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Cryogenics Airmen supply cool fuel for climatic munition test

  • Published

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. - During the heat of the summer and into the humid Florida fall, Airmen suited up in protective gear to accept, manage and provide more than 19,000 gallons of over minus 300-degree Fahrenheit liquid nitrogen to support a three-month munition test here.

The 96th Logistics Readiness Squadron’s Fuels Management Flight was responsible for the effort.  To accomplish this task, the Petroleum Oil's and Lubricants cryogenics team increased their normal liquid nitrogen intake and delivery by more than 1,400%.  The team only issues an average of 2,100 gallons of liquid nitrogen over a normal three-month period for weapons tests, medical units, the fire department, and aircraft maintenance.

The tremendous service spike was for a BLU-137 Advanced Penetrator munition dynamic vibration and climatic test.  During this test, engineers exposed the munition to alternating 24-hour periods of extreme heat, up to 160 degrees, and extreme cold, minus 65.

To achieve the cold temperature, the engineers required approximately 700 gallons of liquid nitrogen per day to cool the climatic chambers.

The first question that arose from the task was could Eglin’s liquid nitrogen supplier even handle that much of a product demand with bi-weekly deliveries to the base’s 6,000-gallon cryogenic tanks, according to Tech. Sgt. Joshua Shafer, the Fuels Management Facilities NCO-in charge.

With more liquid nitrogen coming in and going out, the Fuels Management team refocused their service time and effort to meeting the test demand.  the team collaborated with testing engineers and the fuels servicing center to adapt a delivery schedule and put it into plan.  The typical daily requirement of four hours of work for cryogenics extended to approximately seven during the test.

This was essential to promptly adjust to fluctuating daily inventory tank levels and scheduled servicing dictated by the engineers, according to Shafer.  The team monitored the liquid nitrogen levels and proactively requested additional product deliveries from the supplier through the fuels servicing center, to ensure a seamless response to the engineers' demands and a successful test mission.

The demand increase meant the cryogenics Airmen were in direct contact with the highly volatile and dangerous liquid much more often.

“Adherence to stringent safety guidelines is paramount for cryogenic airmen to prevent injury and potential loss of life,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Killian, Fuels quality compliance section chief.

To be around the cryogenic tanks, Airmen must don specialized protective gear like gloves, visors, aprons on top of their uniforms to ensure no part of their skin is exposed.  This requirement was made much more daunting during summer afternoons along Eglin’s flightline.

“Wearing our additional personal protective equipment on top of our duty uniform can be cumbersome, fighting the ability to see due to the condensation from humidity and ability to breathe through our ventless goggles and hard hat face shield,” said Senior Airman Fred Stamatatos, 96th LRS, who administered many of the liquid nitrogen refuels during the test.  “Ultimately though, we know these measures are paramount and completely required for our own safety, and the safety of our team.”

The high volumes of liquid nitrogen the team handled compared to normal was a massive undertaking and with the age of the cryogenic tanks there was always a chance for component maintenance or even failure, according to Shafer.  However, during the timeline, the Airmen provided the product without a single incident. 

“The pivotal contribution of our Fuels cryogenics technicians significantly propelled the progress of an affordable and exceptionally dependable weapons system, directly influencing the effectiveness of our warfighters in the field,” said Chief Master Sgt. William Stapp, 96th LRS Fuels manager.