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High capacity, long range, air refuelling passenger jet

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samh004

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I have a question. Lots of concepts from Boeing or Airbus these days seem very futuristic not only inside, but sometimes on the outside too - such as glass floors. There's still a big focus on the next supersonic jet. However what Australia needs is a long range jet with a high passenger capacity... So why haven't Boeing or Airbus researched future passenger jets that have this ability?

From my limited understanding, the more range you get in a passenger jet the less cargo and passengers you can carry. However if you had a jet capable of refuelling halfway, or perhaps even at thirds of the way, you could cram more passengers and cargo in? This wouldn't just be beneficial to Qantas/ANZ, but any airline that wanted to fly long haul with maximum capacity.

Instead of stopping off in Dubai, the captain simply lines up with a refuelling aircraft, before continuing the journey. Heck, maybe it's an automatic thing, as so many things are these days? Yes, you spend longer in the tube, but you shave a few hours off the travel time.

Has this concept been examined and I've just always glazed over it or are plane manufacturers missing the obvious?
 

medhead

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I'm sure this has been discussed before. Short answer it's too dangerous to bring two passenger aircraft within 10s of meters of each other and then try to line up a small pipe.

I've also heard some stories of the booms breaking off and almost taking out the following aircraft.
 
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Interesting idea, and I believe it's been covered in various aviation publications.
The main problems with the concept lie with the enormous cost involved in bringing a new aircraft design to reality. Billions in the case of large aircraft. Why is this a problem? There'd likely be only limited demand for such an aircraft (QF has only 12 A380s at present with a further 8 on order, so best guess they'd want, say up to 8 of your mega plane concept). Most other airlines wouldn't do it. They simply don't suffer the same distance problems that we do. Also their hubs tend to lie centrally within their networks, whereas we are always end of the line (Nobody flys to Asia from the US via Sydney, for example).
Refuelling mid-air is no simple matter (check out some of the cool vids on you-tube). Several military flyers on here will attest to that. It's a great idea in concept but factoring in safety, the cost and coordination involved in a refuelling aircraft (what if the refueller is delayed or grounded?) and the relatively low demand and few routes on which it'd be required, I'd say there's Buckley's chance the manufacturers will consider it. (Interestingly there is research work going on now on drones for refuelling purposes)
More likely (although possibly not from Boeing or Airbus for the foreseeable future) is a re-evaluation of supersonic flight. I truly regret never having gotten to fly concorde. A relative of mine has done it and thought it was amazing.

Finally, there are some people who baulk at the idea of spending longer in the tube. Go figure.......
regards,
Peter
 

Hvr

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Given the hysteria some pax have when a plane is within a few kilometres can you imagine if it was up close and personal?

Although if it was a plane with no windows then maybe it could be considered. ;)
 

BAM1748

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i guess the time might come in the future, but the technology isn't up to it yet to make it reliable (aka safe) plus the cost of a whole other aircraft versus a road tanker.

Less risk at present to land refuel and take off than a mid air re-fuel.

The 787's can cover a decent distance which is probably long enough for most to be in a plane in one hit. I would think larger range of existing aircraft is on the cards.

Matt
 

markis10

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The technical aspects of refuelling large airliners are no barrier, given the MRTT can do it as can the P8 and wedge tail, the issues are the customers handling the long flights I suspect.
 

777

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It's not cost effective for the very small number of routes that would need it. It would require a whole new infrastructure and there are only a handful of routes (LHR-SYD-NYC, SIN-NYC and i can't think of a lot more) that would really work.

The hub and spoke model seems to work pretty well and while this might work in a very small number of cases it's not a big enough market to justify the risks involved (both financial and safety).

In any case, i think the problem will largely be gone in a decade or two given the incredible advances in fuel efficiency of jets.
 

SeatBackForward

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I think the idea of passengers being in "pods" that are swapped in and out of aircraft is more likely as this will be technology that can be used by any route.
 

Boris spatsky

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There are significant issues as highlighted already with civil air-to-air refuelling. Firstly, there is a massive training burden keeping crews in the military qualified and current to conduct such operations. It would be prohibitive to have all crews going back to the simulator every 3-6 months (and even more frequently if the schedule required night refuelling which is a whole other ball game). Even if only a handful of crews were kept current in this skill, it is a massive burden on rostering and training. Ultra long haul also brings with it it's own rostering issues as SIA can attest to.

Secondly, the sheer cost of acquiring an air-to-air refuelling fleet that can refuel jets (even if shared across airlines) is cost prohibitive. The KC-30 (modified A330), KC-46 (modified 767) and KC-767 (earlier model modified 767) are far more expensive than their 'green skin' cousins (that is, than their non-modified civil versions). Further, the sheer infrastructure cost of maintaining bases across the world that are capable of handling the aircraft and supporting them is extensive. Finally, the operating cost for those aircraft would be prohibitive (remembering that they are non-revenue aircraft, that is they do not directly sell seats or make money by themselves). If you were to pick the most convenient place to refuel on those long haul routes, chances are the aircraft would have to fly nominally at least 1 hour each way to get there, plus an hour or so during refuel and then an hour back. Each sortie would cost just the refuelling aircraft over 3 hours of fuel, crew and support costs. The actual aircraft that is being refuelled and making the money would have to therefore make those costs up - meaning that the seat cost of that aircraft would be astronomical and no one would buy seats compared to the non-refuelling aircraft we utilise today.

If you look at the money that the USAF pumps into air-to-air refuelling and the massive budget cuts that they have just had because of it, you can see just how expensive it is - and that is for a world superpower projecting it's military globally where profit is not relevant, not an airline trying to make a buck.
 

medhead

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The technical aspects of refuelling large airliners are no barrier, given the MRTT can do it as can the P8 and wedge tail, the issues are the customers handling the long flights I suspect.
While the mrtt might be able to refuel wedge tail on paper. I suspect they may not be able to do it just yet.
 

markis10

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While the mrtt might be able to refuel wedge tail on paper. I suspect they may not be able to do it just yet.
Its being tested and certified as we speak, a MRTT has already done a P8 and of course it has been refuelled itself by a Kc135
 

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RailFlyer

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Why not reverse the way it is done? Passenger jet just sets a prescribed course on the autopilot and then extends a refueling tail pipe behind it which has little wings so it trails the required height (10-40m?) above and behind the passenger plan. Refueling tanker with the "skilled" crew then approach from behind (better term for this?!?) and give it some juice. For the passenger pilot there should be very little training required and if it doesn't work they just go to plan B and land at Dubai for a drink. Whole system (i.e. physical break-aways etc) would be designed to fail safe in all scenarios for the passenger jet and maybe slightly less safe (if nothing else is possible) for the highly paid refueling crew in the plane behind.

Could also be retro-fitted to an existing jet without needing a blank sheet of paper design if the will was there in my opinion.
 

medhead

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I would guess the refueling is gravity fed, ie tanker has to be higher than the other aircraft.
 

RailFlyer

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I would guess the refueling is gravity fed, ie tanker has to be higher than the other aircraft.
Hence the "little wings" angled so the tail pipe flies above the passenger jet's slip stream.

If this is too hard, they could just use a pump.

But having some "intelligent remote controlled wings" on the refueling pipe may be useful for other reasons. It would potentially allow the refueling plane to remote control it for best position before docking - again taking workload away from the passenger jet pilots.
 
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