Air Force jet flies on plant oil fuel blend

On Thursday, Air Force Maj. Chris Seager broke a flight barrier of sorts when he piloted an A-10 Thunderbolt jet fueled by a 50-50 blend of camelina plant oil and regular JP-8 jet fuel.

"I couldn't tell the difference between [the blended fuel] and regular JP-8," Seager said during a teleconference with reporters following a 50-minute test flight at Florida's Elgin Air Force Base.

Service officials will spend the next few weeks pouring over data collected from the test flight to ensure the fuel blend poses no safety or operational problems. If the blend holds up, then they will begin testing it this summer in other aircraft, including F-15 and F-22 jets and the C-17 transport plane.

The Air Force expects to certify all aircraft for using the blend by 2012. The service wants to be able to buy 50 percent of aviation fuel used in the United States from a domestic, renewable alternative-fuel source by 2016.

"Our objective is to certify a family of fuels" created from biomass, said Jeff Braun, director of the alternative fuels certification office of the 77th Aeronautical Systems Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. The Air Force will not consider fuels made from food sources such as corn or sugar because the service does not want to upset or unduly influence the food-production economy, he said.

The biomass fuel used in Thursday's test flight is known as HRJ, or hydrotreated renewable jet, a class of fuels derived from plants or animals. It was made from camelina, a flowering plant related to mustard, cabbage and broccoli, but not used for food. It requires little water and fertilizer and has a high oil content, making it a particularly attractive candidate for fuel.

Cost is likely to pose a big challenge for the Air Force in meeting its energy goals for renewable jet fuel. Because there isn't yet much of a commercial market for biomass fuels, they are expensive. The service paid $65 per gallon for the biomass fuel used in the test. The cost of JP-8 jet fuel fluctuates much as the cost of gasoline does, but Thursday it was priced at $2.13 per gallon, Air Force officials said.

"We can't control the availability" of alternative fuels on the commercial market, Braun noted. But, the service can create a higher demand for such fuels, which Air Force officials expect industry will fill, bringing down prices.

The market for a viable jet fuel from renewable sources is potentially huge. Service officials estimate Air Force jets burn 1.6 billion gallons of fuel in the United States annually. The burn rate grows to 2.4 billion gallons annually when worldwide Air Force missions are counted. And that's only a fraction of the fuel used in commercial aviation, officials said.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.