The “Adir” (F-35I) is undergoing a series of aerial refueling tests on its way to being declared operational. “Each one of our sorties is performed with maximum concentration, but with the ‘Adir’, we take it a step further”

Eitam Almadon & Carmel Stern

Since its arrival in Israel last December, the “Adir” (F-35I) has been undergoing a wide array of flight tests to verify its capabilities before it is integrated into operational activity. The IAF Flight Test Squadron is currently performing a series of aerial refueling tests from Tel-Nof AFB as a part of the stealth fighter’s integration program.

The experiments – performed in collaboration with the “Desert Giants” Squadron from Nevatim AFB – will enable the stealth fighter to be refueled in the air by the “Re’em” (Boeing 707) aircraft. This process qualifies the “Golden Eagle” Squadron’s aircrew members – who operate the “Adir” (F-35I) – for aerial refueling missions.

Another Step Towards IOC

Photography: Flight Test Squadron

On the Way to IOC
A need to develop the stealth fighter’s aerial refueling abilities arose as a part of the aircraft’s integration process. The tests assess the flight quality and division of labor between the fighter jet and the fueling aircraft in both day – and night, while also ensuring the mechanical propriety of both aircraft. The series of tests includes four stages, three of which have already been performed successfully.

When a need for a platform to perform a mission for the first time arises, a testing and examination process is initiated, during which the aircraft receives authorization to perform the mission in predefined conditions. “We are testing the F-35I’s capability to fly in certain conditions and behave a certain way that allows it to fly in formation with the refueling aircraft and operate with the required accuracy”, explained Maj. Shaul, a test engineer at the FTC. “We are also testing the combination of the fighter jet and the fueling aircraft. The ‘Re’em’ is a large aircraft, and its engines create whirlwinds. Thus, we need to ensure that both aircraft can operate together, aerodynamically speaking, and can follow each other’s orders”.

Another Step Towards IOC

Photography: Celia Garion

A Wider Reach
The main goal of the aerial refueling tests is to allow the “Adir” to be refueled by Israeli tankers in every speed and height permitted by the aircraft’s program block.

“Aerial refueling is important to maintaining the IAF’s long arm”, emphasized Maj. Eran, Commander of the “Desert Giants” Squadron’s Flight Engineer Department, and the acting Boomer (the aircrew member who operates the Boom and is responsible for the aerial refueling process) in the “Adir” refueling tests. “At the end of the day, fighter jets need fuel, and that is where we come in. The strategic importance of a tanker aircraft in the sky that can extend a fighter’s air-time or give it a larger range of operation is crucial. Thus, the highest level of professionalism is required of us. We are still learning the F-35I’s operational capabilities and behavior”.

Another Step Towards IOC

Archive Photo

Fifth Generation Refueling
To successfully refuel in the air, the boom is inserted into an orifice on the top of the aircraft. The “Adir” has undergone both diurnal and nocturnal flight tests, and is due to perform a refueling test in pitch-dark. “Refueling the ‘Adir’ is comfortable. Its engine is strong, which makes the actual fueling process simple. Additionally, the ‘Adir’ has a flight mode specifically suited for aerial refueling, which allows for a simpler, gentler flight”, explained Maj. Eran.

Aerial refueling is an incredibly complex task, which becomes even more complex when performed with a stealth fighter. “The aircraft is made up of composite materials, and each mistake made with the boom could bring about unwanted consequences. We must learn the sensitive areas of the aircraft, and the correct angle of approach for the task”, added Maj. Eran. “We perform each of our sorties with maximum concentration, but refueling the ‘Adir’ brings us a step further. All of our instincts are on standby, and each aircrew member knows that there’s no room for mistakes”.

Another Step Towards IOC

Photography: Flight Test Squadron

Looking Forward
Maj. Shaul concluded: “The main goal of this series of tests is to bring the ‘Adir’ to operational status and to understand its capabilities. With every test, we examine a different aspect of the aircraft and learn what it’s capable of. This will enable us to come to a decision regarding its operational status by the end of the year”.