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One drop at a time

The mission is to fight for a foreign country’s rights of freedom, humanitarian aid, medical evacuations or to haul cargo to a distant land – to some it may seem there is nothing the KC-135 can’t do.

But it can’t do anything without fuel.

Traveling from a station off base through underground pipes, the fuel particles bound through their pitch-black tube before entering massive storage containers where they lay in waiting.

They sit for perhaps months, dreaming of the opportunity when they will be loaded into the KC-135 and transferred to an aircraft in need.

In the meantime, the particles hear the sounds of petroleum, oil and lubrication Airmen working and maintaining the storage tanks that they temporarily call home.

Once it’s their turn, they will travel through underground pipes into more storage tanks, that are next to the flight line, and then through a pump house and into “the pits.”

The pits are 10 feet deep holes in the ground next to KC-135 parking spots that supply the fuel for the aircraft.

“The POL Airmen drive specialized trucks that basically have two hoses on them, one connects to the pits and the other connects to the aircraft,” said Tech. Sgt. Dan Drain, NCOIC of Fuels Compliance, 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron.

“The pressure to fill the aircraft is provided by the centrally located pump house and the truck is used to stabilize the pressure and filter out any contamination,” he said. “The entire system, including underground piping, pits and hoses is very similar to a fire hydrant system, just with highly flammable and toxic liquid instead of life sustaining water.”

The KC-135 holds approximately 28,400 gallons of fuel particles, at a price of $1.34 per gallon; each aircraft is carrying more than $38,000 worth of fuel. 

“The fuel, JP-8, is more dry than your normal diesel fuel,” he said. “Fuel actually has lubrication in it that helps keep the engine running smoothly, JP-8 has very little.”

Although a diesel engine may run on JP-8 for a short time, the engine would soon seize. A normal gasoline engine found in a passenger car would have no hope of running on it.

The particles have traveled through the pits, truck and hoses and once to the aircraft they can go to one of ten fuel tanks: four in the body of the aircraft and six in the wings.

“The wing tanks have baffles in them, walls with a hole in it, they are used for the structural integrity of the aircraft and help prevent the fuel from sloshing around in the airplane,” said Tech. Sgt. Rodney Payton, NCOIC of Fuels Shop, 92nd Maintenance Squadron.

Along with the fuel in the wing tanks, fuel is also carried in fuel cells within the body, which are large rubber and nylon bags, he said.

Fuel shop Airmen have to crawl through these bags, and through the holes in the baffles, to change out different components, check for leaks or other check-listed items.

Col. (Anthony) Mauer, (commander, 92nd Air Refueling Wing) came down and crawled through these areas with us and had a first hand look on how we do business, he said. He had a blast.

After the fuel is loaded onto the aircraft, the pilots must manage it as they would any other system on the aircraft.

We change the center of gravity of the aircraft by shifting the weight of the fuel from one tank to the other to maximize the performance of the aircraft, said Lt. Col. John Arias, instructor pilot, 92nd Air Refueling Wing. We want the KC-135 balanced differently in long range flying than landing.

The weight of the aircraft also changes during refueling, the pilot must constantly monitor the center of gravity and adjust which tank the fuel is being drawn from to prevent the center of gravity to drift into the red zone.

After being touched by so many organizations, the fuel cells finally complete their mission and are transferred to the receiving aircraft.

As long as Fairchild handles the fuel, everyone has the fuel to fight.

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