Together with industry partners, we are instituting programs to improve engine performance and efficiency in our legacy aircraft by utilizing advanced propulsion sustainment processes and materials.
In 2018, we helped implement an initiative to scan engine compressor blades, measuring them for optimal shape and alignment and improving engine optimization. In 2019, we supported two engine compressor blade programs for the F108 and F117 engines, which fly on the KC-135 and C-17, to improve blade coatings that reduce deterioration and fuel burn and improve operating efficiency. We are also exploring engine washing techniques that more effectively remove fouling and particles from the engine to improve operating efficiency and sustainment. Engine sustainment processes like scanning, coatings, and washing are expected to result in a 2-4 percent reduction in fuel use, which translates to significant savings across the enterprise, and, more importantly, results in readiness and capability benefits to the warfighter.
Fuel data is crucial to identifying and understanding operational inefficiencies in the Force. By collecting and analyzing fuel data from across all aircraft, the Air Force can measure its effectiveness, enable data-driven decisions, and better target opportunities to improve operations that deliver competitive advantages against adversaries.
In 2018, our office created the Operational Energy Data Collection Strategy to lay the foundation for collecting and storing aviation fuel use and associated mission execution data. The purpose of the Strategy is to set the Air Force on a course to collect aviation fuel data that is comprehensive, automated, high-resolution, and accurate. Implementing the Strategy informs operations, supports a resilient and innovative Air Force, and integrates aviation fuel data collection into a wider data and IT strategy across the Air Force and Department of Defense.
Our office set up the Energy Analysis Task Force (EATF) to systematically visit Air Force bases around the country to observe actual training and mission flights, and speak with flight crews (to include operators and maintainers) about flight operations, practices, and aircraft requirements that have an impact on aviation fuel efficiency. The goal: to identify optimization best practices (and the challenges to implementing them) across each airframe, and produce a report that recommends which initiatives, processes, and technologies could have the greatest benefit to capability and readiness.
Known as a Line Operations Efficiency Analysis (LOEA), the team starts by targeting one airframe at a time and reviewing applicable publications and in-flight guides for that specific airframe. Then, in coordination with wing leadership, the team visits the aligned bases to conduct in-depth, non-attributional focus groups with aircrews of that airframe.
Led by a team of senior aviators with a breadth of experience across both Air Force and commercial aircraft (many are Reserve Airmen that also fly with commercial airlines), the EATF hopes to gain a better understanding of how crews perceive fuel efficiency efforts, and glean insight about the challenges pilots and maintainers face in their daily operations that may inhibit them from exercising efficiency best practices when the mission allows.
With help from our office, operational energy challenges are now an active part of Air Force wargaming, bringing together Air Force and DoD stakeholders to meet future energy challenges. In 2017, we became involved in the planning and development of the Air Force’s Title 10 Wargame series. Since then, we have participated in several wargames involving the Air Force, Joint Services, and other Defense Agencies and partners.
Our participation – along with support from aligned offices and industry partners – helps incorporate all aspects of the fuel supply network (from refineries to aerial tankers) into wargaming campaigns. It also highlights the critical role operational energy plays in combat operations and the implications of fuel logistics planning and an effective energy posture.
Ultimately, our goal is to optimize the energy supply network, create resilient logistics systems for a more agile force, and drive energy-informed leadership decisions related to basing strategy and investment priorities.
Aircraft weight is a key aspect of fuel burn, so the heavier the aircraft, the more fuel it takes to fly it. Air Force Operational Energy is exploring a number of avenues to reduce weight, and therefore fuel burn, on aircraft.
In 2018, we initiated research into technology that replaces heavier, and unsafe metal winch cables with a lightweight synthetic equivalent on the C-17, reducing aircraft weight by approximately 80 pounds, while enhancing safety. The synthetic cables are just as strong as the metal cables they are replacing, far easier to handle (reducing load time and workload), while also being safer for Airmen as they are less likely to recoil under high loads. In partnership with Air Mobility Command, we will conduct a year-long operational test from 2020-2021 to determine the synthetic cable’s viability for the C-17 fleet.
Another of our projects has worked to replace legacy aluminum honeycomb air inlets with lightweight composite RAM Air Inlet system for the C-5M Super Galaxy, which are 19 percent lighter and cost almost $100,000 less per part to manufacture. The composite parts have met all tests for strength and durability, and have a greater corrosion resistance, increasing part life and aircraft availability while reducing maintenance costs. The new inlets have transitioned to operational use and will replace the aluminum parts on an attrition basis. There are about 1000 of these types of panels on the C-5, and many more could be replicated in this way, saving both fuel and sustainment costs.
Jigsaw, an innovative software to streamline aerial refueling scheduling in the 609th Combined Operations Center (CAOC), has cut planning time while optimizing fuel use. Created by Defense Innovation Unit (DIU) using an agile development methodology, the tool has already increased tanker scheduling efficiency by 3.6 percent, reduced fuel use by 180k gallons weekly, and reduced global manning requirements by 9 crews since its rollout in June 2017.
Our office understands the value of the tool and is contributing to its improvement and sustainment. We have supported AOC Pathfinder in the continued development of Jigsaw and advocated for an auto-planning feature (known as Pythagoras) that matches refueling requests with tankers to optimize tanker utilization (subject to constraints and planner judgment). Pythagoras is expected to increase scheduling efficiency by 10 percent.
In 2018, our office funded the development of two graduate courses at the Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT), Department of Systems Engineering and Management. The two courses, Aviation Energy Systems Engineering and Contingency Base Energy Systems Engineering, were offered for the first time in the spring of 2019. The collaborative effort to develop these courses has ensured that operational energy is at the center of lectures and research efforts, and is a significant step toward the office’s goal of educating the Force and building an operational energy-aware culture.
Due to an optimization initiative led by our office, policy has been put into place that directs planners to plan airspeeds for 5th generation fighter Coronet missions at closer to maximum range airspeed. The faster speed decreases overall fuel consumption by about 6 percent, and reduces flight hours by about 10 percent. After a successful demonstration with F-22s at the end 2017, our office continued working with ACC and AMC in 2018 to formalize the procedures and expanded them to include the F-35.