If you’re wondering how long it takes to refuel a plane, the answer is that it varies quite substantially depending on the type of plane.

Generally, it takes anywhere between 3 and 60 minutes to refuel most planes.

Small private planes take the least time to refuel, and large commercial airliners take the most time.

Military planes can even refuel midair if needed, while commercial planes can’t and won’t. 

Most planes receive their fuel either from the airport or self-service stations. 

How Long it Takes to Refuel Planes

It takes between 45 minutes to an hour to refuel most aircraft.

Naturally, smaller aircraft take less time since they need less fuel, and larger aircraft take longer to fuel because of their greater need for fuel. 

Small Planes 

Smaller planes generally take less time to refuel because of their smaller fuel tanks, and they’re refueled by individuals on a small airfield without sophisticated instruments.

So, it can take the average small plane anywhere between 10 and 40 minutes to refuel, depending on its model and the skill of the person refueling. 

For example, the Cessna 172, a popular small plane, takes between 30 and 45 minutes on average to fully refuel for a flight.

The similar Piper M350 also takes between 20 and 30 minutes on average to fully refuel. 

Private Jets

Private jets often refuel faster than small planes, since they refuel from airports and use better equipment.

So, the average private jet takes between 10 and 30 minutes to refuel.

For instance, the popular Cessna Citation V only requires 3 to 7 minutes to refuel, and the Dassault Falcon 6X only requires 15 to 20 minutes to refuel. 

Commercial Airliners

Commercial airliners take the longest to refuel because of their size and large fuel need.

Even then, refueling commercial airliners is an efficient and orderly process that’s strictly regulated.

The average commercial airliner takes between 45 and 90 minutes to refuel, depending on its model, number of engines, and the quality of refueling facilities at the airport. 

For example, the Boeing 787-10 has an average refueling time of 45 minutes, while the Airbus A380 needs an hour to refuel.

Related: 4 Reasons Why Flights Have Technical Stops

Military Planes

The military’s strict regulations ensure that military planes are rapidly refueled, with the average fighter jet only needing 5 to 10 minutes to be fully refueled.

For instance, the U.S. Air Force reported that refueling an F-16 takes only 10 minutes.

Military cargo and other planes take longer – between 15 and 45 minutes, depending on the aircraft’s size and payload. 

How Long it Takes to Refuel a Plane in the Air

Midair refueling can take anywhere between 3 and 40 minutes depending on the receiving type of aircraft being refueled and mission requirements.

Generally, smaller fighter aircraft take the least time, only 3 to 4 minutes on average, while larger aircraft can take up to 40 minutes or more, sometimes requiring multiple tanker aircraft to fully refuel. 

For example, a KC-10/KC-135 can refuel an F-15 within 3 and 5 minutes.

An RC-135 would require around 37 minutes to fully refuel from the same tanker aircraft. 

Planes That Can Be Refueled Midair

Many modern fighter jets can be refueled midair using tanker aircraft.

For instance, the F-35, F-25, MiG-31, MiG-29, and Su-30 all have midair refueling abilities.

Civilian and commercial aircraft generally don’t have midair refueling abilities because of the expensive cost of outfitting commercial planes and training commercial pilots for mid-air refueling. 

Additionally, refueling commercial aircraft midair is largely unnecessary.

How Planes Are Refueled

Before a plane can be refueled, various safety precautions must be taken.

These include:

  • Switching off all aircraft electrical systems and electronic devices.
  • Making sure that naked flame or equipment that can cause spark and ignite fuel is not nearby.
  • Emptying pockets of any items that could fall into the fuel tanks.
  • Making sure that there is no danger of other aircraft nearby that can blow dirt in the direction of the aircraft being fueled.

Once the various safety precautions have been taken:

  • A ground wire is connected from the fuel truck to the aircraft. This is known as bonding.
  • The fuel hose is connected to the aircraft.
  • The fuel flows into the aircraft’s fuel tank(s).
  • Once fueling is complete, the fuel hose and grounding cable are disconnected.

How Planes Are Refueled Midair

Currently, planes use one of 5 delivery systems for midair refueling: 

1. Probe and Drogue 

An aerial tanker uses a hose with a funnel-shaped drogue to plug into the receiving aircraft.

The receiving aircraft maneuvers itself to latch onto the drogue.

This process is completed under specific conditions to ensure the drogue properly latches onto the aircraft. 

2. Flying Boom

An operator guides a rigid boom tube to connect the tanker and receiver aircraft.

This delivery system is preferred by the Air Force since it allows a faster fuel transfer rate of 6,000 lbs per minute than the probe and drogue’s 2,000 lbs per minute. 

3. Buddy Store

A buddy store is an external fuel pod that primarily uses the hose and drogue system to transfer fuel.

This method is mostly used for fighter or bomber aircraft to perform ‘buddy tanking’, which lets non-tanker aircraft refuel other planes.

This system was mostly used by the Royal Navy. 

4. Wing-to-Wing

The Tanker aircraft releases a flexible hose from its wingtip that the aircraft flying beside it catches with a special lock under its own wingtip.

Fuel is pumped from the aircraft with the hose once the hose is locked onto the other plane.

This aerial refueling method is scarcely used, with the Soviet Tu-4 and Tu-16 being models that can perform it. 

5. Simple Grappling

The tanker plane unreels a fuel hose that the aircraft below it catches and connects to.

Pumps and gravity help transfer fuel from the aircraft on top to the aircraft on the bottom.

This transfer method was notably used on the Question Mark endurance flight in 1929. 

What Type of Fuel Do Planes Take? 

Most modern planes use kerosene fuel, except for piston-based airplanes.

There are different varieties of kerosene-based fuel, of which the most common is Jet A/A-1.

Most commonly used in the United States, Jet A fuel is made of a mix of extremely refined kerosene and additives that protect a plane’s engines from damage. 

Piston-based planes use aviation gasoline or avgas.

Aviation gasoline contains tetraethyl lead, which prevents engine knock or detonation.

Planes Refuel After Every Flight

Yes, virtually all planes, especially commercial planes, refuel after every flight.

Small planes or private planes could avoid refueling after a flight if they only flew a short distance and didn’t use much fuel.

But, a majority of planes have to refuel after a majority of flights. 

The Longest a Plane Can Fly Before it Has to Be Refueled

A large commercial airliner, like the Boeing 747 can fly between 16 and 21 hours before it needs refueling.

Smaller planes like the Cessna Skyhawk can fly only 5 to 6 hours before needing to be refueled.

Planes Often Refuel With Passengers on the Plane

Yes, aircraft commanders decide whether to refuel a plane with passengers on board.

Refueling an aircraft is a safe and quick process, and it’s common to refuel planes during boarding.

Refueling an airplane with passengers onboard is comparable to refueling a car with passengers in it.

In fact, since automobile fuel is more volatile than jet fuel, it’s safer to refuel an airplane with passengers in it than a car with passengers in it. 

It’s Expensive to Refuel a Plane

The average commercial plane requires 3,500 gallons of jet fuel which has an estimated cost of $7,070.

But, the cost of refueling a plane varies depending on the type of aircraft and fuel costs as dictated by the market.

The refueling cost for commercial planes can range from $4,040 on the lower end to as high as $14,140.

Where Planes Get Their Fuel From

Commercial and private planes receive their fuel from airports.

Airports purchase fuel from refineries and safely store it off-airport. They usually deliver this fuel to aircraft through trucks or a direct pipeline or hydrant system. 

Small plane owners normally refuel their planes at self-service stations.

In conclusion, it takes between 5 and 40 minutes to refuel most aircraft.

Small, private, and military planes take the least time to refuel, while large commercial planes take the most time.

Generally, only military planes are equipped with midair refueling capabilities, and most planes receive their fuel from the airport.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.