News: Crew chiefs provide breathing room
Story by Senior Airman Kayla Newman
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan – As a white fog begins to form on the ground beneath a C-130J Super Hercules, a masked U.S. Air Force airman waits patiently until the source of the mist has begun spilling a steady stream from the aircraft.
This is not an accident, the C-130J crew chief must wait until a steady stream of liquid oxygen is flowing from the vent of the aircraft before they are finished servicing it with LOX.
With a significant flying mission at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, pilots and aircrew members rely heavily on the crew chiefs to provide thorough maintenance as well as the required amount of LOX for their missions.
“LOX is oxygen in the form of liquid until it is converted into gas,” explained Senior Airman Matthew Martin, 455th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron C-130J crew chief. “Anytime the aircraft flies over a certain altitude it becomes hard to breathe, so LOX allows pilots, aircrew members and everyone on board the ability to breathe while in the air.”
Servicing the aircraft with LOX is a fairly quick process but requires a significant amount of protective gear for the crew chief.
“LOX boils at -297 degrees, so if it gets on skin it will instantly burn because it is so cold,” said Martin.
Before servicing can begin, crew chiefs are required to wear a white jumpsuit to cover their arms, legs and boots. They must also wear long gloves and a backwards ABU cap to protect their neck. Lastly, they protect their face and eyes with goggles and a face shield.
Once the crew chiefs are properly protected and the aircraft has been made safe for service, LOX can then be distributed.
“In order to service the aircraft with LOX, we have to follow the steps in the technical order,” said Martin. “To start, we have to check the oxygen regulators inside the aircraft and then we will set up our LOX cart.”
Crew chiefs also place drip trays on the ground to keep the LOX from rolling around.
“The technical order then takes you through actually servicing the aircraft,” said Martin, deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. “You know you are done servicing the aircraft when you have a steady stream of LOX coming out of the vent of the aircraft.”
While LOX is important to have in every aircraft, it is exceptionally important in aircraft with smaller cockpits, such as the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
“When the pilots are up at a high altitude and in a small space, they need their own oxygen,” said Airman 1st Class Chris Lacroix, 455th EAMXS A-10 Thunderbolt II crew chief. “When they are doing a lot of maneuvers especially, they need the extra oxygen to keep them awake.”
Crew chiefs service the A-10 Thunderbolts with five liters of LOX, but how often they service the aircraft depends on the pilot.
“We typically service the aircraft every one or two flights,” said Lacroix, deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga. “If the aircraft just landed and it still has four liters of LOX left and we know that it is about to fly again, we will wait until it gets down to about 3 liters before we service it again.”
However, if an aircraft is going to be on the ground for a while, it will be serviced between flights.
While servicing aircraft with LOX may be a simple task for many crew chiefs, it is vital that it is done properly and that the correct amount of LOX is put into the various types of aircraft.