Air Force To Pilots: Slow Down

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The Air Force is "the largest energy user in the federal government," last year added $1 billion in costs due to rising oil prices and, now, a range of changes may be coming to help curtail that. The Air Force operates a fleet of approximately 4,700 aircraft. To save fuel, pilots of some of those aircraft are being ordered to fly higher and slower on some missions, Stars and Stripes reported, Monday. Diplomatic efforts have created more direct routes of travel and last year saved $2.4 million, deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, Kevin Geiss, said. And the Air Force will update some aircraft with more efficient engines -- with more complicated results. For example, the cost-benefit accounting reported by Stars and Stripes says that swapping engines on KC-135s will incur a bill of $278 million dollars spread over several years and translate to fuel savings of $150 million over the life of the aircraft. In that case, the Air Force is forecasting other benefits.

According to Stars and Stripes, swapping out engines on the tankers will also save $1.3 billion in maintenance costs while also improving fuel efficiency. Otherwise, simply flying C-17 transports at 568 mph instead of 584 mph is expected to bring more direct and immediate (if incremental) savings. Efforts like that have resulted in an average fuel consumption drop of about 4 percent since 2006, even as the Air Force has increased cargo operations by 27 percent over nearly the same term (five years). Air Force units in the Pacific are also independently implementing  their own fuel-saving initiatives. The most successful ideas could be incorporated into Air Force regulations. One of those initiatives involves removing waste from everyday operations as represented by the carriage of large concrete blocks. Apparently some squadrons routinely carry the blocks sometimes called "pet rocks" to simulate the heavy equipment aircraft would normally deliver during real-world missions. Crews are also working to reduce the 400 to 450 pounds per hour an average C-135 will burn driving around on the ground, by shutting down two engines as soon as is practical, after landing. The aim for Pacific pilots is to cut fuel use by 10 percent over the next 10 years.