A group of airplanes is based on a small island. The tank of each plane holds just enough fuel to take it halfway around the world. Any desired amount of fuel can be transferred from the tank of one plane to the tank of another while the planes are in flight. The only source of fuel is on the island, and it is assumed that there is no time lost in refueling either in the air or on the ground. What is the smallest number of planes that will ensure the flight of one plane around the world on a great circle, assuming that the planes have the same constant speed (relative to the ground) and rate of fuel consumption, and that all planes return safely to their island base?
[[Category: Optimization puzzles]]