B-52 bomber takes test flight using synthetic fuel

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The Independent US

The US Air Force has begun experimenting with a synthetic form of jet fuel it hopes might cut down on pollution, reduce costs and lower the military's dependence on Middle Eastern fuel sources.

An old-fashioned B-52 bomber carrying a mix of conventional jet fuel and Fischer-Tropsch synthetic fuel made a two-hour test flight over the Mojave desert in California earlier this week.

Ronald Sega, under secretary of the Air Force, said he intended to widen testing as soon as the results of the test flight could be ascertained. "We will look at a flight of the B-52 using all engines on a blend of synthetic fuel and then onto other engines and aircraft in our fleet," he told reporters assembled at Edwards Air Force base, north of Los Angeles.

The synthetic fuel used in the test flight came from natural gas, but the hope is that something similar could be derived from coal, which is abundant in the US.

The Carter administration experimented with synthetic fuels 30 years ago - 50 years after they were first pioneered by German scientists - but interest dropped off as oil prices fell following the energy crises of the 1970s.

President George Bush expressed a renewed interest in alternative fuel technologies in his State of the Union speech last January, setting the goal of replacing more than 75 per cent of energy imports from the Middle East by 2025.

It is not clear what kind of monetary or pollution-related saving synthetic fuel might represent. The Air Force currently uses 2.6 billion US gallons of jet fuel a year, at a cost of $4.5bn (£2.4bn). Commercial airlines use 53 million US gallons of jet fuel per day.