Warplanes: The Air Force, B-52s and Mideast Oil

Tired of burning money at the gas pump? So is the U.S. Air Force, which spends about $4 billion a year gassing up its warplanes. Next month Air Force test pilots will try something new: flying a B-52 bomber on a fuel mixture that includes synthetic gas made from coal. The test flight is part of an energy-conservation program at the Pentagon that takes into account the potential for more instability in the Mideast, which provides much of the United States' oil. Geologists have known for decades that America is to coal what Saudi Arabia is to oil. "It's a known proven resource that should last at least 200 years," says Michael Aimone, the Air Force assistant deputy chief of staff for logistics. Aimone's teams have been tinkering with engines and testing them in labs for months. If the flights are successful, the Air Force hopes to start using the synthetic mixture in some of its warplanes within six years, possibly inducing civilian airlines to make the switch. Environmentalists aren't fans of the idea. David Hawkins of the National Resources Defense Council says burning coal-based fuel will create the same amount of carbon-dioxide pollution as gas, furthering global warming. "The standards we have for carbon-dioxide pollution will only get stricter in the next 10 to 20 years," says Hawkins, who heads the group's climate center. "An institution like the Defense Department needs to be thinking beyond just alternatives that will cause the same amount of damage."

Warplanes: The Air Force, B-52s and Mideast Oil | News