Premiere for Air Refuelling

For the first time ever, Swedish unit pilots have successfully refuelled the JAS 39 Gripen fighter aircraft in mid-air. Air refuelling has been possible ever since the C/D version of the Gripen fighter was introduced in 2007 and it is now time for the Swedish pilots to receive training. The new capability allows pilots to fly up to eight hours at a time and, thus, cover considerably longer distances.

The Swedish Air Force’s unit pilots perform air refuelling for the first time. A total of six pilots are to be trained in the procedure, who will then become instructors Photo: Försvarsmakten

“We now have the opportunity to increase our flight duration from two to eight hours as the aircraft can be refuelled several times during the same flight. With the increased range, the conditions for participating in international operations also improve,” says Air Operations Officer Mats Hakkarainen.

Three pilots from F 21 and three pilots from Blekinge Wing F 17 are to be trained in air refuelling over the course of one week. They will receive the assistance of three instructors from the JAS tactical development unit, who have developed a training package for the week. Once the six pilots from F 21 and F 17 have completed their training, they will serve as instructors in their respective units. All operational pilots in the Swedish Air Force should therefore receive the same training.
What distinguishes the C/D version of the Gripen fighter from previous versions is that it is equipped with a probe, a telescopic arm, allowing the aircraft to be refuelled in the air. The pilot’s task is to insert this arm into a docking station, which consists of a flexible hose (that can be reeled in and out) with a drogue trailed by the tanker aircraft.

“Another way in which fighter planes can be refuelled is by using the refuelling system that is similar to that for automobiles. An example is the Norwegian F-16 that refuels via a rigid boom from the tanker aircraft, which is inserted into a tank receptacle on the fighter plane,” explains Mats Hakkarainen.

The Norwegians are also being drawn to Sweden now that Sweden is performing air refuelling. The Norwegian Air Force in Bodø flies a number of F-16 planes over to our training area during the week to make use of the opportunity to practice air refuelling.

Flying petrol station

A tanker aircraft, or what might be called a flying petrol station, is required in order to refuel in mid-air. Sweden does not possess any tanker aircraft, but can purchase the service if necessary from other countries. A French KC-135 tanker aircraft will therefore be based at F 21 during the week. The aircraft is 42 metres long and has an empty weight of 48 tonnes.
“The training course is being run at F 21 in Luleå because F 21’s runway and apron have been adapted to receive aircraft of that size, and because F 21’s training area is ideal for the training,” says Mats.