B-1B achieves first supersonic flight using synthetic fuel

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bates
  • Air Force News Agency
A B-1B Lancer from the 9th Bomb Squadron here became the first Air Force aircraft to fly at supersonic speed using an alternate fuel March 19 in a flight over Texas and New Mexico.

The fuel, a 50/50 blend of synthetic and petroleum gases, is being tested as part of an ongoing Air Force program to help the environment and to use a fuel produced domestically.

Air Force officials are in the process of evaluating and certifying this alternative fuel, which is derived from natural gas using the Fischer-Tropsch process, for use in all Air Force aircraft.

"The goal is to have every aircraft using synthetic fuel blends by 2011," said Maj. Don Rhymer, assigned to the Air Force Alternative Fuels Certification Office. "By 2016 we hope at least 50 percent of this fuel will be produced domestically."

Air Force officials previously have tested the fuel blend in the B-52 Stratofortress, the first aircraft to use the fuel, and the C-17 Globemaster III. The supersonic flight by the B-1B occurred over the White Sands Missile Range airspace in south-central New Mexico, but the flight took off from Dyess AFB.

Within the federal government, the Air Force is the single largest user of aviation fuel, using an estimated 3 billion gallons per year. Each time the price of oil goes up $10 per barrel, it costs the Air Force an additional $600 million for fuel. The FT process gives the Air Force a cleaner, more cost-efficient fuel source.

Synthetic fuel created using the FT process costs an estimated $30 to $50 less per barrel than its petroleum counterpart.

Still, saving money is not the only reason the Air Force is looking to use synthetic fuel.

"A lot of people are quick to point to the cost-efficiency of alternative fuel," Major Rhymer said. "But this innovative domestically-produced fuel will also help alleviate our dependence on foreign energy sources."

Alternative fuels can be produced from domestically available hydrocarbon products like natural gas, coal and shale, and then gasified and converted into any number of liquid fuel products.

These fuels are also proven to burn cleaner, reducing combustion-related emissions and particulates in the air -- all without compromising performance.

"There was no noticeable difference flying with this fuel," said Capt. Rick Fournier, the B-1B synthetic fuel flight mission commander. "I would have no problem flying an aircraft using this fuel in peacetime or combat."

It's great to be part of an Air Force initiative that is also helping the environment, Captain Fournier said. "Using a fuel that is cheaper and cleaner ... what could be better?"