Dragging Fuel Prices Down

The Air Force and Boeing are searching for a way to reduce the C-17’s drag and, in turn, reduce fuel costs. During the first phase of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s C-17 drag reduction program, which concluded in March, testers studied the effects of placing six Vortex Control Technologies Finlets—devices similar to, but smaller than strakes—on the aft part of the fuselage, according to a release. The study found the Air Force’s fuel prices had quadrupled between 2004 and 2012. Airlifters, including the C-130, C-17, and C-5, accounted for 70 percent of the fuel used in 2012. And the C-17 consumes the most fuel of those cargo planes. Four separate modifications meant to increase airflow efficiency—consisting of different placements of Finlets and Lockheed Martin microvanes and fairings—will be tested sequentially, and AFRL will compare the results. The testing will also determine whether the modifications impact the C-17’s current capabilities. “Our end goal is to reduce fuel consumption while maintaining military utility” said project manager Steve Salas of the 418th Flight Test Squadron at Edwards AFB, Calif. “This program has the potential for significant savings in C-17 fuel costs, helping the Air Force stretch its budget even further, while maintaining force readiness.”