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Fuels Management Wing provides service with a smile

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
photo by Nick Stubbs
Staff Sgt. Troy Helper has the critical job of testing fuel quality. Contaminants or water in aircraft fuel can lead to disaster..

Next to the quality of the air crews that fly them, perhaps nothing goes into a plane that is more important than fuel and MacDill's "service station" has earned the reputation for top-flight performance one can stake his life upon.

"Clean and dry," is what the Fuels Management Flight sets as its goal for each drop of fuel that goes into every fuel tank on base. The phrase means free of contamination and water, both of which can be the difference between a safe flight and a disaster.

"We provide prompt, clean and dry fuel in support of the military operations 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," said Sr. Master Sgt. Kenneth Peartree, fuels superintendent. "We support any airframe, vehicle or installation that needs our assistance, from the four military services to federal agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration." What that amounts to annually is 12 million gallons of aviation fuel to 3,800 aircraft. Some 400,000 gallons of unleaded and diesel fuel is provided to various other vehicles each year. The Flight is under the 6th Logistics Readiness Squadron and his lead by First Lt. Walter Dedrick, who leads a group that "talks, eats, breathes and sleeps teamwork."

The critical job of ensuring the purity of fuels falls to the Fuels Lab, under the supervision of Staff Sgt. Troy Helper. There, fuels purchased by the Defense Logistics Agency's Defense Supply Center from commercial suppliers, are tested to ensure they are clean and ready for distribution. Once approved, the fuel is stored and distributed by fuel hydrants for large volumes and by truck for smaller volumes. It is sold to customers by credit to the Department of Defense, NATO forces and other qualified government entities, said Peartree.

Within a wing, all fuels support requests start at the Resources Control Center. The RCC is the nerve center of the Fuels Flight and operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and is the initiation and control point for fuels operations but also for emergency actions and response, much like the Maintenance Operations Center for flightline operations. Staff Sgt. William Carver, fuels resource controller, keeps the Fuels Management Team informed of key issues affecting operations. His unit tracks, compiles and processes each fuels operation on the base, processing more than 5,800 transactions annually. His team also recoups fuels issued to other organizations through KC-135 in-flight refuels, which last year returned $3.5 million to the Wing.

Master Sgt. Dennis Maher, fuels operations superintendent, leads 35 personnel in operations that take fuel to the skin of the aircraft. Fuels distribution is led by Master Sgt. George Corbitt, who manages all aspects of direct support to aircraft and ground equipment for mobile aviation and ground fuels support.

Safety is an important element of the Flight and "before most everyone has had their second cup of coffee," said Peartree, Tech Sgt. Frank Deal and his crew perform a checkpoint inspection comprised of more than 40 checks on every refueling vehicle in the fleet.

High-volume refueling is handled via the hydrant system, run through pump houses, managed by Master Sgt. Scott Brisson. Cryogenic products like liquid oxygen and nitrogen also are distributed via the hydrant system and the Fuels Flight is responsible for guaranteeing the purity of these substances.

Overseeing regulatory compliance and safety is Master Sgt. Gregory Ferrell, the Flight compliance superintendent. Few realize what leads up to the operation of filling the fuel tank of a plane or other vehicle, but 50 distinct tasks are behind each refueling and each has a checklist, some with dozens of steps, to ensure safety.

"Customers at our service station lift the pump, don't worry if there will be fuel available, pump their gas and drive off, never having to worry who pays or if will stall their engine," said Peartree. "It's just expected and that's just the way we like it."

One of the most important tasks of the Fuels Flight is testing of fuel for Air Force One, said Master Sgt. William Delos Santos. Whenever the president visits any location in central Florida. Samples are drawn from the fuel source and ensure "absolute quality," they are delivered by Helper and his team to the Defense Area Laboratory for detailed specification checks. Such was the case when the president visited MacDill recently.

"It is added security and is a sort of double check," said Delos Santos. Another critical role the Flight plays is in the realm of mobility. Support element manages Fuels Mobility Readiness and Training, much of which is specifically designed to support the war fighter. Members of the Flight are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.

In these operations Fuels Mobility Support Equipment is a critical element of combat air power and support in areas with little or no existing fuels infrastructure, said Peartree.

"You call, we haul. Any place, any time," said Peartree.

When needed, within hours a team can receive a shipment of Fuels Mobility Support equipment via transport to any abandoned or recently acquired runway. In less than 24 hours the team can have a fully operational fuel storage and flightline support area capable of simultaneous refueling of several aircraft at rates of 1,000 gallons per minute or more. During the Gulf War, nearly 75 percent of all fuel used in the theater was supported by FMSE operations and during Operation Iraqi Freedom, some locations pumped more than a million gallons of fuel per day.

The key to success for MacDill's Fuels Management Wing is the teamwork and a genuine "sense of family," said Peartree, adding the unit is "close-knit group of proud professionals, working toward a common goal."

 

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