By Airman 1st Class David Phaff, 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published November 17, 2020
Rudy Losoya, 47th Logistics Readiness Flight aircraft services, operates a 3K commercial refueler on the flight line, on Nov. 9, 2020, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. This vehicle saves up to a minute on the fueling process per plane. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
Javier Martinez Jr, 47th Flying Training Wing Maintenance aircraft worker, refuels a Texan T-6 II on the flight line, on Nov. 9 2020, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. He is utilizing the new commercial 3K refueler vehicle that is being tested. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
Chris Ansisk, 47th Logistics Readiness Flight fuel lab technician, tests fuel to ensure that it is clean and doesn’t have dangerous amounts of residue on Nov. 9, 2020, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. All batches of fuel must be tested to ensure that it is up to standards and safe to use. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
A 3K commercial refueler replenishes a T-6a Texan II on the flight line on Nov. 9, 2020, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. These new vehicles are more maneuverable and improve the ease of getting around the flight line. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
An R-11 refueler truck is fueled before it takes its place out on the flight line on Nov. 9, 2020, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. The R-11 can refuel 60 T-6A Texan II before needing to be refueled. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Phaff)
LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas-- Laughlin’s own Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (fuels) maintenance teams volunteered to conduct a 90-day beta test from October 2020 to January 2021 to evaluate new fueling capabilities to help the Air Force improve its fueling processes. In the test, they use smaller, more compact commercial refuelers that hold 3,000 gallons of fuel instead of the currently used bulkier 6,000 gallon military grade R-11 refuelers, known as “3K’s” and “big greens,” respectively.
The goal of the experiment is to test this alternative vehicle and see if it's a viable solution for the Air Force. The driving force behind this project is to consider options for bases whose fleets are aging and which vehicles would be of better use in a deployed environment. “We want to reach out to the commercial side, and see if we can find a commercial equivalent we can buy off-the-shelf to meet all our needs at a lower price,” said Thomas Busch, 47th Logistics Readiness Flight, contracting officer representative.
The desired outcome is to prove that using commercial vehicles like the ones being tested would be able to handle the fueling needs of flightlines so the current military grade R-11 can be sent to deployed locations where they would be more useful. “If these tests prove successful, we can take some of our ‘big greens’ and trade them for these commercial vehicles,” Busch said. “Then the Air Force will be able to send them to the locations they are needed most.” So far during the beta testing, the fuels team has noticed these smaller vehicles work best with smaller aircraft, such as the T-6A Texan II. One small tank can fuel 30 aircraft, which makes the fueling process faster and more efficient than the R-11. Valuable time is saved, and the fuels team is able to put pilots in the air faster. “Air Education and Training Command bases with similar missions have smaller aircraft and all have aging fleets of refuelers,” said Busch. “The Air Force has five bases which need brand-new trucks, and the rest of the Air Force can benefit from the older generation of fuel trucks. This can be the solution to both problems.”
The test vehicles come equipped with automatic hoses, which can be stowed easier. Even the walk-around required to bring the trucks on the flightline is simpler because the trucks are smaller. These key differences allow crews to quickly fuel and ultimately put pilots in the air faster and more efficiently. “Generally speaking, they’re easy to maneuver,” said Jason Owens, 47th Logistics Readiness Flight fuels manager. “The team likes them because they’re quicker and able to turn down the rows of aircraft without having to go out of the row and turn back into it.” The fuel team tested out the concept on all airframes here and found its most effective with the small T-6 aircraft because they have smaller tanks and don’t need as much fuel as a T-1A Jayhawk or T-38 Talon. “Once the ‘3K’ has proven itself, the Air Force is going to be leaner, more efficient, and better supporting the warfighter,” Owens said. “We’re saving money, strategizing our assets, more prepared for war fighting and now we’re better equipped.”
Substituting some of the R-11 fuel trucks for these smaller commercial refuelers at bases with smaller aircraft like Laughlin can more efficiently meet the Air Force needs and increase lethality while controlling the skies. It's groups of Airmen like the fuels team willing to try a new solution who truly improve our ever-evolving Air Force.