Fueling the Strike Eagle's fire

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Ashley J. Thum
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
The shimmering heat waves that emanate from jet exhaust, the rumble of twin Pratt and Whitney engines, the unmistakable aroma of pure Jet A fuel. The sights, sounds and smells of F-15E Strike Eagles in flight are made possible in part by the tireless efforts of a group of Airmen strategically placed just minutes from the flightline.

The 4th Logistics Readiness Squadron petroleum, oil and lubricants (POL), or fuels, shop takes charge of the base's entire fuel supply from the moment delivery trucks carry it on base to the second it leaves a refueling hose -- whether it's attached to a fighter jet or a support vehicle.

Senior Airman Kurtis Schiemann, a 4th LRS fuels service center controller, explained how the group manages their tasks.

"The fuels service center is like the brains of the operation," Schiemann said. "We're responsible for ordering all of the fuel on base and keeping track of every single gallon of fuel, jet or ground."

After receiving calls from the maintenance operations center notifying them of an aircraft's location, Schiemann and other controllers use a standardized program to coordinate a refueling run within the mandated 30-minute response time. Distribution operators are then called to the small window of a room, similar to a command post, where they're given a kit that gives them all the pertinent information about the truck they've been assigned. Then the operators jump in their truck and make their way to the flightline.

Senior Airman Brandon Osborn, a 4th LRS fuels specialist, is one of those operators.

"A typical day for us is when a jet lands and we go out and fill it up," Osborn said. "Usually, we each fill from five to seven jets a day."

Although the squadron's main priority is refueling the base's fleet of F-15Es, Osborn explained they're also capable of handling different types of transient aircraft.

"The process is usually the same, other than the location of the fuel tanks," Osborn said. "Some aircraft also have two single point receptacles."

Refuels are accomplished with the help of Airmen from the base's aircraft maintenance units (AMU). An operator parks near a jet and hands over the refueling hose to the crew chief. Once it's been coupled to the single point receptacle, the operator adjusts the throttle to control the speed of refueling, all while gripping the emergency cutoff switch known as the "dead man."

Once the operation has been accomplished, the operator packs up, notes the transaction and moves on to the next aircraft.

An exception to this rule comes in the form of hot pit refueling, a process developed to return jets to the air faster and limit their time on the ground. A jet's engines remain live during hot pit refuels, decreasing the strain on them by reducing the number of times they're switched on and off. This requires Osborn and other operators to position their trucks where crew chiefs can marshal in jets to pull up for a refuel one after another, similar to normal vehicles pulling up to a gasoline pump.

Throughout hot pit refuels, POL Airmen work hand in hand with Airmen from the AMUs to maintain control of the situation and complete the refuel safely.

Safety is the standard in the world of fuels, and the POL laboratory is no exception.

Senior Airmen Noah Lazurka and Derek Wilson, 4th LRS fuels laboratory technicians, uphold that standard by performing regular tests on the base's supply of jet and ground fuels.

"A big part of our job is sampling the jet fuel to make sure it's clean and dry," Lazurka said. "Every time fuel comes on base, we sample it. We also sample our refueling units once a month to make sure the filter elements in the filter separators, that catch water and particulates that could make their way into aircraft, are still good."

Wilson explained the frequency of fuel deliveries varies, but it normally adds up to about 700,000 gallons per week.

"We flush our pump houses monthly and we also sample the liquid oxygen our trucks carry for aviators' breathing," Wilson said. "Transient aircraft that come in sometimes need lox (liquid oxygen) tank refills. We don't test it here, but we do sample it and send it away for testing."

One of their regular tests involves assessing the free water and particulate content, as well as the color, of Jet A. They do this by extracting fuel from a tank and exposing single weight and aeronautical engineering laboratory pads to the fuel and reading the results.

"Sometimes you catch fuel that's bad," Lazurka said. "Jet A has additives that are put in it, and they each have a specific purpose. It's our job to make sure the right amount of additives have been put in the fuel so the aircraft can operate correctly."

Each task in POL could be a simple one were it not for the sheer volume of fuel and the number of tanks the shop is responsible for.

"It's good to know that we're vital to the mission," said Staff Sgt. Chris Ericksen, a 4th LRS fuels accountant.

In fact, the work the POL shop does every day has an effect that is even more far reaching than most people might realize.

"It's a really good feeling because all of the F-15 aircrews come here to train, so what we do has a big impact around the world," Osborn said.