Aerial ballet: How airplanes replenish with gas mid-air

Aerial ballet: How airplanes fill up with fuel mid-air


(CNN) — Imagine you’re zooming down the highway at 70 miles per hour and the car’s fuel gauge is on its way to empty.

Just up ahead there’s a tanker truck trailing a long hose attached to a basket that’s floating a couple of feet above the ground.

Approaching the tanker, a probe rises from the car’s front fender. If you deftly maneuver and properly seat the end of the probe in the basket, fuel begins to flow from the tanker truck into your gas tank.

Now move the whole process 30,000 feet into the air, at more than 300 miles per hour, in turbulence, at night, in bad weather — and where there’s simply no possibility of pulling over to the side of the road if you run out of gas.

Aerial refueling is a standard operation, but a challenging and critical one, for air forces around the world. Instead of requiring one or more landings on the way to a target, the ability to extend a military aircraft’s range and endurance while airborne has become a force multiplier — boosting range and…