Where'd He Go??

by Phil Rowe

It is disconcerting, to say the least, when a pilot refueling behind an aerial tanker loses sight of that huge flying gas station. For there you are, zipping along at 400 miles per hour, where just a little error can mean the danger of a collision. Neither you nor the tanker crew wants that.

For pilots of the B-58 Hustler, the view of the tanker was usually pretty good. The tanker was above and straight ahead. The boom receptacle was forward of the windscreen and in good view, so it was easy to see how things were going. Well, not always.

The combination of the boom nozzle and the receiver's receptacle did not always assure a tight, leak-proof connection. Especially on disconnect the leakage was often pronounced. Sometimes there was so much fuel sprayed from the receptacle area that the B-58 pilot could no longer see the tanker ahead. That blinding spray lasted for just a few seconds before dissipating, but it sure seemed longer.

When the B-58 first connected with the tanker, and the bomber was light while the tanker was heavy, it was easy to stay in position. But as the bomber took on more fuel and got heavier and heavier, more engine power had to be added to stay in proper position and remain connected.

Sometimes the added thrust of an afterburner would be needed to maintain the speed required. When a B-58 engine shifted from normal power to afterburner power, the engine exhaust nozzle expanded to open the orifice to accommodate the increased gas flow. From the tanker boom operator's position that change of engine exhaust geometry could be seen, if one knew what to look for.

Not obvious in daylight was the plume of flame behind the engine in afterburner. But at night that could be quite startling, especially if the airplanes were barely skimming the cloud tops and reflections highlighted the effect. Some boom operators never did get used to that blowtorch.