Anonymous asked in Science & MathematicsPhysics · 5 months ago

Weird air force plane with a siphon to re-fuel itself indefinitely?

My grandfather showed me a photo of a plane once that was designed to refuel itself so that it could fly indefinitely. It looked really weird and had a big siphon in front of it. It didn't look like it could fly very fast. The siphon would take in particles from the air to use to fuel the plane. I think he called it a "buzzard jet." He was in the air force in the 60s and 70s.

3 Answers

  • 5 months ago
    Favorite Answer

    What you are referring to is the Bussard Ramjet, but some of your facts are a little fuzzy. 

    The Bussard Ramjet is actually a type of theoretical engine proposed back in the 1960's for use in propelling interstellar spacecraft, not airplanes. It addresses a very basic problem of how a spacecraft could ever carry enough fuel to cross the vast distances between the stars. Dr. Robert Bussard's solution was to design a spacecraft that would not carry any fuel of its own, but rather collect its fuel from space itself as it moved. Space is not completely empty. There are molecules of simple elements like hydrogen just floating around. The Bussard engine generates a huge invisible electromagnetic field around the spacecraft, with the field being in the shape of a giant scoop or funnel. This field could be hundreds or thousands of meters across. When the field encounters a random hydrogen atom floating in space, the electromagnetic field captures the hydrogen (a proton, actually), it becomes directed into the mouth of the magnetic funnel, and is eventually fed into the spacecraft engine where it is burned as hydrogen fuel. Possibly via a fusion reaction. The picture your grandfather showed you was probably an illustration of this hypothetical spacecraft showing what the funnel shaped magnetic field would look like if it were visible.

    Even though there is not very much hydrogen in "empty" space, once the spacecraft is moving fast enough it will encounter enough of this free fuel to keep itself going forever. It will go faster and faster, encountering hydrogen at a faster and faster rate until it is going at velocities approaching that of the speed of light.


    Free fuel and extremely fast speed: those are the the things needed for any vehicle to ever have a chance of crossing the space between the stars. The technology is still beyond us right now, but Dr. Bussard's design is still one of the best solutions to an almost impossible problem. 

  • Anonymous
    5 months ago

    < The siphon would take in particles from the air to use to fuel the plane >


    He was either pulling your leg or you misunderstood him or you talking about air to air refueling, quite a different issue.

  • 5 months ago

    he must be joking, that is not possible, there is no fuel in any particles in the air. 

Still have questions? Get your answers by asking now.