Why do Fighter Pilots Need to Drop Fuel Tanks When Under Attack

A lot of times we have seen in movies and videos that while in a dog fight fighter pilots drop some tanks which like spherical in shape and quite big. Today let’s learn about these drop tanks and why pilots drop it when under attack.

What is a Drop Tank?

To increase their flying range, military battle aircraft deploy drop tanks, which are supplemental fuel tanks. When combat started, these “belly tanks,” as they were often known, could be quickly ejected because they were carried underneath the aircraft. The pilot flipped a switch within the cockpit to detach the belly tank from the aircraft. Drop tank refers to the gasoline tank that dropped away from the aircraft. If the tank wasn’t let go, it would become a tempting target for enemy pilots, who might easily blow up the jet by striking the exposed gasoline tank.

Also read: How Do Fighter Pilots Pee While Flying?

Both the Nazis and the Allies relied on bombing raids to win World War II. Extensive, lumbering, and extremely susceptible to enemy fighters were bombers. Both sides had to create a plane that would enable defensive fighter planes to cover for bombers in order to defend the bombers. The issue was that the fighters’ limited fuel supply prevented them from flying as far into enemy air space as the bombers could. The drop tank was eventually introduced as a result.

The range of the fighter might be greatly increased by creating a fuel tank that could be carried underneath the fuselage. With their increased range, the fighters could pursue bombers into enemy airspace and engage in aerial combat with any invading soldiers that tried to bring the bombers down. The threat came from the gasoline tank being open to hostile fire. The fighter plane might be destroyed by a devastating explosion brought on by a single bullet.

Once a conflict had started, a mechanism was created that allowed the fuel tanks to be dropped out of the way. The fighter plane could fly farther thanks to this new drop tank, which was also simple to remove when the battle began. As fighter protection became more advantageous, drop tank use by all branches of the air services on both sides of the conflict grew.


To jettison means to throw away fuel, external supplies, or other disposable materials in aviation. An explosive bolt or a mechanism may be used to remove external storage from the aircraft; the item is typically ejected by operating a switch or lever.

Fuel jettison

An emergency method called fuel jettisoning or fuel dumping is done by crews to reduce an aircraft’s weight when it reaches its maximum landing weight.

External stores jettison 

On external hardpoints, some military aircraft can carry fuel tanks and weaponry (such as bombs or rockets). If necessary, the pilot can jettison them to prevent getting in the way of actions during a battle or in an emergency. When necessary, airports may provide designated safe sites for the disposal of external stores.

In crux, major reasons for dropping a fuel tank are

  • If the enemy strikes the drop tanks, the plane could erupt because they are filled with explosive gasoline that can be used as an incendiary bomb.
  • Drop tanks are heavy and cause drag, therefore by removing one, the fighter moves much more quickly. However, this comes at a price: after the dogfight, they run out of fuel and must dock with a tanker to refill in order to return home.

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Siddhant Sandhu

    Blogger at SSBCrackExams, National Cyclist, Ex NCC SUO, Photography, Travelling, International Relations, Sports, Books.

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