Fuel systems specialist multi-unit team replaces aircraft fuel cell

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Justin Norton
  • 302nd Airlift Wing

Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel cell shop swapped out a fuel cell from a C-130 aircraft assigned here for the first time in 25 years with the help of technicians from two different wings.

After flight line maintainers initially identified a fuel leak on an aircraft, 302 MXS fuel cell technicians went to work doing in-depth troubleshooting to determine the location of the leak. The C-130 has multiple flexible fuel cells contained inside the aircraft, separated by walls and connected by a network of hoses that transfer fuel from one cell to another. In this case, only one cell was leaking.

“The leak was inconsistent, but no leakage is allowed at all from the fuel cell the leak was coming from,” said Master Sgt. Jason Wiley, 302 MXS fuel systems section chief. “The auxiliary cell is needed for the aircraft to deploy, so if that cell leaks the aircraft can’t be used to deploy.”

Once the leak location was identified, technicians removed fuel from the aircraft and prepared the area for them to enter the cell. While wearing respirators and a full body suit, two technicians opened the door to the fuel cell and climbed inside, getting to work inspecting and replacing components that may have caused the leak.

“After we replaced the packings and the O-rings inside of the cell it still didn’t fix the problem,” said Wiley. “That’s when we knew we needed to change the cell. I did some research and discovered this unit hasn’t changed a fuel cell since 1995, so nobody here at this shop had done it before.”

Wiley said he started making calls to the other fuel cell shops around the Air Force Reserve, searching for Airmen who had done the replacement recently to discuss the task. After going over some of the potential pitfalls associated with replacing the cell with other fuel shop section chiefs, he sought to bring experienced Airmen out from other units for some technical assistance.

Two Airmen from the 908th Maintenance Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base and two Airmen from the 934th Maintenance Squadron at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station answered the 302nd Airlift Wing’s call for assistance with getting the fuel cell replaced.

“It’s good to come out here and do things like this because we’re sharing knowledge,” said Staff Sgt. Chase Young, 908 MXS fuel systems specialist. “There might be ways that I work that are better for them, and ways they work that are better for me. It’s the whole reason for this trip.”

Since the cell is made of flexible material, the Airmen had to fold it up inside of the aircraft to compress it small enough to shove the entire cell outside of a hole in the aircraft frame. Once outside of the aircraft, the Airmen laid the cell out on the floor to visually inspect it for defects, eventually inflating the cell with air to check for the exact location of the leak.

It takes up to four hours for a team to prepare the aircraft for the task and ensure the work area is safe for maintenance.

“The recent experiences of these Airmen are what qualify them to be out here helping us get this done,” said Wiley.

Young had recently performed a fuel cell change at his unit and was able to identify why the fuel cell didn’t seal properly when his unit first changed it, and was able to fix it.

Staff Sgt. Trevor Serbus, 934 MXS, assisted in changing out electrical components on the aircraft associated with the task and helped Wiley through every step of the process on this job.

When the time came for the new fuel cell to be installed inside of the aircraft, it seemed the cell may not fit inside of the aircraft without damaging it. Staff Sgt. Zane Strand, 934 MXS, confidently pushed the cell into the aircraft, knowing from previous experience that forcing it is the only way to make the cell fit.

After the fuel cell was changed and reconnected, technicians uncovered another major maintenance discrepancy with an indicator on the aircraft. Master Sgt. Richard Day, 908 MXS, was instrumental in addressing the issue, working with specialists from other maintenance career fields to resolve the problem.  

 “The biggest thing we learned was cooperation,” said Wiley. “We had some disagreements already and landed on three different answers, but I didn’t want to blindly say one was right so let’s do it that way. We discussed the issue and decided on courses of action together as a group.”

This maintenance task was the catalyst for fuel shops around the Air Force Reserve to begin communicating with each other more often, Wiley said.

 “I would’ve never had the chance to come out here and meet folks from Minnesota and Colorado otherwise,” said Young. “It helps us get more familiar with each other across the reserve fuel shops. I came in here and on the first day they treated me like I’d been here for the last five years.”

The various fuel shops across the Air Force Reserve have plans to send Airmen to different bases now over the next year to inspect their programs and how they operate, said Wiley. 

“After talking with other section chiefs, we realized the Airmen didn’t really know each other,” said Wiley. “If they don’t know each other then they don’t know who to call when they have a problem. So not only do the shop chiefs know each other better and have a relationship, now some of the Airmen do as well.”