Cryogenics: Providing life source to aircrew across the AOR
By Staff Sgt. Arielle Vasquez, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
/ Published April 30, 2019
ALI AL SALEM AB, Kuwait -- Before pilots depart Air Force Central Commands’ busiest flightline at Ali Al Salem Air Base, a team of Airmen work around the clock to ensure they are able to breathe at high altitudes of 10,000 feet and higher.
These vital Airman are a team of two cryogenic specialists, with the 386th Expeditionary Logisitics Readiness Squadron.
The term “cryogenic” describes the technology behind producing extremely low temperatures and here at ASAB, this is crucial to keep aircraft in the sky.
“Our mission is to store and issue liquid oxygen to our service tanks, which is used for aviator breathing oxygen on aircraft coming to and from the base,” said Senior Airman Joshua Gonzales, 386th ELRS cryogenic specialist and fuels distribution operator. “We are responsible for transferring liquid oxygen from our 3000-gallon operating storage tank to 50-gallon service carts, which is then utlized to issue to aircraft.”
On any given day, approximately 3,000 gallons of liquid oxygen is kept in storage according to the cryogenic team.
Every 90 days, the cryogenic Airmen take samples of liquid oxygen from their operating storage tank, which is sent to Air Force Petroleum Agency Fuels Laboratory for testing.
“It typically takes about a week to receive the results back from the area lab,” said Airman 1st Class Kylie Moore, 386th ELRS cryogenic specialist and fuels distribution operator. The samples we take are tested for a mixture of other gases that would contribute to impurities in the liquid oxygen.”
The Air Force standard for liquid oxygen is 99.5 percent purity, which the cryogenics team strives to maintain, if not exceed.
In order to keep the mission rolling, the cryogenic team must follow a policy to prevent the loss of liquid oxygen. Along with preventing loss of products, safety guidelines are in place to prevent injuries in what could be a hazardous work environment if not adhered to.
Because liquid oxygen has a boiling point of -297 degrees Faranheit and can burn through skin, the cryogenic specialsits ensure they don proper personal protective equipment.
“We wear protective equipment to include coveralls, aprons and rubber boots to ensure our skin isn’t exposed to the extremely low temperature of liquid oxygen,” Moore said. “We also must have two people present at all times in case an emergency arises.”
While the cryogenic specialists must practice extreme caution in their work environment, both have expressed their enjoyment for their speciality.
“Without liquid oxygen, it is not possible for aircrew to fly at high altitudes to carry out their mission,” Gonzales said. “When we think about it, not everybody gets to see what we see every day and it’s fulfilling to be a part of such a unique career field.”
According to their supervisor, Staff Sgt. David Stevens, 386th ELRS non-commisioned officer in charge of fuels distribution, the cryogenic Airmen are top performers in the squadron.
“This is my fifth deployment and I have not seen the amount of dedication and hard work put in like I have seen the cryogenic team put in here,” he said. “These Airmen are excelling in all they do and I’m very proud of them and how smoothly our operations have been running.”