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LOX of Work

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sandra Bueno
  • 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Without fuel, pilots are merely pedestrians. Just ask Donald B. “Mac” McNeal. “If they can’t breathe, they can’t fly,” says the superintendent of fuels and operations. He is responsible for ensuring pilots have fuel and air on board every aircraft departing Homestead Air Reserve Base.
Falling under the umbrella of Fuels Operations, Liquid Oxygen and Liquid Nitrogen (LOX/LIN), are what keeps pilots in the lifeline. Without safe handling by trained personnel, these volatile materials can cause severe damage to aircraft and facilities, as well as injury and death to those in its immediate area.
Highly combustible and unstable, LOX is stored in 3,000 gallon tanks, at a temperature of 297 degrees below zero. Its volatility is such that a drop of oil can cause it to explode.
LIN, on the other hand, is an inert gas, which is not highly compressible. This makes it safer than air to use to fill the struts or shocks in aircraft. Aircraft mechanics use nitrogen rather than air when verifying pipes for leaks; the purging or blowing of pressurized air can cause the pipe to blow and the air inside to cut whatever or whomever is in its path.
Mechanics also use nitrogen to test jet fuel. This seems like an easy task, but nitrogen is quite lethal. Nitrogen is stored at a temperature of 300 degrees below zero and touching it will cause any body part it touches to freeze immediately and fall off, according to Mac.
Keeping a pure supply of oxygen is an important task for the 482d Fuels Operations section. To keep the necessary supply, specialists take odor samples from the stainless steel oxygen storage tanks daily.
The Fuels Operations section distributes over 8,000 gallons of oxygen per year. The oxygen is dispensed to pilots via converters that hold five liters of oxygen, which yields about four hours of breathing time.
As planes land, crew chiefs of the 482d Aircrafts Maintenance Squadron transport the oxygen-filled converters from the aircraft to a Multiple Servicing Unit (MSU). Four converters can be filled within ten minutes, and made ready for the next aircraft to use.
“There is no room for error when it comes to LOX. If we don’t do it right, the pilots and the fuels specialists can all be in danger,” McNeal said.
With Mr. McNeal and his oxygen experts, pilots are breathing easy.