I'm guessing mid-air refueling has constraints on windspeed and wind direction, visibility, and precipitation. I may have missed some, but those alone make me feel like mid-air refueling can't be done most of the time (?)

About wind direction though, I guess you could just fly in the "right direction", but then this would also have constraints because the "right" direction could lead away from your ultimate destination.

(also, is there a mid-air refueling tag I couldn't find?)

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Air refueling is done up high most of the time - if you look up AR tracks, most are above 20,000 feet. Other than thunderstorms, which you should avoid anyway, there's not much up there. And we already have tools to predict winds aloft, though it really doesn't matter as long as both aircraft are flying in the same wind as it will affect them roughly equally $\endgroup$
    – SSumner
    Commented Jun 27, 2015 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ @SSumner I would have thought turbulence could occur anywhere. I could have sworn I experienced turbulence on long commercial flights which regularly go to at least 30,000 ft. $\endgroup$
    – DrZ214
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 12:20
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mean to imply turbulence doesn't exist up that high, just that it is less common. Plus there are decent weather prediction tools that can let you estimate where said turbulence will be. $\endgroup$
    – SSumner
    Commented Jan 3, 2016 at 17:54

1 Answer 1


The receiver has to have visual contact with the tanker to complete the rejoin, so finding a clear block of airspace (i.e. not IMC) is necessary. Beyond that, none of the factors mentioned really matter much. Turbulence can make refueling more difficult, although it's often possible to find an altitude with a decent ride.

Mostly, AR can be done; the times when it can't are much more the exception.

  • $\begingroup$ I think given that the exception tends to be planes dropping out of the sky, pilots try extra hard (there is usually no safe fail option). $\endgroup$
    – Aron
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 5:58
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Sure there is... divert. Not good for the mission, but given that AR is not a sure thing, the fuel planning is done so that for each AR, it's known ahead of time: if we can't AR, then we divert here. In some instances (used more fuel over the target than planned), that's not possible, but for most refuelings, the alternative to a good AR is a divert, rather than a splash. $\endgroup$
    – Ralph J
    Commented Jun 29, 2015 at 14:11
  • $\begingroup$ The visibility limit is probably less than VMC. The aircraft that wants to refuel can be guided to the tanker using TACAN to well below 1 nmi provided there are no other aircraft around. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 7:43

You must log in to answer this question.

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