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September 20, 2014

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Normal Combat Radius

Normal Combat Radius represents how far, in kilometers, the aircraft can normally travel from its base and perform it's mission (air superiority or ground attack) The rule of thumb is that the combat radius is one third the distance an aircraft can fly in a straight line on a full load of fuel. This assumes a trip out and back plus one third of fuel for combat operations. But for that handful of nations with a lot of aerial tanker aircraft, the situation is quite different, and rather more complicated. With tankers you can have combat aircraft top off their fuel tanks just before they enter hostile air space, and do the same when they return. This can more than double the normal range of warplanes. But it gets more complicated than that. Aircraft have a maximum take off weight, but bombers can take off with more bombs and less fuel. After flying a long distance to just outside enemy territory, they can take on more fuel, deliver their bombs and tank up again on the way home. Aircraft can also carry more weight in flight than they do when taking off. So refueling in the air can as much as double the normal bomb load. This technique is particularly useful with heavy bombers like the B-52, B-1 and B-2. But even smaller bombers make use of the technique, especially the F-117. America has the largest aerial tanker fleet and is the most frequent use of the tankers to extend range and increase bombload. Another factor effecting range is the use of speed to avoid enemy warplanes or ground fire. Normally, aircraft burn about .5 percent of fuel per minute when cruising at the economical speed (600?800 kilometers an hour). When enemy warplanes or ground fire is encountered, maximum speed is used. These high speed maneuvers will often get you away from danger, or are sometimes used to catch up with enemy fighters. But maximum speed burns up a lot more fuel. Fighters can consume 10 to 15 percent of fuel per minute at max speed. Even strike aircraft will frequently crank it up to two or three percent of fuel per minute while maneuvering towards or away from their targets. The average aircraft has sufficient fuel for two or three hours of cruising and up to fifteen minutes of high speed maneuvering during combat. Strike aircraft prefer to conserve their fuel so they can circle the battlefield waiting for the opportune moment to go down and hit a target. Fuel is a weapon. If one aircraft has more fuel it can force another into a situation where the disadvantaged plane will crash with empty gas tanks. When the low fuel aircraft realizes that it only has enough to get back to base, it can be more easily outmaneuvered by its opponent, who can be more generous with fuel, and speed. Fuel is also a handy defense. Recon aircraft in particular use bursts of speed to avoid danger from aircraft above or missiles below. Combat aircraft often fly off to their objectives with one or more large fuel tanks hanging from them. These tanks slow the aircraft down and decrease maneuverability. Before entering combat, these tanks are normally dropped. A common tactic is to force the other fellow to jettison their drop tanks before the fuel they carry has been used. This is done by attacking the enemy formation with missiles or interceptors before it has reached its objective. The attack does not have to be serious, just enough to force those partially full tanks to the ground. Once more aerial tankers are a crucial advantage. Aircraft coming out of hostile airspace with nearly empty tanks are often rescued by waiting tankers. Other nations often loose aircraft when pilots had to choose between getting shot down and using so much fuel that they could not make it to a landing strip in friendly territory. Russian aircraft were built with this in mind, and are rugged enough to land on any long, flat surface that's reasonably firm.

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