This Is What It Looks Like When An F-35 Refuels Right In Front Of Your Face

Most aerial refueling videos are shot through the tiny little window that the booms use to steer a little fuel nozzle towards a thirsty aircraft. But the KC-130 is not just a flying gas station, it’s also a fully functional cargo plane. Which means you could throw down the ramp, and hang out the back.


The F-35 actually uses two different methods of re-fueling, depending on the variant. The U.S. Air Force version, the F-35A, uses a big metal boom to pump fuel directly into the fighter jet’s tanks, and which looks pretty much like every other aerial refueling video you’ve seen. What basically happens in that setup is that the fighter pilot flies the jet into place, and then a boom operator uses a little joystick to make sure the nozzle gets to the right spot.

But the F-35B and C variants, used by the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, respectively, use a system known as “probe-and-drogue.” Instead of a big metal pole hanging out the back of the refueling plane, a flexible hose with a receptacle that looks like a basket hangs out the back – or from the wings – instead. In that case, there’s no one boom operator to steer the hose. In the F-35's case, the tanker pilot holds the plane steady, while the fighter jet pilot deploys a probe from their own aircraft’s nose, and uses their light and nimble jet to steer the probe into the basket.

In the case of the video up top, a Marine Corps F-35B was being refueled by a KC-130J during an exercise last summer over Arizona. And even for all of the drama around the F-35, it still looks neat.

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Michael Ballaban

Deputy Editor, Jalopnik. 2002 Lexus IS300 Sportcross.

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