MXS flight provides lifeblood to aircraft

  • Published
  • By Debbie Aragon
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Although it takes many people and organizations to keep Offutt aircraft flying, there is only one small group of professionals who provide the needed lifeblood - JP-8 jet fuel.

That's the responsibility of the 55th Maintenance Squadron's Fuels Management Flight, otherwise known as Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants, or POL.

Senior Master Sgt. Patrick McKeown, the flight chief, overseas the operation and ensures the approximately 60 Airmen assigned provide the right, high-quality POL product when needed to customers assigned to Offutt and aircrews just travelling through.

In 2009, POL Airmen here pumped more than 18 million gallons of fuel to customers at a rate of about 50,000 gallons a day, said Sergeant McKeown, and they did it quickly.

"From the time our control center calls us, to the time one of our trucks shows up at the aircraft for refueling is 10 minutes on average," Sergeant McKeown said.

To keep the POL function running smoothly, the senior NCO said the flight is divided into three sections: Fuels Operations, Fuels Compliance and Environmental, and the Fuels Information Service Center.

The approximately 30 Airmen in fuels operations are "the Airmen who operate the systems, drive the trucks and get the fuel into the aircraft," Sergeant McKeown said.

Ninety percent of the time that means they're operating one of four R-12 hydrant trucks that tap into the underground fuel delivery system that circles the flightline.

The underground system relies on two pump houses -- one large facility for daily use and a smaller backup facility -- to maintain constant pressure on the system, Sergeant McKeown explained.

"The number of pumps that are engaged are based on the number of refueling outlets (on the flightline) being used at any given time," he said.

The pump houses, key components of the fuel delivery system, are also maintained by POL members.

In addition to hydrant trucks, the flight operates five 6,000 gallon R-11 tankers and two C-300 1,200-gallon trucks, one for diesel and one for unleaded gasoline. In total, POL's vehicle fleet is valued at more than $1.3 million, Sergeant McKeown said.

To make sure the fuel pumped into airframes meets strict quality guidelines, there are a handful of Airmen in the Fuels Information Service Center, or FISC.

They rigorously test the quality of fuel in the pipeline before it reaches the skin of any aircraft, according to Airman 1st Class Edward Damhuis, a FISC fuels laboratory technician.

"When (Offutt) receives the fuel, we test it to make sure it is within pretty strict standards," Airman Damhuis said.

Tests, which can take up to three hours, make sure the fuel is within limits for things like water content, fuels systems icing inhibitor, or FSII and flash-point levels.

Water level and FSII content is important so fuel doesn't freeze in lines while aircraft are flying at high altitudes, Airman Damhuis explained.

Monitoring the flash point of fuel is another important safety concern, he added. The flash point is the point at which fuel vapors ignite with a heat source such as a spark.

To perform this important function of POL operations, each lab shift operates with two people and at least one of them must have attended a special lab school at Fort Lee, Va., said Tech. Sgt. William Azbell, non-commissioned officer in charge of the fuels lab.

Sergeant Azbell has been at Offutt for about three years and deployed numerous times during his career. He recently returned from a deployment where he experienced a unique aspect of fuel delivery.

"Tech. Sgt. Keith Ekle and I were the first team from Offutt to deploy for the aerial bulk fuel delivery system (mission)," Sergeant Azbell said.

This system basically operates using full fuel bladders aboard transport aircraft. Although POL technicians receive some basic training in this special mission, the two Offutt NCOs received additional training prior to deployment because of the extremely high risk associated with it, he said.

As with any hazardous career field, compliance and environmental monitoring is important.

The two people assigned this responsibility in POL accomplish spot checks and inspections to make sure the flight is operating safely and adhering to all environmental and Air Force Occupational Safety and Health standards, Sergeant McKeown said. In 2009, this small team conducted more than 250 inspections and turned in more than 1,500 pounds of hazardous waste for safe disposition.

In addition to all aspects of JP-8 distribution, the flight provides diesel fuel for organizational tanks, generators and as-needed heating, Sergeant McKeown said. They also receive, store and issue deicing fluid to flightline maintainers and operate bulk storage tanks for liquid oxygen, or LOX, and LOX refill carts for aircraft operations.

When visiting POL flights around the Air Force, many sayings are common, according to Offutt's POL team, including "Without fuel, pilots are pedestrians" but one is probably more common than others.

"Who the Hell ... POL" can be heard echoing loudly through the room at most Airmen Leadership School graduations, annual awards ceremonies and flight gatherings to show the pride the men and women of fuels management feel about their contribution to the Air Force mission.

"Everyone has important jobs," Sergeant Azbell said, "if they didn't we wouldn't have them in the Air Force. But some are uniquely important to mission accomplishment and (we feel) ours is one of those jobs."