Wake turbulence, and how it affects midair refueling


Wake turbulence, and how it affects midair refueling

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Airplanes still have weight and have to push down on *something* to avoid falling. That something is air.

You know, like, the action movie trope of running across the stones of a collapsing bridge? That’s pretty much how planes work, except they skim across air molecules, pushing them downwards.

Now the downblast comes off the back of the wings. Since the wings eventually end at the wingtip, you have air that’s being pushed down next to air that isn’t being pushed down. This creates a swirling pattern that can get bumpy and messy – i.e. turbulent. [Good pictures here](https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2018/december/pilot/proficiency-in-the-vortex) of the shape of this turbulent area.

In all kinds of formation flying you want to avoid the bumpiest parts of the wake, but it’s especially important when refueling because you’re trying to touch the basket or boom precisely and not smack it against anything important on your aircraft.