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Active Drogue In-Flight Refuelling

Use A Small Remote-Controlled Aircraft To Target Refueling
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There's basically two versions of in-flight refueling, probe and drogue and flying boom. The probe and drogue trails a fuel hose from a tanker aircraft with a small "drogue" on the end. This provides some drag for stability. Where the drogue ends up is determined by aerodynamics, and the pilot of the receiving aircraft is responsible for flying their aircraft in such a way as to plug their probe into the drogue to take on fuel. The flying boom method has a movable arm on the tanker, that is inserted into the receiving aircraft by a professional boom operator. This method was developed for Strategic Air Command, and makes sense in that context, larger fuel flow, much less maneuverable aircraft and the advantage of a specialist in the back of the tanker. The probe and drogue method however, has a number of advantages. It's the dominant technology, you can deploy it from diverse aircraft - using a pylon mounted pod, you can refuel multiple aircraft and it's cheaper.

How about a bit of both? Add an electrical power supply and control lines running down the hose, then add a nifty quadcopter on the end. This will have to be a high performance unit with powerful electric ducted fans enabling it to fully maneuver itself and the weight of the hose around a relatively large volume behind the aircraft, including above the usual plane of operation, thus avoiding vortices and jet/prop wash. A selection of reference signals from the tips of the wings and vertical stabilizer should allow very precise station keeping and maneuvers. Additionally, the operator inside the tanker can have camera feeds from the Drogue-copter as well as the usual windows etc. Now the operator can invite an aircraft into a specific zone, then do the detailed maneuvers necessary to connect up the fuel before leaving the drone to station keep while the go connect another plane behind and above the other wing. The quadcopter should be equipped to service both probe AND boom type aircraft, and include a screen. Because fighting a war is no reason to miss the boat race.

bs0u0155, Dec 17 2015

Active Stabilization... but not as much fun http://foxtrotalpha...zed-drog-1673992575
[bs0u0155, Dec 17 2015]

Helicopter in-flight refueling - not easy. https://www.youtube...watch?v=VAdpKpppZiA
[bs0u0155, Dec 17 2015]

[link]






       So, basically like this:   

       // In fact, why not make the drogue smarter? Given some sort of communication between tanker and helicopter, the flyable drogue should be able to compensate for small movements of both aircraft - in effect flying itself to the nozzle of the helicopter. The drogue should be much more maneuverable, over small distances, than either of the aircraft. //   

       ?
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 17 2015
  

       Yep. If we thought of it at the same time, bet it's already been tried...
bs0u0155, Dec 17 2015
  

       You know, I had considered this but I was thinking that you're docking a pretty heavy device, another aircraft that you've introduced into the mix and if you screw up, you're crashing that 3rd aircraft into the helicopter.   

       And again, kite or small 3rd aircraft carrying a hose, you fly into the powerful downwash of a helicopter you've got control issues. Solution would be a long boom extending out in front of the helicopter like they do now, but that would work with the trailing hanging hose as well.   

       Can I admit some ignorance? They've been filling helicopters from flying tankers for decades. What's the specific issue about this new aircraft that's causing problems? I got to this far in the story:   

       //helicopter refueling simply was not possible with the A400M in its current configuration, but because several countries were interested in ...REGISTER FOR FREE ACCESS (VALID EMAIL REQUIRED)//
doctorremulac3, Dec 17 2015
  

       //What's the specific issue about this new aircraft that's causing problems?//   

       I'm not exactly sure, but the A400M is a lot bigger and heavier than a C130 with a lot more power. I expect there's a bundle of small kinks to work out.
bs0u0155, Dec 17 2015
  

       //another aircraft that you've introduced into the mix and if you screw up, you're crashing that 3rd aircraft into the helicopter.//   

       Needn't be a big problem. However the drogue flies, it will be limited in envelope by the pipe. And if the helicopter has a forward-protruding probe, then the worst outcome is that the drogue and/or probe get damaged, neither of which need be fatal.   

       Plus, remember that in current systems the drogue is effectively flying, but in a relatively uncontrolled way. I'd have thought that a computer-controlled flying drogue could be much more stable against turbulence than an uncontrolled one. It's one of those things where the millisecond response time of a computer is better than the tenth-of-a-second response time of a human.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 17 2015
  

       //then the worst outcome is that the drogue and/or probe get damaged//   

       As long as when planning that crash, you avoid stuff such as the helicopter's rotors, cabin windshield etc. If you're only planning a loss of control within a certain area that's one thing, if there's any way that vehicle might leave that area by ten feet or so then you have potential problems.   

       Putting computers in charge of the docking is fine, but simpler and lighter is better. Case in point, the heli refueling video. I believe the weight of the fuel line alone pushed the helicopter down causing the pilot to have to pull up, overcorrect causing the probe to hit the rotors.   

       What about trailing a couple of fuel line attached drones behind each vehicle while they fly side by side and they fly together and automatically link up? Then if they crash, no big deal. Nothing's going on in front of the aircraft.   

       Eh. Too heavy and complicated.
doctorremulac3, Dec 17 2015
  

       What's with the obsession with quadracopters?
The hose is being dragged behind an aircraft doing (mumble) km/h. Just give it wings with control surfaces, like a tethered glider.
neutrinos_shadow, Dec 17 2015
  

       They already to that don't they? I thought there was a guy in the tail of the tanker flying these things into place with wings on the boom, then they extend the tube. Maybe they use motors and the little wings are just to help push the boom down.
doctorremulac3, Dec 17 2015
  
      
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