This F-22 Raptor Wing Tank Storage Facility Looks Like A Science Fiction Movie Set

Very few things are simple in the fighter aircraft business, including storing and moving around giant external fuel tanks.

byTyler Rogoway|
U.S. Homeland photo


F-22A Raptor is still as much of a modern marvel as it was when it entered service a decade and a half ago, but nothing about the world's first 5th generation stealth super-fighter, or really any modern fighter aircraft for that matter, is simple or cheap. Case in point, the place where the Raptor's 600-gallon external fuel tanks are stored at Langely AFB in Virginia, one of the USAF's biggest Raptor nests. Dubbed the Vertical Tank Storage System (VTSS), the indoor installation is like one of those dry cleaning conveyor racks, but it holds massive external fuel tanks, not shirts and sport coats. It was just featured in a number of cool photos from the 1st Fighter Wing's public affairs folks. 

The F-22 uses massive 600-gallon wing tanks to extend its range for missions where low-observability (stealth) is not a primary necessity. For instance, Raptors that sit alert in Alaska fly with the wing tanks as their intercept missions can cross vast distances over long periods. This is in addition to having a support tanker launched during scambles. They are also used when F-22s are ferried to overseas operating locations.  

F-22 Raptors equipped with wing tanks at Elmendorf AFB in Alaska. , USAF

The tanks on the F-22 are actually made to be jettisoned with their pylons attached. This allows F-22 pilots to 'buy-back' some stealthiness, as well as higher performance, on-demand.


Seeing as these big wing tanks are a critical part of the stealth fighter's capability set, they need to be stored somewhere. This is where the VTSS comes in.

Where traditionally drop tanks have been stored mainly outdoors laid or stacked on the ground in cradles, or in shed-like structures, bringing them indoors and hanging them vertically on an automated rack saves space, improves the condition and longevity of the tanks, makes them more accessible in any weather conditions, and above all else, it saves time and lowers the amount of airman you need to handle them. When it comes to Langley's Raptor force, which could be called to deploy at a moment's notice, this is clearly beneficial, but other fighter bases have also received this system, as well. 

1st Fighter Wing
1st Fighter Wing

A company called International Automated Systems, or IAS, makes the automated tank racks. They are fairly remarkable machines to see in action, which you can in the video below.

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The huge industrial setup certainly looks like a set out of a science fiction movie. For someone who doesn't know a lot about military aviation, you can imagine how they would probably think they have stumbled upon a nuclear weapons bunker. 

It is simply amazing how many little-known sci-fi-like facilities the military-industrial complex has brought to life. But above all else, this setup serves as another reminder that something that seems fairly simple, like handling drop tanks for fighter aircraft, is really anything but. 

As to what one of these F-22 external tanks actually costs? We have reached out to Cobham to see if we can get a price. 

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