FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. -- Adorned with training computer terminals and dark leather couches, the staging area for the fuels distribution team has the tense air of any waiting room. Refueling equipment operators can be seen pouring over the latest training materials, going over safety checklists and reviewing daily schedules, waiting with anticipation for an order to come through a tiny window in the wall that leads to the fuels dispatcher.
A phone rings.
A crew chief’s team for a KC-135R Stratotanker has just finished performing maintenance on the aircraft and now the last vital element -- its precious fuel -- is needed for the aircraft to be mission ready. The dispatcher hands orders and a safety kit to a pair of refueling operators who then rush to the flight line.
“The fuels service center is where the whole process begins,” said Staff Sgt. Nicholas Hawkins, 92nd LRS fuels service center controller. “The Airmen here are in control of all of our fuel assets from start to finish: our checklists, dispatching refueling trucks out to aircraft and accounting for the fuel issued to other aircraft in-flight by our tankers, and the base ground vehicles.”
Fuel must pass a stringent quality inspection in the fuels laboratory. Airmen there carefully verify that the fuel mix is correct, free of contaminants, and safe to handle by refueling team Airmen.
“Once the aircraft is in the air, if the fuel mix is bad or there wasn’t enough of a certain additive, then something could go wrong.” said Staff Sgt. Cody Brazil, 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron NCOIC of fuels distribution. “When you are thousands of feet in the air, freezing fuel can bring an aircraft down and nobody wants that, so our fuels laboratory specialists continuously test the fuel to ensure it meets specific standards.”
The inspection doesn’t stop with the fuel. To ensure that a high level of safety is maintained, all the equipment is regularly checked and the fuel team Airmen are constantly updated on the latest safety training.
“We run through checklists on all the equipment first thing each day,” said Airman Lorinda Hochstetler, 92nd LRS fuels equipment operator. “Fuel isn’t good to get on your skin, the fumes can make you sick, and of course it can catch fire or explode. It can be repetitive and tedious to do this all the time, but we have to do it to make sure there are no spills or other incidents.”
The last step of getting the fuel out to aircraft is the job of the refueling equipment operators, who need to react with quick coordination, regardless of the environmental conditions, in order to safely complete their task.
“Fairchild has a response time goal of 20 minutes. However, we go constantly above and beyond with an average response time of 12 minutes, after the fuel request comes through, to arrive at the aircraft.” Brazil said. “One of our hydrant refueling vehicles can pump up to 1,000 gallons of fuel per minute and a single aircraft can hold up to 24,000 gallons, which is approximately 160,000 pounds.”
Requests for fuel come from across the base to include the 141st Air Refueling Wing, the Survival School’s UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopters, the Army 140th Aviation Brigade’s UH-72 Lakota helicopters and more that use the base to carry out missions.
The fuels flight mission is to get fuel to aircraft so our refueling tankers can not only fly, but perform their mission and help keep our country safe, Brazil said.
“Our fuels Airmen are dedicated professionals who provide quality petroleum products; anytime and anyplace,” said Master Sgt. Joshua Schneider, 92nd LRS Fuels Operations Center superintendent.