Prototype saves fuel, money, environment

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Greg Ripps
  • 149th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
It is economical, environmentally friendly, and definitely fuel-efficient. And so far, only the 149th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard is using it.

It is the PH1000EL Self-Contained Fuel Transfer Unit, better known as the "fuel buggy." Members of the 149th Maintenance Squadron are using this new piece of equipment to recycle jet aircraft fuel for use in their aerospace ground equipment.

The F-16 Fighting Falcons operated by the 149th FW use JP-8 fuel. Unfortunately, the aircraft generate a certain amount of waste. Before the fuel buggy's arrival, JP-8 waste was collected by fuel bowsers and stored in drums.

"When enough drums were full, we called a contractor who was paid to pick them up," explained Chief Master Sgt. Frank Arbizu, the wing's aircraft maintenance superintendent. "The contractor took the fuel to another city, recycled it and resold it for use in such things as farm equipment."

The chief wondered if his AGE team could recycle the fuel and reuse it themselves. The solution would be a relatively small, portable piece of equipment that could be used to drain fuel, filter it, store it and pump it into other equipment.

"I knew other such systems were out there, but they weren't for fuel," he said. "I though that if there was a system to reclaim hydraulics, then there ought to be one for fuel."

Arbizu broached the subject with a representative of a private firm that specializes in repairing and recycling equipment. A short time later, he received a call from a representative of another company, W.E.N. Industries, Inc., of New Hampshire.

"We exchanged e-mails over six months," Arbizu said. "The company was interested in developing the idea, but we had to agree on the specifications."

Specifications included tire rating, safety features, color scheme, a trailer hitch and fuel filters that were easy to get and change.

"We got what we wanted," said Master Sgt. John Mead, AGE shop supervisor. "The filters are standard diesel fuel filters available from most automotive parts stores."

The result of the months of communication was the prototype Fuel Buggy, which is essentially a 4-foot-wide, 7-foot-long, four-wheel trailer with a 1,000-gallon tank, a hose and an electric pump powered from other equipment.

The fuel buggy can be used to drain fuel from either fuel trucks or wing tanks. It has been used once on the flightline when a fuel truck was not available. Before using the fuel buggy, wing tanks could be successfully emptied only by using additional equipment to raise one end with a sling. The fuel buggy can empty a wing tank easily by itself.

The obvious advantage is the cost savings. The prototype cost $15,000 but can recover $1,500 worth of fuel per month -- or $18,000 annually.

"We've been purchasing approximately 3,500 gallons of JP-8 per month over the last year," Mead said. "This past month, by using waste fuel recycled by the fuel buggy, we reduced the purchased amount to less than 1,500 gallons."

After six months, Mead believes, "At this rate, the fuel buggy will pay for itself in less than a year."

Furthermore, annual preventive maintenance cost is estimated to be less than $50.

"There will be the need to inspect filters, tank, chassis and running gear every 180 days," Mead explained. "This will be a two-hour job to include paperwork for one mechanic -- very minimal."

The fuel buggy filters the JP-8 twice: once when it is pumped into it and again when it is pumped out. Although the filtered fuel cannot be reused in aircraft or some equipment, it has been used in a variety of ground equipment. These include turbine compressors, air compressors, generators, "jammer" bomb lifts and NF2 light carts, all which previously used diesel.

The prototype will undergo additional improvements.

"We need a different kind of siphon hose, because the one we're using sometimes collapses," Arbizu said. "And we need a sight gauge."

Nevertheless, the 149th FW maintenance community is already happy enough with the fuel buggy that it is ready to share the idea.

It already has piqued interest and earned acclaim from outside the unit. The Air Education and Training Command Operational Readiness Inspection Team cited the fuel buggy as a "best practice" following a recent inspection.

"This one-of-a-kind product could potentially be used at all Air Force AGE shops for fuel savings and environmental benefits," Mead said.