Document Type

Honors Thesis


Mechanical Engineering


Glenn Pierce

Committee Members

François Amar, Wilhelm Friess, Richard Kimball, James Settele

Graduation Year

May 2021

Publication Date

Spring 5-2021


The United States Navy has used the Drogue refueling system since the 1950’s. This system, while incredibly effective, has design elements that, if improved upon, could save the Navy millions of dollars per year. For my thesis project within the University of Maine Honors College, I studied the drag characteristics of two models of a refueling apparatus. One model mirrored the current Navy design and the other was based on my sensor array design implemented within my Mechanical Engineering Capstone team project, which was to design, build, and fly a remote-controlled (RC) aircraft that deployed and retracted a towed array during flight. A more aerodynamically efficient design would save money on fuel during organic tanking (Navy aircraft to Navy aircraft) or non-organic tanking operations, thereby increasing tanker range, saving money on carrier replenishment, and creating a higher level of mission readiness. After examining both the current refueling basket and my competition-based sensor design, I found the estimated maximum amount of money the Navy could save on an annual basis to be $29.1 million. The process for this comparison was to test 3-D printed parts within a wind tunnel and scale the results to mirror real-world (prototypical) counterparts. Though the purpose of this thesis was not to reinvent the metaphorical wheel of Navy mid-air refueling systems, drawing attention to potential cost-effective design changes would be beneficial to the Naval Aviation community in the long-term.