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Without POL pilots are pedestrians

Staff Sgt. Buzz Decker drags a fuel hose from a 6,000-gallon tanker to an F-16 on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline at Tucson International Airport; a process that is repeated nearly 1,200 times each month. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

Staff Sgt. Buzz Decker drags a fuel hose from a 6,000-gallon tanker to an F-16 on the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline at Tucson International Airport; a process that is repeated nearly 1,200 times each month. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

Tech. Sgt. Sean Ehlert, lab technician from the 162nd Fighter Wing, connects a receiver hose to a tanker truck’s discharge valve. The tankers each deliver 8,000-gallons of jet fuel that will be pumped into the base storage tanks and then reissued later that same morning to the wing’s fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

Tech. Sgt. Sean Ehlert, lab technician from the 162nd Fighter Wing, connects a receiver hose to a tanker truck’s discharge valve. The tankers each deliver 8,000-gallons of jet fuel that will be pumped into the base storage tanks and then reissued later that same morning to the wing’s fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Each of the four lumbering, green tanker trucks milled about the 162nd Fighter Wing flightline as their drivers searched for jets in need of fuel.

The 6,000-gallon tankers could each refuel five jets; but on any given day more than 54,000 gallons of fuel would be loaded onto many more. The fuel from one tanker would be but a drop in a very large bucket.

Moving more than 1.2 million gallons of jet fuel each month, the Airmen in charge of petroleum, oils and lubricants, or POL, take on a daunting task; but one thing's for sure, without POL the pilots charged with training partner-nation air forces in the F-16 Fighting Falcon would be earth bound.

"Our mission is to support the wing with jet fuel for the aircraft, and ground fuels such as unleaded and diesel, and liquid oxygen," said Master Sgt. Daniel Larrivas, a fuels manager with 27 years of experience.

Jet fuel arrives each morning in 8,000-gallon contractor-owned tankers. Fuels technicians here receive the fuel, test its quality and purity in the lab, and then re-issue the fuel out to the jets.

"We don't have a big storage facility, so what we receive we issue back out. We've received as much as 1.5 million gallons in a month," said Sergeant Larrivas. "And that's just the jet fuel."

After the fuel is received, the purity and viscosity of the fuel must be tested. A paper filter is first weighed on a lab scale, and then a gallon of jet fuel is flushed through the filter. As fuel passes through the filter, the sediments clog it. This slows the speed at which the fuel is filtered.

"The more sediment there is in the fuel the longer it will take the fuel to go through the filter. Obviously, the less time it takes the better," said Staff Sgt. Anthony Francisco, lab technician.

"We use a clock to determine how long it takes [to filter a gallon of fuel]. It is usually four to seven minutes; the max limit is 20 minutes," said Tech. Sgt. Sean Ehlert, lab technician.
The amount of particles in the fuel must be carefully determined; a guess or visual inspection isn't enough.

"We will weigh the new filter, pass a gallon of fuel through it, and then dry it. Once it is dry we weigh it again; the difference [from the weights before and after] is the weight of the sediments," Sergeant Ehlert said.

At each step in the process, from receiving the fuel, to storing it, to transporting it to the jets requires careful maintenance and control to prevent contaminants from getting into the fuel.

"Our lab mission statement is, 'We have the cleanest fuel in the whole wide world.' It's kept clean by how we receive it and maintain the equipment to keep out the water and sediment," said Sergeant Larrivas.

The most visible of all the equipment are the storage tanks and tanker trucks. But surprisingly enough, the storage tanks belong to another organization.

"Our fuel doesn't belong to us until we issue it to the aircraft; it's owned by Defense Logistics Agency. They own the fuel and maintain a large portion of our storage facilities - we conduct minor maintenance on the tanks," explained Larrivas.

The jets are always kept full of fuel, but every so often a jet needs maintenance work performed. When that happens, the jets have to be defueled. "We usually do about two defuels a day; they are usually fully fueled with about 1,100 gallons," said Sergeant Larrivas.

At each step of the process from receiving the fuel, to testing it, to issuing it, and when necessary defueling, each gallon is accounted for. But this isn't as easy as just counting gallons.

"In the summer the fuel will expand due to the temperature. This causes huge gains. In the winter the cold temperatures cause it to contract, so we get some loss," said Sergeant Larrivas.

Also, when pumping fuel it's easiest to measure in volume, so when it's bought and issued gallons are used. But when planning a flight, weight is the main consideration. "When maintenance receives the fuel they talk pounds where we talk gallons," the sergeant said.
At a specific altitude the weight of the fuel doesn't change; however, the volume will increase or decrease with changes in temperature.

To account for all the changes, the volume of the fuel when received or issued is adjusted to its equivalent volume at 60 degrees, said Sergeant Larrivas. "And a gallon of fuel weighs 6.7 pounds."

To prepare technicians for the job, each person attends a six-week technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. Main topics at the school include storage, distribution, an overview of liquid oxygen, accounting and lab work.

"It cannot be overstated how important POL is to the international pilot training mission here," said Col. Karen Bence, 162nd Mission Support Group commander. "They move mountains on a daily basis to keep our aircraft flying and the wing appreciates their work tremendously."

"Without fuel the planes wouldn't go anywhere; no one in the Air National Guard or Air Force would have a job. The POL motto says it best, 'without POL pilots are pedestrians,'" she said.