RNAF’s ‘green’ initiative: F-35s to take flight with biofuel

The Royal Norwegian Air Force [RNAF] will soon be able to fly its F-35s not on the familiar kerosene jet fuel, but on biofuel. The “green” initiative has been announced as part of Norwegian aviation’s plans, Army Reconnaissance reports. The source said Norway aims to demonstrate the viability of biofuels in high-tech military operations. 

RNAF's 'green' initiative: F-35s to take flight with biofuel
Photo credit: RNAF

However, the Norwegian initiative is not the original source of this idea. In November 2016, the U.S. was the first to test its F-35s to fly on biofuel. This initiative is part of a broader effort to explore alternative energy sources and reduce the military’s carbon footprint. These trials were intended to evaluate the performance and reliability of the F-35 when powered by biofuel, ensuring that the aircraft can maintain its operational capabilities without compromising efficiency or safety.

The tests were conducted at Edwards Air Force Base in California. This location is a key facility for the U.S. Air Force’s flight test and evaluation programs, providing the necessary infrastructure and expertise to conduct such advanced testing. 

F-35 Lightning II fighter jet
Photo credit: Twitter

The primary data that drew the U.S. Air Force to these tests included the potential for reducing dependency on traditional fossil fuels, lowering greenhouse gas emissions, and enhancing energy security by diversifying fuel sources.

Biofuel, specifically a blend known as Hydroprocessed Esters and Fatty Acids [HEFA], was chosen for its compatibility with existing jet engines and its ability to meet the stringent performance requirements of military aircraft. The tests aimed to ensure that the F-35 could operate effectively without compromising performance, reliability, or safety. 

The results of the tests indicated that the F-35 could indeed fly on biofuel without any significant changes to its capabilities. The aircraft maintained its performance metrics, including speed, maneuverability, and range, while operating on the biofuel blend. This demonstrated that biofuel could be a viable alternative to conventional jet fuel for the F-35 and potentially other military aircraft.

US is talking about an 'interim' F-35 'between Block 3 and 4'
Photo by Aijaz Rahi / AP

While the use of biofuel did not enhance the F-35’s capabilities, it did provide a sustainable option that could contribute to the USAF’s goals of reducing its carbon footprint and increasing energy resilience. The successful tests underscored the potential for integrating renewable energy sources into military operations without sacrificing performance. 

The F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-engine, stealth multirole fighters developed by Lockheed Martin. Designed to perform ground attacks, reconnaissance, and air defense missions, the F-35 is a cornerstone of modern air combat capabilities for the United States and its allies.

The dimensions of the F-35 vary slightly between its three variants. The F-35A [conventional takeoff and landing] has a length of 51.4 feet, a wingspan of 35 feet, and a height of 14.4 feet. The F-35B [short takeoff and vertical landing] and F-35C [carrier-based] have similar dimensions, with the F-35C featuring a larger wingspan of 43 feet for improved carrier operations. 

US military's fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter shot itself
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

Technical characteristics of the F-35 include its advanced stealth technology, which reduces its radar cross-section and enhances survivability. It is powered by the Pratt & Whitney F135 engine, capable of producing 43,000 pounds of thrust. The aircraft can reach speeds of Mach 1.6 and has an internal fuel capacity of approximately 18,250 pounds, providing significant operational range.

The F-35 is equipped with a sophisticated suite of avionics, including the AN/APG-81 AESA radar, the Distributed Aperture System [DAS] for 360-degree situational awareness, and the Electro-Optical Targeting System [EOTS] for precision targeting. The aircraft also features advanced communication, navigation, and identification [CNI] systems to enhance interoperability with allied forces. 

Key components of the F-35 include its airframe, which is constructed using advanced composite materials to reduce weight and enhance stealth. The aircraft’s cockpit is equipped with a large touchscreen display and a helmet-mounted display system [HMDS] that provides critical flight information directly to the pilot’s visor, improving situational awareness and reducing workload.

F-35 Block 4, designated AY-01 will fly to Belgium next year
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin

The F-35’s armament capabilities are extensive. It can carry a variety of air-to-air missiles, such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder, as well as air-to-ground munitions like the Joint Direct Attack Munition [JDAM] and the Small Diameter Bomb [SDB]. The aircraft also features an internal 25mm GAU-22/A cannon for close-in combat and strafing runs. 

The operational range of the F-35 varies by variant and mission profile. The F-35A has a combat radius of approximately 590 nautical miles on internal fuel, while the F-35B and F-35C have slightly shorter ranges due to their different design requirements. The aircraft’s ability to refuel in-flight further extends its operational reach, allowing it to perform long-duration missions.

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