News: Nitrogen and oxygen give pilots safe training
Story by Lance Cpl. Kenneth Trotter
IWAKUNI, Japan - An F/A-18 Hornet flies overhead, trailing its target at sub-sonic speeds.
The pilot’s breath is quick and sharp as he gets close to hearing the lock tone over the image of his evading opponent. Seconds seem to tick away as his breath becomes labored and slow, and that’s when he realizes his oxygen is nearly depleted. He must disengage the target and descends to 10,000 feet or risk unconsciousness. Without adequate oxygen, he must break off his pursuit, allowing his quarry to escape. For Cryogenics Marines from Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 12, this is a scenario they seek to prevent.
“We are the support for both the squadrons here but also back at (Marine Corps Air Station) Iwakuni, where we service them with liquid oxygen, gaseous oxygen and liquid nitrogen,” said Lance Cpl. Joseph S. Charles, a MALS-12 cryogenics technician.
The two states of oxygen serve the same purpose for the two squadrons both here and in Iwakuni.
“We service squadrons such as Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 115 with liquid oxygen for breathing and Strike Fighter Squadron 94 with gaseous oxygen,” said Charles.
The reason for the difference is distinction between the two aircraft the squadrons use. VMFA -115 aircraft are able to utilize both gaseous and liquid oxygen whereas VFA -94 is not. Nitrogen has a vital role in providing essential components needed in mission accomplishment for pilots of VMFA-115 and VFA-94 to land comfortably and safely in their training missions here.
“We provide nitrogen to service tires, struts or landing gears on the aircraft,” said Charles.
When traveling in the upper atmosphere at 30,000 feet, components or pieces of an aircraft that have compressed air in them have the ability to shatter when a pilot tries to land, after freezing at that elevation.
Liquid nitrogen helps prevent this because it is already at a cool temperature with liquid nitrogen inside it, keeping it from freezing.
The Marines accomplish this with an N2O2 generating plant which can produce up to two tons of oxygen or nitrogen a day. This piece of equipment makes it possible for Marines to provide support for deployed units in active combat zones like Iraq or Afghanistan and on training missions. The Marines are required to ensure oxygen and nitrogen levels are of the highest quality before aircraft are allowed to taxi off the
“Cryogenics has to make sure the oxygen and nitrogen we use is 99.5 percent pure and with minimal contamination,” said Charles. “The reason for this is so pilots will not pass out in-flight due to toxic concentrations of hydrocarbons and fluorides.”
Hydrocarbons and fluorides reside in the air but can also be found in the oxygen and nitrogen the cryogenics department supplies to pilots.
The two elements are so sensitive to the atmosphere in their purest form they can absorb the two molecules when Marines are transporting the liquids to pilots for use.
Even when the transport is complete, Marines must also perform a practical applications test on the liquids in the form of a smell test.
“That’s part of a convenience issue for us,” said Cpl. Jose L. Beas, a MALS-12 cryogenics technician. “The oxygen can still be good but every once in a while it can smell like rotten eggs. So if the pilot is trying to focus on the mission and breathing that in, he can lose concentration and that can affect the mission.”
The Marines are not alone in this as they work in conjunction with the Air Force while here to provide the support needed to both squadrons.
“There are a lot of aspects that go into making all this work and they’ve been a great help in that,” said Beas. “We’re getting all our liquid from them. We don’t have the capability to (create oxygen) here. They’re making it, and we’re giving it to the pilots.”
Being stationed on Guam, affords cryogenics Marines the opportunity to work alongside their Air Force counterparts by augmenting the cryogenics Marines and providing them their facilities for use.
“We have our own oxygen plants, so we actually produce our own product here,” said Senior Airmen Shawn Luedke, a 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenics technician. “It goes directly from the tanks to the Marines’ jets.”
As cryogenics Marines continue to provide to VMFA -115 and VFA -94 pilots; the need to work in conjunction with the Air Force can only help to further their capabilities in supplying squadrons and continuing them on their training.