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Into thin air: Liquid oxygen keeps pilots flying

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS) -- As an aircraft reaches a higher altitude, the air pressure decreases, sometimes leaving aircrews little air to breathe. When this happens, pilots and crew members are able to utilize the liquid oxygen provided by Airmen from the 36th Maintenance Squadron, thus enabling them to complete the mission.

Airmen from the 36th MXS electrical and environmental shop sustain the liquid oxygen carts that service the various aircraft on Andersen Air Force Base. The liquid oxygen is used so that pilots can breathe at high altitudes. The team ensures the carts are readily available for crew chiefs to take when needed.

"We don't know how many aircraft we may have during a given day, so it's important we have more than enough carts ready to go at a moment's notice," said Senior Airman Kevin Hakala, a 36th MXS electrical and environmental technician. "If the carts have no maintenance or mechanical issues and are good to go then we send them to cryogenics to get filled with liquid oxygen."

It is crucial for the team to guarantee there are enough carts to service all transient aircraft for all services.

"Our aircrews need to have a supply of liquid oxygen in their aircraft at all times in the event of an emergency," Hakala said. "It's pretty cool to be responsible for providing clean sanitary liquid oxygen to the guys flying the planes."

Every four to six months, bomber aircrews, operation support personnel and maintainers rotate through Andersen AFB in support of the continuous bomber presence in the Pacific. Currently, four Airmen deployed from Minot AFB, North Dakota, are assigned to the electrical environmental shop.

"Being able to work with deployed Airmen is great. We have extra hands around the shop and eager Airmen that are excited to be here supporting the mission," said Senior Airman Laenya Maze, a 36th MXS electrical and environmental technician. "We have different teams deploying in and out of here every six months, so it's always exciting to work with new people."

The team's job has proven to play a large role here. Without the liquid oxygen, pilots and crewmembers cannot fly their mission.

"If the aircrews can't breathe, then they can't fly the jets," Hakala said. “The Air Force mission is to fly planes, so our job is pretty important."

The cryogenics shop, which provides the liquid oxygen to the maintenance Airmen, is one of only two Air Force production centers worldwide. The shop is able to generate, store and distribute liquid oxygen and nitrogen unlike other Air Force labs that are not able to produce their own.

"We work alongside the electrical and environmental team in making sure they get the liquid oxygen carts filled," said Staff Sgt. Jon Reid, the 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron NCO in charge of cryogenic production. "We produce about 30,000 gallons of liquid oxygen a year to support the various units here. The electrical and environmental shop is a great team to work with; we produce the oxygen and they get it to the proper place."