Wondering what happened to all fuel tanks jettisoned by U.S. fighter jets over Southeast Asia during Vietnam War?

Sep 18 2013 - 27 Comments

External tanks are extremely important for military aircraft as they provide fuel to integrate internal tanks and extend fighters and bombers endurance.

Indeed, even if they can be refueled by aerial tankers, tactical jet planes heavily rely on the JP-8 fuel loaded on the external fuel tanks. However, the auxiliary fuel tanks represent an additional weight, additional drag, and they will reduce the aircraft maneuverability.

In real combat, external fuel tanks are jettisoned when empty or as soon as the aircraft needs to get rid of them to accelerate and maneuver against an enemy fighter plane or to evade a surface to air missile.

Several thousand drop tanks were jettisoned over Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

And here you can see what happened to some of those that were recovered.

Fuel tank 2

Images Hilli Rathner (?) via Des Barker

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  • Jason Pope

    Those are some MAMMOTH Drop tanks.. what aircraft would use such large Tanks? our A-7s, A-6s and Phantoms didnt use such large tanks.

    • Milan
      • aintnoceobabesry

        God that phantom is a sexy bitch

    • Larry Cook

      It appears to be much larger than even the center line tank of F-4 usage. Perhaps surplus F-105, or B-52 tanks. But I would bet they came from a storage area, and were not “dropped” having gone out into the desert around Edwards, to recover said dropped items. They were never in the condition shown, but mostly flattened scrap metal. The tank farms had lots of these tanks, and I was never sure which was for what, but they knew. I remember seeing the weapon/fuel pod for the b-58 Hustler, and it was even bigger than these. I also know that type aircraft was not used in Vietnam. But many of the tanks fit more than one type, and mostly depended on the mission, as to usage.

  • http://www.twitter.com/El_Skeptico Barracuda Bob

    Those are from the B-52s.

    • Ctrot

      Nope, B-52 externals were not jettison-able in flight. They’re 600 gallon F-4 centerline tanks.

      • Vee Gee

        B-52 tanks were jettisonable up to the G models. They always flew with the tanks installed. We didn’t drop thousands from buffs and it would be rare for the tanks to be dropped.

  • Quovadis69

    They look like F4 Phantom drop tanks, but the wooden bars placed in the middle make them wider than the actual tanks…

  • R Patterson

    Most likely stockpile spares for F-105 “Thuds”, jettisoned tanks from aircraft crumple up on impact. These tanks appear relatively unscathed.

  • Fulvio Felicioli

    The one in the first photo is, quite certainly, the centerline tank of a F-4. Please note the (very) small fins in foreground, where the dark green rope is fixed. I highlighted them in red in the edited F-4B pics below.

  • phuzz
  • kary

    I believe Bob is correct,

    • dugfin

      Those tanks were never used on the B-52, and even if they were, they would have no need to use them over Vietnam, which is well within the combat radius of a B-52. The tanks pictured are, as the article states, from tactical fighter/bombers, i.e. the F-4.

      • Hobbes

        This. the B52 was designed to go long ranges to the USSR and back, Vietnam was will within its range.

      • Vee Gee

        B-52’s always flew with the tanks installed. The tanks were initially developed to dampen wing tip flutter. It would be rare for the tanks to be dropped. the wing tanks, including the drops were always full. any weight adjustment for weapons load or range was done in the body tanks. Former B-52 CC.

        • Larry Cook

          Thanks for backing up my above comments, as I was only a very large vacuum repairman, IE: jet engine mechanic, and never really paid much attention to the drop tanks, unless they were in the way of working on the engines. But to me the tanks in the pictures were much larger than the ones used even on centerline F-4s, but I do know the tank farm had some huge mommas, but never knew what they went on. The one for the B-58 Hustler, was very, very large. But I also know those planes never were used in Vietnam. So did not put such into the comments. But I also knew the Buffs used large tanks up to the G model, and I even know that the video shown is of the prototype A model, due to the canopy, like the B-47, instead of the flightdeck style of the rest of the Buffs.

          • adam

            Wasn’t there some navy bombers and fighters in Vietnam might they have dropped the tanks? I’m mean I’m no expert but I do believe hearing about navy attack planes flying off carriers.

  • http://twitter.com/WinstonCN WinstonCN

    Interesting

  • mavid

    My wife’s grandfather used a droptank from a P-38 or P-47 as a sidecar foz his motorcycle in 1945 :-)

  • Troy

    Weird that fuel tanks dropped from fast moving jet aircraft at high altitude don’t have any damage? I would go more with stuff that was left behind.

  • Zathrus61

    The locals also like to use the outer shells of cluster munition and napalm pods as planters.

  • Christian J Heinbockel

    After WWII German manufacturers used recovered drop tanks as the bodies for 2 seat cars. 1 behind the other & I believe it was Messerschmitt.

  • http://www.anthonymaw.com/ Anthony Maw

    USAF was a main provider of scrap aluminum to the south east asian villagers to be melted down to make rice pots, with a little help from the Soviets and Chinese. Nothing has changed.

  • Gary Swanson

    During Vietnam, the fuel would have more likely been JP-4 (Air Force) or JP-5 (Navy). JP-8 didn’t come onto the scene until the 1990s.

  • Caddy Jim

    Back it the US surplus “Belly Tanks” are turned into Belly Tankers Race Cars for the Drag Strip, Salt Flats Ect..

    They turned what we left behind into lil’ motor boats lol…

  • Caddy Jim

    They had the Story wrong these don’t look to be dropped…
    I’ve had a similar Question when it comes to Torpedoes specially in WW1 & WW2, Most Torpedoes Miss, how far do they run, they don’t self destruct, Would they explode when they hit bottom &/or do we have 10’s of thousands Old Live Torpedoes all over our Ocean floors???

  • FrankW

    Phantoms Forever!