CAM RANH BAY, Vietnam — Self-service gas stations are nothing new in some parts of the world, but filling up dozens of thirsty jet fighters on short notice is something else again.

Since the F-4C Phantoms of the 12th Tactical Fighter Wing went into operation before the permanent facilities were even started — much less completed — the question of keeping them in fuel was a big one.

To solve the problem, a six-inch pipeline was built from a tanker anchored in the bay to the air strip where the planes are fueled.

"The pipeline can move up to 30,000 gallons an hour. This makes it possible for the planes to operate without large storage tanks for fuel at the airstrip," a spokesman for the 12th Supply Sq. explained.

There is a limited amount of storage space in the "bladders," the portable rubber tanks, but for all practical purposes the fuel goes direct from the tanker seven miles away to the planes.

"Another advantage of this system is that it doesn't create a big fuel dump, that might tempt the VC to attack," the spokesman added.

Getting the pipeline to carry the fuel over the hills that separate the bay from the airstrip poses certain problems, but the booster pumps have been kicking it over the top without difficulty so far.

"What we have here in effect is a floating fuel dump, with the tanker taking on additional JP-4 from other ships and storing it until it is pumped up to the airstrip."

Eventually the base will have a permanent fuel center with more conventional provisions for fueling the planes, but in the meantime the pilots know they can get a fast refill by pulling over to the edge of the strip and giving the thumbs up signal.

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