I was at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, WA, yesterday, and came across a Blue Angel aircraft, pictured below.

The Blue Angel jet as seen at the exhibit

Along the right front of the plane, there is a small tube that is capped with a silver cap.

The tube on the side of the jet

I thought at first that this might be a refuelling point, but (A) I didn't see any real purpose to have mid-air refuelling on a Blue Angel, and (B) it doesn't seem like a great place to refuel (since it seems like it could easily obstruct the pilot's view).

(I looked online at some images of Blue Angel aircraft and realized there are several makes. However, I didn't find this particular tube and cap on any of the other makes. (example) In fact, I don't even recall what make of Blue Angel this craft actually is.)

What is this tube at the front of the jet, and what is it used for? Why does it only appear on some makes of the jet?

  • $\begingroup$ Isn't it an A-4F Skyhawk? $\endgroup$
    – CGCampbell
    Jan 26, 2015 at 4:12
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ It is a refueling probe. The A-4 was very small and the probe was fitted where it could fit. $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2015 at 4:14
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ You need to look at it the other way. It would be extra work to modify aircraft for display team, so it is equipped exactly like a standard combat one. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Jan 26, 2015 at 5:47
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I haven't seen a Blue Angels performance, but the Thunderbirds make a point that their airplanes are a paint job and a weapons load away from being combat ready. A refueling probe may not have a purpose on a demonstration aircraft, but it's part of the standard equipment. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Jan 26, 2015 at 21:49
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Mark -- besides, refueling gear might be handy if they ever have to take a long trip overseas :) $\endgroup$ Jan 26, 2015 at 23:05

2 Answers 2


The aircraft is the A4 Skyhawk and the probe is for air-to-air refueling.

A-4 refueling from KC-10, Navy photo

As you can see, it doesn't really impede the pilot's view which in any case, is concentrated on the refueller.

You can always spot a refuelling probe. For NATO aircraft, and most others, they always have the same tip and are the only appendages which look like this.

The Blue Angels used it since transits to various air shows exceeded the range and air-air refuelling is cheaper and more effective than landing, refuelling and taking off again.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Actually, USAF and USN fighters use different refueling hookups. Navy fighters use the extended refueling probe on the plane with a "hose and drogue" on the tanker, shown in your image. The refueling plane can be further away, but making and maintaining contact is pretty much 100% pilot. The USAF adopted a "flying boom" that connects to a port behind the cockpit; this approach gets the plane further below and underneath the tanker, where the refueling link is then easier to maintain, and the pilot merely has to hold still while the boom operator makes contact. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Apr 28, 2015 at 0:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The KC-10 in your picture supports both refueling methods with separate systems; you can see the V-tail of the flying boom tucked up just behind the tail. The KC-135 uses the flying boom as its primary refueling method, but can support Navy fighters with a drogue adapter either attached to the boom or to outboard pylons. $\endgroup$
    – KeithS
    Apr 28, 2015 at 0:52

It's a refueling probe. Below is a picture of it in action:

enter image description here


You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .