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Fuel drop tanks are relatively small, expensive and risk falling on civilians. Air tankers are very expensive, often need to be supported on and take off from land, and are valuable targets in wartime.
This fairly large companion UAV would consist mostly of a large fuel tank. It would be carried like
a drop tank, but its wings, engine, and integrated control surfaces would compensate for much to all of its weight. At its own bingo fuel it would drop off the aircraft it supported and return and land on its own. Optionally it could take off and attach on its own. The combination of these features is a carrier launched, inexpensive, expendable range extender for carrier-launched aircraft.
For transporting stuff [neutrinos_shadow, Jun 19 2022]
Self propelled batteries
[pashute, Jun 21 2022]
[pashute, Jun 21 2022]
Could be adapted
[pocmloc, Jun 21 2022]
Pretty much baked, except these don't attach at launch
[Voice, Jun 28 2022]
||[+] Short landing gears limit the maximum size of
thing. It might be better to drag the drone behind the
jet (like glider tow) but instead of a rope use a fuel
hose. This will also double as a anti missile decoy.
||Come to think of it, if the drone has its own
propulsion it could be in front as well. When empty,
the drone could go fuel up at a tanker and then
return back into the hot zone to keep repeating this
dance indefinitely. Being a drone and having a link
with the human operated jet, it can mirror manuvers
so that it stays hooked up in formation within 2 or
||Drop tank with a largish parachute?
||[ixnaum]; you're in good form lately! An extra tank towed as a
glider is brilliant. Extant technology, proven concept; just not
sure about high-speed towing (behind a fighter, for
||Drones that don't fight but top up fighters at every opportunity could be a real game changer.
||I had the same idea some years ago, only on the ground, for
electric cars. I'll look for it and post a link. Done.
||How about a fire hose that squirts gasoline into a passing race car so it doesn't have to stop?
||[voice] no need for a hose, see link
||So a little like the self-landing SpaceX boosters? Interesting.
My initial impressions are that the engine/wings should be
off/folded. Fighters have an excess of power and if fuel is
available, we don't need multiple extra sources of thrust
and the aerodynamic consequences of multiple wing
structures in close proximity.
||The most common drop tank is probably the 610 gallon one
used by F15s, and modified for the F22 amongst others. It
wouldn't take much to add a folding wing & tail section
derived from existing cruise missile/glide bombs. The
navigation is trivial commercial stuff these days. What you
would want is power. In order to maintain complete mission
flexibility, you can't have requirements to climb to altitude
to allow a glide return, that may not be possible anyhow.
So we need an engine. The obvious candidate is a cruise
missile engine. ~160lb or so for the Williams F112, plenty of
thrust, established, already in the inventory.
||What's unknown to me at least, is how good they are for
repeated use, they're designed as a one-shot weapon
engine. They're turbines, which come with turbine costs,
and you simply don't need that much power. Something like
an adapted 2-stroke dirtbike engine should be enough, in
the ~30bhp range, although that can't use jet fuel.
||Landing gear should probably just be a spring-loaded skid.
These things will still end up semi-disposable.
||The biggest problem, and one I see as fairly
insurmountable. Is that they look to all intents and
purposes, like cruise missiles. Do you want your forward
operating airbase to be comfortable with a constant stream
of incoming cruise missiles? "Is that one a fuel tank? Maybe
the IFF is faulty, ask Frank in.... BOOM!!"
||//ust not sure about high-speed towing (behind a fighter,
||Drop tanks leave an aircraft with much, but obviously not
all, the original performance. You can watch drop-tank
equipped F15/16s yanking & banking around the Welsh
valleys for example. A towed system wouldn't allow that.
The thing would constantly be in and out of vortices and
would convey odd oscillations to the parent aircraft. Only
suitable for straight and level flight, possibly useful for a
bomber, but why not just make the bomber bigger, refuel it
or add drop tanks?
||Dammit, Frank. That one was on you.