An Air Force B-1B bomber from the 9th Bomb Squadron at Dyess AFB, Tex., on March 19 became the first aircraft to fly at supersonic speeds burning the synthetic fuel blend that USAF wants its entire inventory cleared to use by early 2011. The B-1B conducted the four-and-a-half hour flight over White Sands Missile Range, N.M., with all four its General Electric F101-GE-102 turbofan engines burning the fuel mix of 50 percent traditional JP-8 aviation fuel and 50 percent synthetic kerosene derived from natural gas under a method called the Fischer-Tropsch process. The bomber aircrew performed a full complement of operational maneuvers, including both low speed and supersonic flight, said Air Force spokeswoman Vicki Stein. Initial post flight comments from the crew indicated they observed no anomalies and encountered no problems. “There was no noticeable difference flying with this fuel,” said Capt. Rick Fournier, the pilot for the flight. Already the service has cleared the B-52H to operate with the 50-50 fuel blend and is close to certifying the C-17. Fischer-Tropsch Kerosene can also be derived from coal and shale, of which the US has abundant supply. (Includes Dyess report by SSgt. Matthew Bates)
Reports of production troubles on the SpaceX rocket that could contend for military cargo deliveries happened to coincide with a different company’s concept receiving an early nod—one that might not require a rocket at all.