News | Feb. 3, 2018

Following the Fuel

By Master Sgt. Phil Speck 379th Air Expeditionary Wing

High above a cold and dusty mountain range in Afghanistan, an F-16 Fighting Falcon receives fuel from a KC-135 Stratotanker at more than 30,000 feet. Many man hours and quality control processes are completed by U.S. Air Force Airmen and civilian contractors to ensure this fighter receives the fuel it needs to complete the mission.

JP-8, the fuel used by the Air Force in jet engine aircraft, starts as Jet A-1 fuel that is brought in by ships. Fuel system icing inhibitor additive and corrosion inhibitor are added to make into JP-8 at the port.  It is then stored at the port until the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron Fuels Flight requests it for resupply at Al Udeid Air Base.  The aviation fuel is then stored in holding tanks on base and pushed to fill stands and hydrant facilities for customers to use.

During this process, the fuel is filtered and tested multiple times to ensure a quality product for Air Force assets.  From the holding tank facility, JP-8 flows through a filter separator on the issue side and again through the receipt side at the base storage facility.  The repeated filtration ensures that the fuel is clean and within standards until it reaches the end user the aircraft.

“We ensure the Air Force receives clean, dry fuel to the aircraft,” said Lavell Anderson, a civilian contractor with Maytag Aircraft Corporation.

Planes at AUAB are normally fueled using 6,000-gallon R-11 tanker trucks, likewise R-12 hydrant hose trucks connect to outlets in the ground on the flight line. The R-12 is quickest and most efficient method of fueling because it only needs to connect to the hydrant and the plane once until the aircraft takes its required load. After hooking up to a hydrant, it pumps fuel into planes at a rate of around 750 gallons per minute. 

In the past six months, the fuels flight has safely overseen the throughput of 195 million gallons of JP-8, valued at $400 million of fuel. They have also received 4.5 million gallons of diesel and gasoline (ground fuel) for the more than 1,500 ground vehicles on base.  The flight is also responsible for all of the liquid oxygen for aircrew safety systems and liquid nitrogen for aircraft tires for AUAB and several forward-operating bases across the AOR.

“Our job as the professional fuel handlers here at AUAB is to never run out of it, contaminate it or spill it,” said Master Sgt. Jory J. Ohmer, fuels contracting officer representative assigned to the 379th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron.

The KC-135s at Al Udeid are all fueled to a standard ramp fuel load, meaning that each aircraft has the same amount of fuel, regardless of the mission it is supporting.  This is to decrease the burden on scheduling, the fuels flight, maintenance crews, and to increase operational flexibility.

“If an aircrew steps to one airplane and encounters a maintenance issue that can’t be fixed during the preflight, the crew can step to a spare airplane and complete the scheduled mission because the airplanes all have the same amount of fuel on them,” said Lt. Col. Cory L. Clagett, the commander of the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron here. 

Depending on what season it is at AUAB, the ramp loads can vary because the performance of engines in cold weather versus hot determines how much fuel they take on their missions. Planes can take off in the winter at greater weights because the air is more dense and the tanker’s engines perform better. 

Another reason to keep a standard amount of gas on the tankers is because sometimes the aircrews may not know how many receivers they will refuel and how much fuel they will offload to those receivers.  Though aircrews develop a plan based on who their receivers are going to be before a mission launches, plans can change quickly in such a dynamic war.

“We don’t always have that luxury,” Clagett said. “We don’t necessarily know today who our receivers are going to be tomorrow. Right now, those plans are being finalized within the [Combined Air Operations Center].”

The KC-135 Stratotankers fly across the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility. This includes Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, the Horn of Africa and Arabian Gulf missions.  They can refuel a full spectrum of receivers including, but not limited to, the U.S. Air Force B-52, F-16s, A-10s, C-17s, U.S. Navy F-18s, and Coalition fighters, such as the Royal Air Force’s Mirage. 

“I truly believe if it weren’t for the men and women of this squadron, we could not effectively prosecute the war,” Clagett added.  “With this squadron alone offloading nearly two-thirds of the gas in the AOR, it’s pretty obvious how important our Airmen are to the air war out here.”

With multiple sorties every day, there is always a KC-135 tanker in the air over the AOR. Like a gas station, the 340th EARS is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. 

“The lights are never off and it’s always a beehive of activity around here,” Clagett said. “Operations don’t slow down just because it’s the weekend or a holiday. Day or night, weekend or weekday, it’s the same mission for our staff and aircrews. I couldn’t be more proud of them. Our Airmen are unquestionably mission oriented, hardworking, dedicated, and non-stop focused… they make it happen and crush the mission every day.”

Editor's note: The original story can be viewed on the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing website.