Ready to receive: fueling the force

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Bumpus
  • 501st Combat Support Wing Public Affairs

All sorties have at least one thing in common, regardless of airframe, mission, flight time or payload.

All aircraft need fuel.

When visiting forces come to RAF Fairford, United Kingdom, it’s the responsibility of the 501st Combat Support Wing to make sure the fuel they need is available.

“This is what we train all year for,” said Frank Dailey, 420th Air Base Squadron site director at RAF Fairford. “Our job is to be able to quickly support the operational needs of visiting forces.”

But providing the fuel for visiting aircraft requires more than just having fuel on hand.

“The first thing we have to do is find out the flying schedule,” said John Modica of the 420th ABS. “Once we have that nailed down we can organize ourselves around it. Do we have the manning? Will there be night ops? Will we have to schedule overtime? There’s a lot of questions we have to get answered to make sure we can support the mission.”

All those questions need an answer, and often that answer requires preparation well in advance.

“It’s all about planning ahead,” said Capt. Micheal Poye, 501st CSW logistics officer. “If we don’t take into consideration all the little pieces it’s not going to work.”

Whenever a small group of people have to step up and step in it requires careful coordination and plenty of planning.

Fuel has to be checked and extra fuel ordered, work hours must be mapped out, and adjustments must be made to make sure the planes get off without a hitch.

“We only have a five man shop,” said Samantha Pike, fuel specialist at the 420th ABS. “When we have aircraft come in for exercises, like BALTOPS 16, it can be a bit of a struggle to keep up, sometimes.”

While, on the surface, it may not seem like refueling an aircraft would be particularly difficult, there is more to the operation than what is initially visible.

“It’s more than just putting fuel in the planes,” said Pike. “We have three main elements we have to focus on: making sure we have the stock we need to meet mission requirements, quality checking the fuel and the trucks, and providing liquid oxygen.”

Once the initial flow of aircraft has been stemmed and regular sorties begin to fly some of the responsibility is handed off to visiting forces, as their crews take over the responsibility of actually refueling the aircraft. However checking the fuel and prepping trucks and oxygen carts remains in the 420th ABS’s court.

While it may seem like a small job, fuels provides the life blood for every sortie out of RAF Fairford.

“It’s like we’re in an orchestra,” said Poye. “On our own you might not see the importance of the part we play, but when we are joined by the rest of the orchestra you can hear how we provide the harmony to the melody.”