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Data enables the Air Force to ‘fuel more fight’

Data showed Air Force Operational Energy that carrying extra fuel reduces efficiency by 2-5% on average mobility flights.

Data showed Air Force Operational Energy that carrying extra fuel reduces efficiency by 2-5% on average mobility flights.


Data collection and analysis have been critical to maintaining the effectiveness and lethality of the Air Force for decades, and are more important than ever in the age of big data, machine learning, and the complex challenges of the 21st century.  Yet, understanding the importance of data does not make the tasks of retrieval and analysis any easier. To accurately and thoroughly assess data requires enormous effort across all involved organizations, including developing a coordinated strategy for collection, storage, and review. Despite the challenges, the return-on-investment has been proven time and again. As the famed businessman Peter Drucker once said, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

For Air Force Operational Energy, championing data initiatives is the cornerstone of their vision: to create an energy optimized Air Force that maximizes combat capability for the warfighter. “Data informs our decision-making and helps us better understand how to get more performance out of our fuel,” said Roberto Guerrero, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Operational Energy.

The advantages of a data oriented approach span across all areas of Air Force Operational Energy, from fuel logistics and mission planning, to aerodynamics and engine design. “Data isn’t just used as a single stage in the process of building a fuel efficiency initiative; it is part of the entire lifecycle from discovering opportunities to analyzing them and actually implementing processes,” explains energy data scientist, Dr. Jordan Eccles.

One of the biggest priorities for Air Force Operational Energy is to improve the collection of fuel data on all aircraft, enabling better understanding of fuel burn and the result of carrying extra weight on aircraft. Currently, fuel data is very limited and lacks a coordinated system to maintain it accurately and with ease. If substantiated data does exist, Major Commands often do not have enough resources (time, money, and personnel) to be able to translate the data into actionable metrics.

Recent Air Force Operational Energy efforts to collect and analyze fuel data have proven valuable. Studies revealed that on an average mobility or heavy aircraft, carrying excess fuel reduces overall efficiency by 2-5 percent. Air Force Operational Energy worked with one aircraft community and found that they were habitually landing with an average of 30,000 pounds more fuel than required reserves. Using data to inform leadership resulted in process changes that decreased fuel loads by roughly 25 percent, leading to an increase of range and performance of nearly 1 percent. Even small changes can amount to significant benefits for the Air Force.

Industry offers many opportunities to learn fuel efficiency best practices. Air Force Operational Energy regularly visits commercial airlines and shipping companies to gain insight into their strategies. For example, Delta collects fuel use data from their aircraft in-flight.  They use this data to more precisely calculate required reserve fuel, which decreases costs associated with carrying unnecessary fuel. Ramp agents at FedEx Express receive a 'score' for how they load the aircraft. By positioning the cargo on the aircraft so that the weight is concentrated at least 1 percent aft of the aircraft’s center of gravity, FedEx Express was able to save over 1.1M gallons of fuel in one year.

Air Mobility Command championed a similar initiative in 2010, the Precision Loading program, to better utilize cargo space on large aircraft and found that 17.6M gallons of fuel and $246M were saved over a 2-year period.

As laid out in the Air Superiority 2030 Flight Plan, “Gathering data from sources in all domains, rapidly analyzing data to extract operationally important information, and reliably distributing information on the timeline needed to enable critical decisions creates an asymmetric advantage.”

The data quest of Air Force Operational Energy is just beginning. “The possibilities of data are limitless and worth the investment,” said Guerrero. “By focusing on data collection systems, we are building the foundation for the future of the Air Force.”

The mission of Air Force Operational Energy is to break barriers by connecting Airmen with technology, data, and innovative thinking to develop and champion energy-informed solutions across the Air Force. For more information and news visit: www.safie.hq.af.mil/OpEnergy/, www.Twitter.com/AFEnergy, and www.Facebook.com/AirForceEnergy.

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