MacDill fuels management flight expedites hot pit refueling procedures; finds new avenue for innovation

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Zachary Foster
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

The 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels management flight recently implemented an innovative approach to hot pit refueling.

Hot pit refueling allows the aircraft to land and keep their engines running while they refuel. The technique requires highly specialized equipment to perform – until now.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Charles Ashworth, 6th LRS Firetruck and Refueling Maintenance (FARM) and Materiel Handling Equipment (MHE) maintenance section chief, first considered the idea to utilize one of the flight’s tankless trucks following a conversation with 6th LRS petroleum, oils and lubricant leadership.

According to Ashworth, a POL technician posed the question: “Why can’t we use our R-12 refuelers instead of the R-11s?” The answer being: “I’ve never seen it tried.”

The R-12 refueling trucks provide a distinct advantage over the previous model, the R-11, with its capability to tap into the installation’s fuel storage tanks. The new truck uses underground fuel lines drawing from two 1-million-gallon fuel containers as opposed to its predecessor's 6,000-gallon mobile tank.

Mission requirements dictate the need for fuel following a flight, however, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Naomi Mejia Brandi, 6th LRS POL fuels equipment maintenance team lead, approximates that a typical refuel for a KC-135 Stratotanker requires 10,000-18,000 gallons or two to three full R-11 crews. A reduction to one, using the R-12, would drastically reduce the strain on manpower across the squadron.

Ashworth took on the project to uncover whether the task was safe or even possible, seeing it as an opportunity to challenge himself and his team

“I spent a while researching to see if anybody had tried to implement this,” Ashworth said . “I reached out to contacts from other bases and our higher headquarters; nobody had any documentation on previous attempts to use the R-12.”

Ashworth and his team pooled their experience to identify limiting factors in the process. Evidently, there were not many. Refueling using the R-12 falls within the typical responsibilities of a POL technician and only requires a few additional safety checks to ensure the current fleet of trucks are capable of performing the task with engines running.

The largest portion of testing is completed by the 6th LRS FARM and MHE teams. Together, technicians performed a hydrostatic hose test to ensure the connecting equipment has the integrity to withstand extended pressure.

“Hydrostatic hose testing is an uncommon practice for us because they’re only necessary every three years,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Gomez Soto, 6th LRS MHE technician. “Typically bases outsource the inspection to industry partners, but we’ve taken on the responsibility because it lets us internally track everything going on with the vehicle and address concerns far quicker – and it saves a significant amount of money.”

According to Gomez Soto, the test consists of repeatedly pressurizing the hose to carefully assess any weak points and evaluate whether it's suitable for success.

“We’re looking for any leakage, bulges, defects – anything that looks like it may pose a threat,” explained Gomez Soto. “The end pieces feel the most pressure so we use special cages to block the water in an emergency. We want this test to go well, but we’re going to protect ourselves in case it doesn’t.”

After a thorough inspection, the team concluded the hose and rest of equipment passed all of their requirements and could move on to the next round of testing.

The FARM and MHE test used water to control the hose’s pressure and provide a safe material for technicians to handle. Following the hydrostatic testing, the hose may have residual water clung to its walls. According to Mejia Brandi, this could influence the quality of fuel being transferred from the truck to the aircraft.

An additional test is required to closely examine a sample after the hose has been flushed with jet fuel in the POL outdoor laboratory.

“After a hydrostatic test is done on the hoses, we run at least 300 gallons [of jet fuel] through the system to make sure any water is flushed out,” said Mejia Brandi. “Our lab takes a few samples to make sure that the fuel filter and water separator is working as it should.”

Mejia Brandi further explains, the fuel used in aircraft has a unique chemical composition. The presence of water may dilute that composition which could have adverse effects within the engine, putting the aircrew in danger. However, tests such as these thoroughly identify any issues long before reaching the aircraft.

Following the POL laboratory results, the first truck was successfully certified for hot pit refueling.

“The reason we took the initiative to do this was because this is the time and place to experiment,” Ashworth said . “When we’re in a deployed environment, the mission never stops. Stateside assignments are an opportunity for us to both familiarize ourselves with the process and excel in our domains. That way we can share that information with our teammates and slowly disseminate improvements to procedures across the force.”

Despite the 6th LRS POL’s capacity to complete hot pit refueling with the traditional method, Ashworth and his team took it upon themselves to expedite procedures at the local level with the intent to share their experience.

The new Air Force generation model is designed to spark innovation and to carry the framework to deployed areas of responsibility. Ashworth, Mejia Brandi and Gomez Soto proved the 6th Air Refueling Wing is ready and willing to lead the joint force, anytime and anywhere.