A NASA F/A-18 jet flying in the wingtip vortex behind another F/A-18 exhibited a 12-percent fuel savings at cruise altitude. The two aircraft, part of the Autonomous Formation Flight (AFF) project based at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., flew the mission in early December.
During the 96-minute flight, the trailing aircraft burned about 600 pounds less fuel than a third F/A-18 that flew outside the formation. The savings demonstrated the aircraft range could have been extended more than 100 nautical miles while flying in formation.
The trailing F/A-18 and the solo aircraft flew a second flight verifying the fuel readings, proving the results of the operational flight were accurate.
The goal of the Autonomous Formation Flight project is to demonstrate sustained 10 percent fuel savings of the trailing aircraft. The project seeks to extend the symbiotic relationship of migrating birds to manage formations of aircraft. The traditional "V" formation allows each bird flying aft of the lead bird to reduce drag and conserve energy.
Although fighter-type aircraft are being used for the technology demonstration, commercial or military transport aircraft, as well as uninhabited aerial vehicles, can benefit from formation flight fuel and drag reduction.
NOTE TO EDITORS: Photos are available on the Internet under the NASA Dryden Research Aircraft Photo Archive: http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/gallery/photo.