CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
It’s 6:57 A.M., three minutes before your alarm clock is set to go off, but you woke up early to the hum of a CV-22 Osprey starting up it’s engine and an AC-130W Stinger II barreling down the runway. This doesn’t happen every day, but it’s not uncommon either. The only difference in today is that you stopped to ask yourself “where does our base get all the fuel to run this show, and what kind of processes does that involve.” Unless of course, you’re a POL Airman.
“POL stands for petroleum, oils and lubricants,” said Staff Sgt. Ricardo Abundes, 27th Special Operations Logistics Readiness Squadron, fuels lab non-commissioned officer in charge. “If it flies or if it drives, it received fuel from us in one way or another.”
Fueling the Air Force begins with POL receiving an aviation truck receipt every morning (and later in the afternoon) and it hooks up to the fuel reception system that sends the fuel to Cannon’s on-base fuel storage tanks.
“During the first fuel receipt of the day, a fuels laboratory technician will do a visual examination as well as collecting a sample of fuel to test in the lab,” said Senior Airman Kien Luong, 27 SOLRS, fuels knowledge operations.
Once the fuel sample has been collected, the individual heads back to the lab for testing. Imagine beakers exchanging fluids, the soft purr of machines running diagnostic tests, and one mad scientist running a sci-fi-esque science lab.
“Regarding the lab, I’m basically a chemist,” Abundes said enthusiastically. “The testing mainly consists of running a fuel sample through a filter, checking for debris, and from there we run tests with some of our machines that check for the correct percentages of all the additives and solutions, ensuring our product is complying with the fuel standards.”
From there, assuming all is well with the lab samples, the POL office waits for the call for fuel, and delivers.
“We get calls all day,” Luong said. “There’s a reason we have three shifts in our shop. Once we receive a call, we’ll send out an Airman to meet the request.”
Once the Airman arrives on scene, a series of precautions are taken as well as setting everything up, from the plane receiving fuel, to the truck dispensing it.
“A couple wires are hooked up, switches are twisted, turned and flipped, the hose is dragged to the aircraft and the fuel is dispensed,” Abundes said. “A cool thing some people might not know is the POL Airman, while fueling, holds something called ‘the deadman.’ They maintain tension on this handle the entire time, allowing the fuel to flow. If they release, fuel stops fueling, as it is the fastest way to terminate fuel flow. This is in case something were to happen to the refueler, fuel would cease to pump and keep the plane from over-filling.”
Fuel is something we all rely on, believe it or not, and without it, the Air Force mission simply would not get done.
“The mission? It doesn’t happen without us, obviously,” Abundes snickered. “Fuel carries aircraft into the sky, so you could say we carry the weight of the Air Force on our backs.”