WASHINGTON, Sept. 20, 2006 – Another aviation first was accomplished at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., yesterday morning when a B-52 Stratofortress long-range bomber flew using an alternative fuel. The flight test ran two of the B-52's engines on a synthetic fuel made from a 50-50 blend of traditional crude oil-based fuel and a "Fischer-Tropsch" fuel derived from natural gas, while the remaining six engines ran on traditional JP-8 jet fuel.
Air Force Undersecretary Dr. Ronald M. Sega observed the mission as a crewmember and said the test was a step in the right direction toward conservation. "This test sets the stage for a more comprehensive plan the Air Force has toward conservation," he said. "This test fits into this overall vision and is the first step in a long process for looking at the viability of alternative fuels."
"This is just one of many alternative fuels the Air Force is looking into," Maj. Gen. Curtis Bedke, Air Force Flight Test Center commander, said. "This test is aiding in creating options and alternatives to our current fuel."
From what he could see during the flight, Sega said, the synthetic fuel engine performed as well as the other engines running traditional fuel. But officials are still waiting for final test results, which will be reported after all the "test points" are acquired and analyzed.
If this alternative fuel test proves to be a success, the next step will be to perform an eight-engine test using the fuel in a few months, Bedke said.
Before manned flight was attempted here, the fuel was tested to see how it reacted to aircraft parts. The fuel was placed into a T-63 engine, where it underwent 130 hours of tests.
One of the engines was then taken off of the B-52 and sent to Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., where it went through a 50-hour continuous alternative fuel run. The engine was reinstalled into the B-52, and ground tests were performed before yesterday's flight.
After its testing at Edwards, the alternative fuel housed in the fuel tanks of the B-52 is scheduled to undergo cold-weather testing in January or February, officials said.
Although the Fischer-Tropsch fuel demonstration flight was successfully completed, it was cut short due to a mechanical issue with the left wing-tip landing gear unrelated to the alternative fuel test, officials said. The aircraft landed safely without incident.