AF, NASA Develop Fuel Efficient Cargo Jets

100916-F-9126-024Air Force and NASA scientists have partnered to research alternatively configured cargo aircraft designed to maximize lift while decreasing air-drag, thus greatly enhancing fuel-efficiency.

The Air Force is currently pursuing next-generation aircraft structure research programs with the help of NASA and other federal and commercial partners, Kevin Geiss, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force, Energy, said in an interview with

“A blended wing-body is one example. Instead of a monocoque where you have the fuselage and the wings coming off, the wing is conformal with the aircraft. The lifting part of the aircraft blends right into the cargo or storage part,” said Geiss.

This design is configured to optimize fuel efficiency by decreasing the “drag” or airflow passing around the aircraft while still achieving maximum lift and cargo-carrying capacity.

Fuel efficiency is a huge part of the Air Force’s future energy strategy, as the service uses more than 2 billion gallons of aviation fuel every year, according to a March 2012 service report titled “Energy Horizons – A Science and Technology Vision for Air Force Energy.”

The report mentions non-traditional airframes or “blended-wing body” technology along with other aerodynamic improvements such as conformal antennas and winglets, or shaped curves at the end of an aircraft’s wings designed to optimize air flow over the wings.

“Center of gravity controls and lift-distribution control systems enhance performance by ensuring that lift is efficiently appropriated across the aircraft in relation to the location of the carried weight,” the essay states.

Another fuel-efficiency enhancing technique is something Geiss referred to as “Mission Index Flying,” a technique designed to help an aircraft optimize its route by using sensors and meteorological technology to take advantage of the weather conditions in real time.

In some cases, such as with the Air Force’s C-17, fuel efficiency can be improved by slightly decreasing airspeed while flying, thus reducing drag, Geiss said.

The Air Force has also learned how to be more efficient with palates and develop methods of weight distribution and packing designed to lower flight weight of cargo planes, Geiss said. This too results in increased fuel efficiency.

Also, although the Air Force is not currently acquiring any alternative fuels for operational use, the service does hope to be able to purchase about one-half of its fuel as cost-competitive alternative, drop-in fuels by 2020, Geiss explained.

The Air Force could wind up acquiring large quantities of biofuels, alternative fuels or synthetic blend fuels, Geiss added.

“This depends on industry to figure out a way to make these fuels cost-competitive. We are not going to get out in front of industry so it is up to them to figure out how to develop their processes. We’re not going to ask for an increase in the fuel budget because alternative fuel should be the same price,” Geiss said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior and a former associate editor at

29 Comments on "AF, NASA Develop Fuel Efficient Cargo Jets"

  1. They will spend $5.9 Billion, explore all kinds of pie-in-the-sky new technologies, and end up making a A-400 clone nobody can afford.

  2. No they just waste Billions and end the end we stay correctly with the C-5M air lifter.

  3. USS ENTERPRISE | August 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply

    Well, NASA is involved, so this should be alright (full faith with NASA). Whats more, they are expanding on an excellent platform, the C-17, so really, this should go well……

  4. Well there's an A400M post and a C5 post. Where's the DC-3 or IL-76 posts? Come on, people, you're slipping.

  5. sed 's/palates/pallets/'


  7. For certain loads the modified airship concepts still have appeal IMO, they just need a shirtload of development and commitment instead of half-assed design studies every few years.

  8. Reducing speed increases fuel efficiency and reduces drag? What a novel concept! Perhaps this impressive Air Force scientific breakthrough will trickle down to the automotive sector someday.

  9. It's funny that the Air Force claims to have this big concern about fuel efficiency, but they are putting more avionics on the B-52 and not putting new, high bypass engines on the airplane. It is obvious to anyone that high bypass engines would instantly increase the efficiency of that airplane by over 20%. The same is true of the B-1. If they'd fix the intakes and put the F119 engines on that airplane they'd probably get a similar increase in fuel efficiency. Dragging all that intake spillage through the air can't be efficient and probably creates a lot of structural problems too. As for this NASA/Air Force program, all they seem to want to do is put winglets and empennage strakes on everything. It's a lot of your money they're spending for a 1% efficiency increase.

  10. We don't need new planes to improve efficiency. Just teach the C-17 and C130 pilots to draft like NASCAR drivers. Kind of like in this picture – but 10 feet apart.


  11. They talk about an alternate fuel for the A.F.
    The Navy uses that alternate fuel, and I heard it goes for about $58 a gallon (thanks prez). Regular jet fuel about $5 a gallon.
    Why worry about anything in this article, as long as we throw money away, on alternate fuel.
    We need to be drilling for the real thing. Oops, can't do that; the treehuggers don't approve!

  12. Let's go round two with nuclear powered jets!

  13. There is a lot of interest and talk about blended wing bodies, and there are a lot of advantages to them: carry more per wing span and gas usage, inherently stronger frame. But there is a lack of expertize and regulatory inertia. No one is going to take the risk to develope a BWB for commercial purposes. However, if the AF can get on board, it might tip the scales.

  14. I'm not clear on why the C-17 air frame wouldn't make a good tanker. I know it's smaller than a 767, but you could get so many more for the money. And keep the C-17 line open.

  15. Green to the max | August 6, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Reply

    Two words: Wind Power.

  16. Hey AirForce, you guys could learn something from our freinds the ducks.

  17. Cargo Drones. Automated aircraft. Takes the boredom out of long haul.

  18. Easy to solve this problem. Just talk to the good folks over at Lockheed Martin. They’ve been using antigravity technology on the B2 for a long time to extend the range of the B2. It’s called electrogravitics. Put this technology on any cargo aircraft or any aircraft period, and you’re going to be extremely fuel-efficient.

    I know some people don’t want to believe it’s true, but it is.

  19. Lockheed Martin???
    Those same people ~responsible for~ the F-22, F-35, and LCS programs?

    If that's the case, we wouldn't see an actual production model until the actual Earth year Captain Kirk is supposed to be born (2200-something without a quick websearch, IIRC).

    Someone else will first have to invent all the working parts, so LM can assemble them into a seriously botched, minimally-working (if at all) design.

  20. Hm, rocket fuel for C-17?

  21. WOW, usa! That's cool! And so advanced!
    Pretty soon you'll have A-400s of your very own!
    Well done. And when do you plan to actually enter the 21st century, usa?

  22. I think it would be beneficial for the country, humanity and science if we further the research and use of ion energy and anti gravity for flight and space exploration.

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