From rails to mach two

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Jensen Stidham
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Each month the 20th Fighter Wing's F-16CM Fighting Falcons use hundreds of thousands of gallons of jet fuel to climb into the sky, ensuring pilots receive the necessary training to maintain combat readiness.

Before the jets can be turned on, they have to be filled with jet fuel which arrives at the base much slower than the speedy jets.

"When I first got here I was extremely impressed that we still received fuel by train," said Staff Sgt. Matthew Robinson, 20th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels distribution supervisor. "Other bases I've been to it was either by pipeline or by trucks only."

Shaw is currently one of two stateside Air Force bases that still receive fuel by train.

"One of the first things they did when they made the base was build a railroad," said Adam McDowell, 20th LRS train engineer.

Burning through millions of gallons of jet fuel in 2014, the train is an important function of the 20th FW mission.

"[A local transportation company] brings the fuel from Charleston through Sumter and delivers it to us," said McDowell. "They drop it off about 20 minutes from the base so we have to go pick it up."

Capable of pulling 28,000 gallons at a time, a spacer car is used to provide a barrier between the two engines and the rail cars to ensure safety while transporting the jet fuel from the rails to the jet.

"It's very important for us to be compliant with our guidelines and rules," said Robinson. "Compliance provides our Airmen a standard to follow to keep them and the pilots safe."

After arriving on base, the fuel is transferred by pipelines to holding tanks. The 20th LRS loads several fuel transport trucks, which stand ready to provide fuel.

"It's highly important that we have fuel in our trucks and ready to go," said Robinson "We pride ourselves in a very short response time from the initial call for fuel, to when we are actually out on the line fueling an aircraft. From there the drivers head out to the flightline where they issue fuel to any of the aircraft that need it."

However, before any of the liquid can be burned through the jet engines, a sample of each shipment is tested.

Testing the fuel is an extensive process done to ensure the fuel received meets the standard. There cannot be any contaminants in the fuel because that could cause tremendous problems inside the aircraft. Tests are also run to make sure the fuel burns properly. At the end of the day, pilots rely on a quality product, said Robinson.

Fuel is typically provided to the jet upon post flight inspection each time the aircraft is flown. A rapid refueling method, known as "hot pits", is used to fuel the jets while the engines are still on, which allows pilots to get back to the air more quickly.

"The train is highly important for the pilots getting out to the fight and getting their training and readiness in. It might be only one part of mission, but it is an important one," said McDowell.