Fueling the next fight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amanda Jett
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

The C-5M Super Galaxy is known for flying large amounts of cargo, exceedingly long distances and in a short amount of time. But a recent innovative idea asked the big question; what else can the C-5 accomplish to compete tactically? The answer – perform specialized fuel operations, also known as SFO.

Airmen at the 9th Airlift Squadron began implementing the first-ever SFO on the C-5 at Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, Feb. 9, 2023.

SFO is used when on-site ground crews transfer fuel from a mobility aircraft to another expeditionary fuel bladder, fuel truck, or fighter aircraft. Through wet-wing defuel/refuel operations, deployed aircrews reduce reliance on standard fuel storage distribution points. This enables other aircraft to disperse and operate from more locations.

“The idea is to turn the C-5 into a mobile fuel station that can offload fuel into a refueling vehicle standing by at a forward-deployed location,” said Master Sgt. Brent Gregory, 9th AS operations superintendent. “In theory, a cargo aircraft can land in an austere environment, offload fuel using the aircraft pumps and take off with minimal time on the ground.”

A wet-wing defuel procedure involves quickly offloading a specified amount of fuel from a receiver aircraft, in this case, a C-5, and defuel into an R-11 Refueler truck. After a local training mission, the C-5 aircrew landed and maintained half of the aircraft’s engines running while Airmen with the 436th Logistics Readiness Squadron Fuels Management Flight transferred the fuel.

“Normally, when we do a defuel, all engines are turned off,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Seunath, 9th AS flight engineer. “But trying to make [the process] as expeditious as possible, we [keep] half of the engines on and [pump] gas in a truck. There are a lot of moving parts.”

Implementing this new capability would allow the C-5 to adopt an additional role supporting Agile Combat Employment missions and further enable full spectrum readiness.

“SFOs have the potential to become a normal operation for the C-5,” said Staff Sgt. Amelia Bradfield, 9th AS loadmaster. “With the ability to tanker fuel, [we’re able] to be fully self-sustainable in austere locations. SFOs are a way to help make new or strategic locations more tactical.”

Although wet-wing defuel procedures are not a new concept, applying them to the C-5 enables a new level of airlift capacity and air dominance. The C-5 is the largest aircraft in the Air Force’s inventory. Utilizing it to transport fuel takes advantage of its most valuable asset – its size.

“With a maximum takeoff fuel capacity of about 332,500 pounds, the C-5 would easily be able to transport a massive amount of fuel to aid deployed aircrews in austere locations,” said 1st Lt. Wendle Deramus, 436th LRS Fuels Management Flight commander. “Working in partnership with the 9th AS, our goal is to ensure the aircrews are trained, certified and confident to safely execute wet-wing defuel procedures in global contingency operations.”

The 9th AS plans on cementing the new SFO capability within its mission to move outsized cargo and personnel for the Department of Defense.

“The team is working diligently on assessing and modernizing the C-5 to further our asset’s airlift capacity,” said Lt. Col. James Shepard, 9th AS commander. “We will continue to think outside the box and aggressively pursue innovative and strategic capabilities while prioritizing efficiency, readiness and safety.”