Biofuels Propel Blue Angels Over Labor Day Weekend

US Navy Hornet fighter jet, powered (partly) by biofuels
US Navy Hornet fighter jet, powered (partly) by biofuels

Labor Day weekend often means that very last summer barbecue, final road trip, baseball pennant race showdowns, and for some lucky communities, the chance to watch the Blue Angels soar above crowds in their awesome aerial formations.  This year, the U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron, the long-form name for the Blue Angels, wowed visitors with their pilots’ stunts at the Patuxent Naval Air Station in southern Maryland over the weekend.

Only this time, the weekend performance was fueled in part by biofuels.

According to Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, the weekend demonstration was to demonstrate the U.S. military’s emerging commitment to increase both energy efficiency  and show that the country can move to a clean energy economy.  To that end, additional military aircraft have completed test runs on biofuel blends with more to follow soon.

Camelina sativa, fueling US Navy Hornet jets
Camelina sativa, fueling US Navy Hornet jets

The fuel that powered six F/A-18 legacy Hornets (similar to what is pictured above, courtesy WikiCommons) was a 50-50 blend of conventional JP-5 jet fuel with a cemelina-based product.  Cemelina, a plant in the mustard family (shown right), boasts oily seeds that can be converted into fuel without disrupting the food supply (of course, unless food producing farms are ripped out to grow this plant, which has not occurred yet).  Only a few such farms exist so far, but should camelina show more promise, expect additional farms to open up along the Pacific coast states and Montana.

The U.S. military’s experimentation with alternatives to fossil fuels while preparing for a world with energy scarcity and price spikes is nothing new.  Various military leaders have discussed climate change as a potential long term security threat, and various branches of the U.S. Armed Forces have invested in battery technology research, too.  The Navy and Marines together maintain a site that discusses initiatives related to energy, environment, and climate change.

As of press time, no news indicate that the aerial maneuvers occurred without any hitch in performance.  But the move towards a “clean green” military will take time.  Concerns over scalability, performance, and adequate supplies are among a few concerns of military brass, so do not expect solar powered Humvees or aircraft carriers sporting wind turbines anytime soon.  But while politicians squabble over what not–or, what not–to do, the military, as always, is serving as a laboratory for innovation.  And compared to some recent boondoggles, this may prove to be money well spent.

Leon Kaye is a consultant, writer, and editor of and also contributes to The Guardian Sustainable Business; you can follow him on Twitter.  He lives in Silicon Valley.

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Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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