Wondering What Happened To All Fuel Tanks Jettisoned By U.S. Fighter Jets Over Southeast Asia During Vietnam War?

All images Hilli Rathner (?) via Des Barker

Here are some extraordinary photographs showing how fuel tanks are being used today.

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

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

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

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

  4. 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.

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