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This question brings up that an experimental category aircraft cannot carry "persons or property for compensation or hire". However, this raises a question regarding civil-registry refueling tankers (such as the venerable N707MQ).

Since the tanker is carrying fuel on behalf of another entity (the military unit they're contracted by to pass gas to) for compensation (contract payments), wouldn't the fuel that has been offloaded on-station be considered "property", backing N707MQ and its experimental (market survey) airworthiness certificate into a proverbial corner?

(Yes -- I know that contract tankers are considered Public Use aircraft when on-mission, which probably renders 91.319 moot, but it could easily be the case that a contract could say "operate IAW FARs with the exception of refueling operations", which'd inadvertently loop 91.319 back into the situtation.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Surely it only becomes the property when it's transferred. The fuel in a petrol pump only belongs to you once paid for. $\endgroup$ – Simon Feb 23 '17 at 0:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Simon -- is that still true for the propane in the delivery truck heading to your house that you already paid for at the start of winter? $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Feb 23 '17 at 0:33
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    $\begingroup$ Since the fuel in a refueling tanker is not, I believe, typically usable fuel I would suspect that it falls under the consideration of cargo. $\endgroup$ – Ron Beyer Feb 23 '17 at 0:41
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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting question. It becomes more interesting if you can burn the fuel in the "transport" tanks in flight (if you planned your "fuel on board" figure accounting for ALL the fuel, and you can in fact burn it, then was it transported for compensation, or taken for flight purposes & then sold when you found you didn't need it?) $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Feb 23 '17 at 4:04
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    $\begingroup$ @voretaq7 Yeah -- which gets doubly interesting when you add ETOPS fuel planning to the mix (with having to plan for long driftdown or depressurized diversions and whatnot -- you may cut into your offload fuel for a divert/abort case like that depending on mission parameters) $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Feb 23 '17 at 4:13
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N707MQ actually has a special type of experimental certificate, according to its registration it is a "Market Survey" aircraft as you note.

The FAA defines this as

Market surveys: to conduct market surveys, sales demonstrations, and customer crew training for U.S. manufacturers of aircraft or engines.

This does not really provide us any special way to use the aircraft for commercial purpose but is worth noting.

Either way as you state 91.319 pretty clearly prohibits this. Interestingly enough 91.905 even prevents you from getting an FAA waiver to override 91.319 (as its not on the list of things you can have waved).

However 91.319 sub section H may provide us with a solution.

(h) The FAA may issue deviation authority providing relief from the provisions of paragraph (a) of this section for the purpose of conducting flight training. The FAA will issue this deviation authority as a letter of deviation authority.

As far as I know these tankers are primarily used in our own airspace for training missions which would fall under "conducting flight training".

This article is pretty interesting and covers a similar scenario for using experimental for commercial purposes.

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