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Research Questions

  1. Do cost-effective fuel reduction options exist?
  2. Would cost-effective initiatives employed by commercial airlines work for the Air Force fleet?

Reducing aviation fuel use is an ongoing goal for military and civil operators, and Air Mobility Command is feeling increasing pressure to further reduce fuel use by implementing and following known best practices. Although the Air Force had achieved a 12 percent reduction in fuel consumption by March 2012, it must continue to pursue cost-effective options to reduce fuel use even further. The authors considered 16 options for reducing fuel use and determined that 12 of these were cost-effective. However, about half of these have some negative implications. These 16 options, including installing winglets on the Mobility Air Forces fleet, vortex surfing to take advantage of the upwash created during flight, and engine-out taxiing to reduce engine use when the aircraft is on the ground, are examined in detail although only six options are both cost-effective and can be reasonably implemented.

Key Findings

Six Options Are Recommended

  • Engine-out taxiing has the potential to save 8.1 million gallons of fuel annually.
  • Maintaining optimum flight level and speed, including using step-climbs and continuously adjusting speed, will reduce fuel use.
  • Reducing aircraft weight, even a reduction of 655 pounds for each aircraft, would save 1.7 million gallons of fuel per year.
  • Reducing the use of the aircraft auxiliary power unit and using aerospace ground equipment instead could save $4.7 million in fuel cost annually, with savings coming mainly from the C-17 fleet.
  • Improving load balancing by altering the center of gravity of loads in the cargo compartment would result in savings of just under one million gallons of fuel per year, but some of these savings might not be realizable because of loading limitations, intermediate stops, and cargo uncertainty and the fact that 65 percent of sorties fly near empty.
  • Retrofitting the C-130 fleet with microvanes or finlets could cost about $873,000 annually, but this cost is significantly less than the $2.2 million annual fuel savings.


  • Employ engine-out taxiing.
  • Maintain optimum flight level and speed.
  • Reduce aircraft weight.
  • Reduce the use of the aircraft auxiliary power unit.
  • Improve load balancing by altering the center of gravity of loads in the cargo compartment.
  • Install microvanes or finlets.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by the Air Mobility Command (AMC) Director of Operations and conducted within the Resource Management Program of RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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