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.

11 Comments

    • 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.

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

      • 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.

        • 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.

          • 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.

  1. 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.

    • I imagine that it would depend largely on where and how they landed. Empty tanks would have a fair amount of drag.

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