A NASA F/A-18 jet flying in the wingtip vortex behind another F/A-18
exhibited a 12-percent fuel savings at cruise altitude. The two
aircraft, part of the Autonomous Formation Flight (AFF) project based
at NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif., flew the
mission in early December.

During the 96-minute flight, the trailing aircraft burned about 600
pounds less fuel than a third F/A-18 that flew outside the formation.
The savings demonstrated the aircraft range could have been extended
more than 100 nautical miles while flying in formation.

The trailing F/A-18 and the solo aircraft flew a second flight
verifying the fuel readings, proving the results of the operational
flight were accurate.

The goal of the Autonomous Formation Flight project is to demonstrate
sustained 10 percent fuel savings of the trailing aircraft. The
project seeks to extend the symbiotic relationship of migrating birds
to manage formations of aircraft. The traditional "V" formation
allows each bird flying aft of the lead bird to reduce drag and
conserve energy.

Although fighter-type aircraft are being used for the technology
demonstration, commercial or military transport aircraft, as well as
uninhabited aerial vehicles, can benefit from formation flight fuel
and drag reduction.

Photos are available on the Internet under the NASA Dryden Research
Aircraft Photo Archive: http://www.dfrc.nasa.gov/gallery/photo.