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Officials test commercial fuel to replace JP-8 fuel

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
In an ongoing analysis of alternatives to reduce aviation fuel costs, the Air Force Petroleum Agency here has launched an initiative to use commercial jet fuel in place of military standard JP-8 fuel. 

The Air Force annually uses about 2.5 billion gallons of fuel, resulting in the service's second highest annual operations and budgetary expense. The AFPA, in partnership with Defense Energy Support Center, has taken on an initiative to use commercial Jet A fuel to replace JP-8 as the primary grade of fuel for C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III and C-130 Hercules aircraft at continental U.S. Air Force bases. 

The plan fits into the overall Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st century initiative to identify performance gaps, increase stewardship and enhance expeditionary operations. 

Gallon for gallon, commercial Jet A is more readily available in the continental U.S. than JP-8, a specialty fuel used only by the military and some foreign allies, said Master Sgt. Danny Walker, AFPA Jet A initiative program manager. 

Increased competition for U.S. government fuel contracts and lower transportation costs as a result of shipping through commercial pipeline systems will save money during the transition to Jet A, Sergeant Walker said. 

AFPA officials said cost analysis indicates there are savings in product costs, transportation, and additive reduction expected in the range of more than $40 million per year without detriment to operations and safety. 

"The fluctuation in oil prices can mean big bills for the Air Force and Department of Defense," said AFPA Deputy Director Jack Lavin. "A one-penny increase in the standard price per gallon for fuel can translate to a fuel cost increase in millions of dollars. Demonstrating that we can safely use Jet A at several of our airlift bases and injecting the special fuel additives found in JP-8 as needed at C-5, C-17 and C-130 locations will be a significant undertaking with long-range and positive fiscal impact."
Jeff Braun, Air Force Alternative Fuels Certification Office director, said respective platform single managers will need to perform certification analysis to determine the suitability of Jet A before granting approvals. 

"The engineering staff will have to evaluate the performance and chemical characteristics of Jet A to determine whether it would be acceptable for operational use," Mr. Braun said. 

Mr. Braun explained that heavy military aircraft, largely based on commercial design, will see sooner validation in testing than their fighter aircraft counterparts. 

"The majority of the mobility fleet is already based on commercial derivative designs and is therefore already well-positioned to use Jet A fuel," Mr. Braun said. "The tactical fleet has never used Jet A so there would probably be a more significant evaluation required in those cases." 

The certification timeline will vary depending on the type of aircraft. 

"U.S. Air Force fighter aircraft were not originally designed for Jet A use, though this doesn't mean a fuel transition to the commercial fuel is impossible; it just means there needs to be further evaluation," Mr. Braun said. 

AFPA's chief scientist Mel Regoli said the primary difference between JP-8 and commercial Jet A is that the specification for latter does not require corrosion or icing inhibitor additives and has a slightly higher freezing point. The Air Force began using JP-8 in the late 1970s in Europe for aircraft as well as tactical ground vehicles and electrical generators. By 1996, the continental U.S. and the Pacific Air Force bases had converted to JP-8. 

Sergeant Walker said he expects a relatively seamless transition since many aircraft already use Jet A. "U.S. Air Force aircraft routinely use Jet A from commercial airports, and their operating checklists allow use of Jet A as an alternate fuel." 

AFPA officials said they have also considered the environmental impact of the transition to commercial Jet A. 

"The environmental and subsequent financial impact could be huge," Sergeant Walker said. "To prevent the water in JP-8 from freezing, we use a fuel system icing inhibitor that is a hazardous chemical. When FSII attaches to the water in the fuel and settles to the bottom of the tanks, we drain the water from fuel tanks and trucks daily to prevent it from being put on aircraft." 

Sergeant Walker explained that the AFPA currently performs the costly process of disposing of the water and FSII mixture as hazardous waste. 

"When we transition to Jet A, we will inject this FSII further downstream of the fuel tanks, which will make the water we drain less hazardous and disposable in normal waste water treatment facilities, saving the Air Force thousands yearly at CONUS bases. 

As the demonstration begins later this fiscal year, the AFPA will continue to partner with a community of resources to implement this initiative. Community resources include DESC, Air Force Research Laboratory teams, weapon system single managers, and Aeronautical Systems Center specialists among others. 

Sergeant Walker said two Air National Guard bases currently fly on commercial Jet A on a routine basis and have been since 1995. "The bases are co-located with commercial airports and use Jet A with military additives in F-16s and C-130s with no maintenance, operational, or safety issues related to the fuel." 

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