RFID Lends Precision to Fighter Jet Refueling
We’ve seen how RFID can be used for on-board parts tracking in the plane industry, primarily to streamline aircraft configuration, maintenance and repairs. But the military has found a way to use RFID to improve in air refueling.
When an F-16 Fighting Falcon approaches a KC-135 for fuel, the receiver aircraft is manually tracked by the Boom Operator. The information tracked for the receiver plane includes tail number and squadron and must either be visually identified or communicated by radio. During night operations and radio silence situations, this can be complicated. And when visual identification and communications are hindered, it takes longer for the KC-135 crew to accurately log the aircraft and fuel information. Adding to that complexity is manually entered information which can be inaccurate and thus costly.
The Air Force Flight Test Center constantly conducts flight tests and gathers data to maintain America's tactical dominance in the sky. Along with that, the AFFTC looks to improve the Air Force's efficiency. The KC-135 Automatic Receiver Aircraft Identification (ARAI) testing aims to do just that.
The ARAI is to be installed on KC-135 tankers to make the air-to-air refueling to a receiver plane more efficient and economical. Phase 2 testing for the ARAI began at Edwards Air Force Base, which included a flight test using an NKC-135 test tanker installed with ARAI and an F-16 Fighting Falcon equipped with RFID tags.
The NKC-135 will use its ARAI antennas to scan the F-16 to authenticate it and accurately gauge the amount of fuel transferred. The data that the ARAI retrieves is logged into a computer aboard the tanker. Accurate information is important because when an aircraft is refueled by a KC-135, the plane's squadron is responsible for the fuel cost. The Air Force is now able to budget for their fuel needs and costs more efficiently.
Millions of dollars can be lost every year because of unaccounted for fuel tracking or fuel tracking that is allocated incorrectly. When there is no communication between aircraft, it becomes necessary to estimate. The RFID-enabled process lets the boomer focus on what's important - refueling the aircraft and accomplishing the mission.