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Fuel Cell, Total Force Enterprise at work

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Lee Brown
  • 141st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Opening the door to the fuels systems hangar is like stepping into a huge gas tank. The smell of fumes is very distinct to an outsider walking in, but to the men and women who work in this environment it's hardly even noticeable.

There are many challenging jobs across the Air Force and Air National Guard, each one with unique circumstances that make the job difficult. One of these career fields is an Aircraft Fuel Systems specialist, they troubleshoot, diagnose and repair aircraft fuel tanks and the components that connect the tanks to the engine and the refueling boom.

Claustrophobic work conditions, volatile and hazardous fumes and frustrated searches for a small leak in a KC-135 Stratotanker are all part of the job.

Keeping a 58-year old aircraft free of leaks is a never ending job.

"We can fix one leak to find out there is another one five feet away," said Staff Sgt. Dustin Flock, 141st Maintenance Squadron fuel cell technician. "It's frustrating thinking you fixed the problem and then realize there are more issues to fix."  

Fixing a leak may seem like a simple task, "look there's a leak... patch it." Unfortunately it is more complicated than that. A fuel leak, can travel down the skin of the aircraft using the path of least resistance until if finds an area to leak through the aircraft skin. It could be 30 feet or more away, not even near the tank where the leak first showed up. 

"It's a very time consuming job, it could take hours to prep the aircraft before we can even do our job," said Tech. Sgt. Brandon Fenton, 141st Maintenance Squadron fuel cell technician. "It could take six hours just to get into the tank before I can start looking for and repair the leak."

A benefit to all Airmen in the fuels shop is that they are Total Force Integrated. The 92nd Air Refueling Wing and the 141st ARW work side-by-side to accomplish the mission and keep the KC-135 in the air.

"Some of the guys on active duty have only worked on KC-135's for a year or two because they came from other airframes," said Fenton. "I've been working on it full-time for the last 10 years. The benefit is that I get to pass on my knowledge to both the active duty and our traditional guardsmen."

Training side-by-side ensures the fuels system shop produce top quality maintenance professionals to keep the Stratotankers airborne. 

The job requires the highest attention to detail. Every tool must be accounted for and every step must be followed in the technical order. Failure to follow published guidance is not an option for the men and women in this section.

"If we fail to properly install the fuel pumps then the engines won't get fuel," said Fenton. "No fuel means that planes could crash, but we're not going to let that happen."

This career field is one of the reasons that the Air Force has global reach. Tankers offload fuel to aircraft that deliver close air support, airborne intelligence, search and rescue and numerous other missions that the Air Force supports. Without fuel systems specialists, the KC-135 would never get off the ground and could not deliver fuel to other aircraft, making fuels systems specialists the backbone of how the Air Force "fuels the fight."