight tests have occurred, the two aircraft will participate in an all synthetic flight where both aircraft will be operating using the fuel and the KC-135 will refuel the F-22 using the synthetic fuel.

Source: USAF Robins AFB Press Release by Amanda Creel

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