Fuels Management: Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants

  • Published
  • By Nicholas Pilch
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – When you think of refueling aircraft in the Air Force, you probably only consider the actual fuel we fill up our aircraft with, but what if you knew everything that happens in fuels isn’t solely based on fuels?

The 60th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels management flight or petroleum, oils and lubricants (POL) at Travis AFB keeps our aircraft in the air. Within fuels, there are nine sections and every Airman in the flight is stacked with the skills to project American power …  anytime, anywhere.

The flight is broken up into nine sections; fuels service center, fuels distribution, fuels equipment maintenance, fuels facilities, fuels hydrants, fuels cryogenics, fuels laboratory, fuels training and support and fuels knowledge operations. 

Fuels manages and accounts for the delivery of approximately 60 million gallons of fuel annually, valued at over 184 million dollars. They can store up to 14 million gallons on base and in a busy week run 187 separate operations delivering 1.4 million gallons of fuel to aircraft on our flight line.

At the heart of the operations, the fuels service center dispatches, tracks and is accountable for every gallon of fuel on base. Being in their small office feels like a situation room, but eerily silent.

There’s a dispatcher taking constant calls and having back-and-forth conversations on handheld radio, an accountant doing constant math and a noncommissioned officer in charge keeping the crew on top of everything.

“We’re here to make sure there are no missed go-times,” said Staff Sgt Noah Luntz, 60th LRS fuels controller, or other places would call him the dispatcher.

With an inventory of liquids larger than life, specifically, more than 14 million gallons at a time, the fuels shop tests every batch to ensure quality of product and correct ratio of additives.

“We’re testing the fuel quality as well as make sure the fuel is blended with additives and double check that the correct ratio is added,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Lukawecz, 60th LRS NCOIC fuels laboratory. “It’s another form of quality control, ensuring there’s no additional contaminates and, more importantly, keeping our mission going.” 

Jet-A with additives (JAA)  F-24 Fuel is delivered via underground piping and stored in massive storage tanks owned and maintained by contractors near across base. Then, fuel is transferred to POL bulk storage tanks, tested and then delivered to the fuels pump houses.

Fuels hydrants controls the distribution of fuel into all of the aircraft parked the Travis AFB   line. Whether aircraft are only passing through or they’re assigned to Travis, fuels hydrants have the capabilities to ensure they get the fuel they need.

“We have four pump houses, which means we can fuel up to 12 aircraft at a time,” said Eric Larson, 60th LRS fuels hydrants operator. “This is dependent on those pump houses delivering fuel through our underground system to the four different sections of the ramp.”

Over the last three years, two events have spurred the need to evacuate the flight line. In August of 2020, the LNU Lightning Complex Fire was spreading rapidly enough to be a danger to the Travis fleet and the call was made to get all aircraft to safety. Almost a year later, Operation Allies Refuge needed 16 aircraft and they deployed within days of each other. During both of these events, it was possible to accomplish the mission because of the infrastructure of how the fuel lines are organized under the flight line.

At any given time, each hydrant tank stores up to 420 thousand gallons. Externally, they are serviced every ten years and internally, every 20. The tanks have the ability to isolate water and other contaminates and drain automatically to be disposed of properly via a septic system.

Unfortunately, pumping fuel isn’t automatic; the Airmen do that, so they need reliable vehicles capable of connecting to the fuel lines or delivering fuel and that’s where fuels equipment maintenance comes in.

Fuels equipment maintenance is home to a 29-vehicle fleet. They have the R-11 Refueler, capable of carrying six thousand gallons of fuel and can distribute fuel at 600 gallons per minute. In comparison, gasoline pumps at your nearby gas station can pump around ten gallons per minute. For a quicker pump, fuels rely on the R-12 hydrant servicing vehicle, which connects directly to the in-ground piping system to push up to 1000 gallons per minute. To fuel heavy equipment that takes diesel and cannot make the drive to the base service station, where other government vehicles are refilled, fuels use a C-300 ground fuel servicing vehicle. 

“We do all of the same vehicle maintenance you could do on your car at home, but on a semi-larger scale,” said Senior Airman Brady Ruesch, 60th LRS fuel’s equipment maintenance technician. “We’re limited to rudimentary repairs though, when it comes to major components and filter elements, we rely on refueling maintenance team.”

Getting fuel into aircraft and large equipment, fuels pride themselves on a quick turnaround, but putting fuel into aircraft isn’t the only liquid fuels is keeping up with.

Liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen are pumped into every C-5M Super Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, as well. Oxygen keeps the aircrews alive and nitrogen is used to inflate tires and keep the fire suppression system armed. 

Cryogenic storage is home to up to 26 thousand gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen stored at negative 297 degrees. These tanks on base need routine maintenance and care as they are storing the lifeline for so many that fly missions. Sometimes, things happen, and service is needed and one of the more difficult, but exciting problems the section has is when they have to purge a tank.

“Troubleshooting the tanks has an extensive checklist but the last resort is we empty the tank, then with a purge cart, we use a fan that sends in ambient air, we turn on some heat to clear the contaminate in the lines and tank,” said Staff Sgt. Jeremy Fitzgerald, 60th LRS NCOIC cryogenic storage. “Under perfect conditions, this takes us eight hours but could take up to 64 hours and the tank is under 24-hour surveillance during the process.”

To service these tanks, the technicians don an impressive nine pieces of personal protective equipment, really giving true chemist vibes. They wear eyewear, a face shield, a hard hat, coveralls over an additional uniform, specifically designed over boots, welders’ gloves with cotton inserts and ear protection. 

Cryogenics will receive orders from aircraft maintenance and fulfill orders by request and crew chiefs will deliver the products into the various aircraft.

Fuels Facilities services the base service station keeping all 761 government vehicles in state and federal vehicle compliance as well as ensuring they have fuel, unleaded and diesel.

The last, but certainly not least, section of fuels is the Airmen that pump the planes full of gas, the fuels distribution section. Any time an aircraft or piece of heavy equipment needs filled, the customer calls the fuels service center and the fuels distribution section fulfills the order with no delay.

Over the last year, the team had busy week after busy week, with the exception of Christmas day where no plane or heavy equipment on base needed fuel.

Fuels at LRS is a 24-hour operation with 85 Airmen to support the heavy mission.

“The fuels management flight touches every mission set on this installation,” said Master Sgt. Jonathan Peabody, 60th LRS fuels superintendent. “From the fuel being provided to the emergency generators used to power the Medical Group to the fuel we provide the Aerial Port Squadron's heavy equipment used to load/unload millions of pounds of cargo each year, the fuel that's delivered to receivers via in-flight refuel over the Pacific, it couldn't happen without the men and women of POL. Our team's footprint spans the entire globe!”

Next time you see that white Travis AFB flash on a mobility aircraft flying over your house, remember the Airmen at the 60th LRS fuels flight that helped keep those wheels off the ground.