CHARLESTON AFB, S.C. –
About 6.3 million gallons of jet fuel is used every month on Charleston AFB. The 437th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels laboratory is responsible for making sure all of it is of the highest quality.
"Our job is to ensure clean, dry, serviceable fuel gets to the aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Tiffani Slaughter, 437 LRS fuels lab technician.
The fuels lab maintains the integrity of jet propellant 8, gasoline, bio-diesel fuel and liquid oxygen on the base using various testing and sampling methods.
The most used fuel, by far, on the base is JP-8, used to fuel Charleston's 53 C-17s and all transient aircraft coming through Charleston. From the time the fuel comes onto the base until it's pumped into the fuel tanks of a C-17 it is filtered and tested by the fuels lab multiple times, said Sergeant Slaughter.
The JP-8 is shipped six days a week to the base via a pipeline, is immediately filtered and goes directly to the storage tanks near the fuels flight building. While the JP-8 is flowing through the pipes, the fuels lab takes a sample to run tests on.
The Airmen make sure it doesn't have high levels of water or sediment and that it has proper levels of fuels system icing inhibitor and a static dissipation additive. The fuel is stored in the large tanks until it's used. The lab samples and tests the fuel in the tanks bi-monthly. The fuel is then pumped by the pumphouse through another filter into the hydrant system that runs underneath the flightline. The system provides fuel at nearly every spot on the flightline.
Finally, the fuel is pumped from the hydrant system through another filter into the aircraft by a pump truck. The fuels lab regularly tests the filters, which need to be replaced every three years, by pumping JP-8 through them and testing the filtered fuel.
"If it wasn't for the fuels lab how would we know if the fuel is good," said Airman Michael Leimbach, 437 LRS fuels lab technician. "If someone was tampering with the fuel how would we know? If there was water getting in the fuel how would we know? We vouch for the quality of the fuel."
Some of the tests the fuels lab performs on the fuel are the American Petroleum Institute gravity test and the flashpoint test. The API gravity test tests for fuel quality and ensures proper accounting of the fuel. Fuel expands and contracts depending on the temperature. For example, during the summer, when it's hot, the fuel expands so a shipment of 50,000 gallons might become 55,000 gallons during the heat of the day.
The gravity test provides a baseline so the Airmen can track the amount of fuel they have at any temperature. With the flashpoint test, fuels Airmen use a machine that slowly raises the temperature of a small sample of JP-8 until it burns. JP-8 should burn at anywhere from 145 to 150 degrees. If it's outside of that range there's a problem, said Airman Leimbach.
"The fuels lab is our quality control to make sure the jets are getting the best fuel possible," said 1st Lt. Brian Higgins, 437th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels management flight commander. "Without the fuels lab the Air Mobility Command's global mission couldn't continue."