This answer mentions that before refueling equipment is connected the F-16 and the refueling vehicle must be connected to each other. This does not seem to be the case for in-air refueling.

Why is the above-mentioned restriction not practiced for in-air refueling? Is there no chance of electrical voltage potential between two flying aircraft? Are the fuel lines purged before connecting in flight? Are fuel explosions not a big problem while the craft are flying? Are in-air safety considerations lower than on-ground safety considerations?

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    $\begingroup$ I would have to imagine that the precautions are required to avoid vapors from igniting. If you're refueling in-air, the vapors will probably dissipate with the 100+kt wind! $\endgroup$
    – Gabe
    May 7, 2015 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


The metal of the tanker's boom (or drogue) contacts the metal of the receiver's receptacle (or probe) first, and that contact is maintained, so that would serve to ground the two aircraft to each other.

It's a good question, but I've never heard of any fuel explosions due to static buildup during air-to-air refueling, so evidently the systems in place alleviate the risks. Aerial refueling is pretty routine these days, so in relative terms it would seem to be fairly safe.

Purging the fuel lines is a relative term; you could remove the liquid fuel from the lines, but you'd still have vapors, and those are more flammable than the liquid jet fuel itself. Maybe somebody who flew (or flies) tankers can discuss how far down the boom the fuel goes BEFORE everything is connected and they start pumping; as a receiver I just remember that the fuel flowed into the manifold and then into the tanks. We didn't do anything special to clear the manifold or fuel lines on our end.

There ARE some inherent risks when refueling between two aircraft flying in close formation that are accepted (i.e. the risk level is okay for the military mission, but nobody does it for commercial airliners), but I don't think this is one of them.

  • $\begingroup$ By purging I was thinking of removing the vapors with i.e. nitrogen going down the pipe. $\endgroup$
    – dotancohen
    May 7, 2015 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ @dotancohen Never heard of that being used in tankers or receivers, and given the safety record of modern aerial refueling, I'm guessing it's probably unnecessary. Airliners (the more recently built ones, at least) do have a system that puts nitrogen-enriched air (not pure nitrogen, but more N2 and less O2 than ambient) into the fuel tanks to reduce the risk of a "TWA 800" (fuel tank goes boom) scenario. Not required on all aircraft at this point, though. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    May 7, 2015 at 22:23

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