News | Aug. 19, 2016

Cryogenics give pilots breath of fresh air

By Senior Airman Areca T. Bell 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Pilots operating at high altitudes need to bring oxygen with them to prevent hypoxia; luckily there are Team Aviano Airmen dedicated to making this happen.

Airmen assigned to the 31st Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels facility play an important role in ensuring every pilot has this important provision with them. 

“We provide oxygen for the pilots to breathe—without it they wouldn’t be able to fly at high altitudes to support our base’s mission,” said Staff Sgt. Chantz Wyant, 31st LRS fuels facility supervisor. “We also provide liquid nitrogen for emergency power units on the F-16s. In the event of engine failure, the aircraft uses the nitrogen to get the engine going until fuel can take over.”

Fuels facility Airmen fill an average of 1,200 gallons of liquid oxygen and 1,200 gallons of liquid nitrogen per month. They also perform multiple inspections to guarantee Air Force standards are maintained.

“We perform a variety of daily inspections to make sure our fittings are tight and our tanks don’t leak,” Wyant explained. “We take samples of liquid oxygen every 90 days and send them to our aerial lab to ensure our product is at least 99.5 percent pure oxygen.”

The fuels facilities Airmen are not only working to provide mission critical products, but are also focused on saving Air Force assets. In their quest to do so, they put procedures in place to preserve liquid oxygen and nitrogen. 

“We have a conservation policy that we follow to prevent the loss of liquid nitrogen or liquid oxygen. It states that we will not fill a liquid nitrogen or liquid oxygen cart if it has more than 20 gallons of product available,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Nichols, 31st LRS fuels facilities NCO in charge. 

Along with preventing loss of products, fuel facilities Airmen are focused on protecting another important asset—its people. Cryogenic Airmen must adhere to all safety guidelines to prevent injury and possible loss of life.

Handling the two products comes with the risk of being burned if it is spilled. The Airmen must wear special equipment to protect themselves from the liquid oxygen and nitrogen’s dangerously low temperatures of minus 297 and minus 320 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. They wear equipment to ensure no part of their skin is exposed to the extreme low temperature of the products. Additionally, there must be two person’s present at all time in case of an emergency.

“It is important for us to wear personal protection equipment when filling the carts because of the risk we could run into if the product were to get on our skin,” Nichols explained. “If liquid oxygen or liquid nitrogen contacted our skin we would be severely burned.”

Although working with cryogenics runs the risk of being physically harmed, Wyant said he enjoys executing his part of the 31st Fighter Wing’s mission.

“I love the fact that we provide the pilots their oxygen to breathe while they are up there protecting us,” he said. “Whether it’s downrange, here or back in the states, I like knowing that I am helping protect my family and friends.”

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on the Aviano Air Base website.