By Air Force Senior Airman Bahja J. Jones
379th Air Expeditionary Wing
SOUTHWEST ASIA, July 19, 2013 – Aircrew members depend on several moving parts to ensure an aircraft is properly maintained and prepped for a safe mission. A part of this preparation is ensuring that the fuel and oxygen within the aircraft are safe and free of contaminates that could negatively affect the mission.
"Our lab is a world-class facility containing more than $750,000 in equipment, and has the capability to detect trace amounts of contaminates in fuel and oxygen samples," said Air Force Maj. Joshua Kittle, the 379th ELRS/AFPA chief, deployed from Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M.
Fuels-lab airmen conduct tests to ensure the fuel and oxygen is clean, which helps flight crews breathe easier. Once the lab obtains the samples, they run a series of tests to check for signs of contamination. For fuels, they run a total of 15 different tests, and for gases, up to eight. The tests take several hours to complete.
One test requires running fuels through a Jet Fuel Thermal Oxidation Tester, or JFTOT. The JFTOT is intended to simulate the pressure and temperature environment experienced by the fuel as it circulates through an aircraft.
"If we see pressure build-up, it's a sign of contamination," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Thomas Capaldo, the 379th ERLS/AFPA noncommissioned officer-in-charge of fuels, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas.
After the samples are analyzed, any test failures are reported to the AFPA technical division at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, which interprets the results and provides corrective action back to the area of responsibility.
"If we weren't here, it would take weeks to complete mission-critical tasks," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Rocky Sasse, the 379th ELRS/AFPA noncommissioned officer-in-charge of gases, deployed from McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.
"Each sample we test saves the Air Force time and money," Sasse said.
Without the 379th ELRS aerospace fuels lab, the process to have fuels tested would take up to four weeks, and delay critical missions within the area of responsibility, or AOR.
"Fuel can't be used until the area lab says it's okay to put in the aircraft," Kittle said. "If our lab wasn't in the AOR, it could take weeks for that sample to arrive stateside and get tested. Meanwhile, the aircraft would be burning up the fuel already cleared, resulting in a situation where there is no more cleared fuel."
This is the first all-military rotation in the fuels laboratory as the AFPA is typically staffed by civilians.
"[The] AFPA mission is new to us ... this rotation has presented us with some unique learning challenges," Kittle said. "It's given us a chance to see a different side of the Air Force, and opportunities to bring our experiences to the AFPA mission."