This photo shows how F-22s get rid of external fuel tanks

Image credit: Lockheed Martin

This is how an F-22 Raptor jettisons drop tanks.

Even if it has internal weapons bays, the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter plane relies on unstealthy fuel tanks when it needs to increase its range. Obviously, air-to-air refueling from a tanker is an option but since aerial refuelers are not always available, peacetime operations and deployments are normally conducted with external tanks carried on the underwing pylons.

But, if the operation required (almost) complete invisibility to radars (or should the need arise) fuel tanks would be jettisoned and the scene would be more or less as the one depicted in the image in this post taken in 2004 during the first F-22 inflight external tank jettison test.

Actually, jettisoning tanks would not give the aircraft “full stealthiness”: when the aircraft jettisons its tanks, the orifices under the wing for pylon attach bolts, fuel lines, electrical connectors, jettison pivot fittings are exposed and can become RCS “hotspots”, rendering the jet less than completely stealthy.
When pylons are not fitted, RAM covers are placed over the orifices.


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. Isn’t it that easy, as the F-22 only can talk with itself it is hard to get hold of a tanker, then you need to take the fuel with you?

    Reference and the “podcast 3 July 2014: The F-35 Goes International” since there is no time scale, it is difficult to specify where to start listening.

  2. Cool. So I’m guessing the F-22 carries the tanks to get close to the fight, then drops them to get full stealth.

    • F-15 Strike Eagles have had conformal fuselage tanks (FAST packs) since the 80’s, if a more advanced version of that doesn’t already exist I would be extremely surprised.

  3. Given the F35 and F22 I am amazed we have not seen Lockheed martin or Boeing cooking up Drop tanks that have a reduced cross section

  4. The concept of “stealth” doesn’t really matter any more, and if you’re still harping on how ineffective “stealth” technology is, then you’re about 6 years behind everyone else. Stealth no longer matters, everything is about electronic warfare and jamming now, and it has been that way for quite a few years.

    If you still believe “stealth” technology is still important, then let me know how that carburetor is doing in your 1970’s station wagon while you’re at it…

    • You’re both wrong. Stealth is very important, perhaps its no longer the silver bullet, but it denies your enemy access to the most important spectrum of radar. Long range detection through VHF has always been able to detect x-band stealth (although the B2 is stealth against VHF radars). Still it doesnt matter for several practical reasons. Not all military hardware is current. Older mobile SAMS, such as the Buk and Tor will not be able to target stealth aircraft, reducing the number of threats brought against you. Also, since you are limiting your enemies electromagnetic spectrum to either long wave radar or IR, you have put more of his egges in fewer baskets, allowing you to focus on producing better countermeasures, whether it be like the gentlemen above me mentioned, electronic attack (for which the laws of physics apply, longer wave radars suited for long range detection can be jammed from greater distances/longer ranges) or active IR countermeasures, which have improved significantly with time as well. Furthermore, a combat environment has no givens, and you will not always be able to provide a coverage of anti-stealth radars in all scenarios, where you then will be at a disadvantage against your enemy. (examples include fighting outside of friendly territory, a recently destroyed radar array creating a gap in coverage, ect.) Clearly, it is an advantage to have stealth aircraft in your arsenal, it allows further asymmetric tactical and strategic potential. You do not always need to be undetected either, what stealth can provide can be merely a break in a kill chain for an enemy. The enemy may know that the stealth aircraft if there, but they are unable to engage it with their weapons at said detected range due to their weapons inability to operate in that zone. Perhaps some enemies will have newer BVR IR missiles, but perhaps they wont, perhaps they will detect them with long range IRST before they are targeted and engaged themselves by longer range radar, but perhaps they wont. In either case, they are at a disadvantage.

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