October 16, 2012: The U.S. Air Force has conducted experiments to see if flying aircraft in formations (similar to those birds use, like the “V” used by large migrating birds) would enable jet aircraft to use less fuel. The tests were successful and the air force is working on implementing “vortex surfing” into training and flight control software.
Vortex surfing means that an aircraft flying behind another gets additional lift from the vortex created by the aircraft in front. It’s estimated that such techniques can cut fuel use by up to ten percent on long flights. Flight control systems can optimize aircraft positions for maximum fuel savings, meaning the pilots would not have to wear themselves out with precision formation flying. If widely implemented vortex surfing could save several hundred million dollars a year in fuel costs.