July - August 2003
Are You Complying With Fuel Regulations?
Tending To the Farm: It’s What You Don’t Grow That Counts
Major Doolittle's High Octane Dream: The Development of Aviation Fuels
Not All Fuels Are Equal: Fuel Quality and the Role of Additives
How Mistakes Happen: Safety In Fueling Operations
Robbery In Progress: How Aerial Support Saved Lives
Are You Complying With Fuel Regulations?
By Gordon Johnson,
Aviation Fueling Specialist
Core Engineered Solutions
One of the most critical aspects of operating an airborne law enforcement fleet is to insure that all aspects of your fueling operations are fully compliant with applicable industry and regulatory safety standards.
Two important references for aviation fueling professionals are NFPA 407 "Standard for Aircraft Fuel Servicing" and ATA Specification No. 103. NFPA 407 is published by the National Fire Protection Association of Quincy, MA, while ATA 103 is published by the Air Transport Association of America in Washington, D.C.
Here is a partial checklist of safety issues outlined in NFPA 407 and ATA 103 relating specifically to jet fuel handling that you should consider in evaluating the safety of your aviation unit’s fueling procedures:
How To Receive Jet Fuel
The receiving storage tank should always be gauged prior to delivery to verify that there is sufficient room to accept the new fuel delivery. Always connect a grounding cable to the delivery truck to prevent a difference in electrostatic potential.
AAfter allowing the delivery truck to set for a minimum of ten minutes, conduct a "Clear and Bright Test" on each compartment to check for visible contaminants. In simple terms, this test is performed by drawing a minimum of one quart of fuel into a clear glass jar. The sample is then swirled to create a vortex. Visually detectable particulate matter will appear at the lower tip of the vortex. Undissolved (i.e. free) water will appear as a separate layer below the product when the swirling action stops. A hazed sample usually indicates either suspended free water or very fine particulate matter. Jet fuel ranges in appearance from no color to a definite straw color. A product free from water and suspended solids is termed "Clear and Bright". If contamination remains after approximately five gallons have been sampled from each compartment, the load should be rejected.
An API Gravity Test (conducted with an ASTM hydrometer similar to the ones used to check your automotive battery) should next be conducted on incoming jet fuel. API gravity must be from 37 through 51 degrees, corrected to 60 degrees F. The API gravity read on your hydrometer should match the reading recorded on the fuel delivery manifest. If there is a variance of one degree or more from the same supplier, immediate investigation is required to determine the reason for gravity change. Typically, API gravity changes are due to contamination with small amounts of gasoline or diesel somewhere in the delivery chain (tank farm, terminal, delivery vehicle, etc.).
All jet fuel should be filtered into storage upon receipt. A minimum of thirty minutes for settling should be allowed before gauging and recording tank volume. The receiving tank should be allowed to settle as long as possible before dispensing fuel from it. Settling time of one hour per foot of product delivered is desirable.
The sumps of all receiving tanks and filter should be drained after fuel receipt and a White Bucket test performed. To perform the White Bucket test, fill a clean, white porcelain-enameled bucket to a depth of eight inches and let the sample settle for one minute to remove air bubbles. Place the bucket on a level surface and inspect to detect the presence of water droplets, solid contaminants, hazy/cloudy conditions and/or brown slime.
Under no circumstances is it acceptable to receive and dispense fuel from the same tank simultaneously.
How To Store Fuel
Jet Fuel should only be stored in steel tanks that have an epoxy lining suitable specifically for jet fuel service.
Jet fuel storage tanks should be equipped with access manway with internal ladder, inlet diffuser and floating suction with test cable.
Jet fuel storage tanks should be equipped with a positive sump and a manual or electric-driven sump pump to remove accumulated water. A manual water drain valve (with frost protection) should also be provided on aboveground storage tanks.
Jet fuel storage tanks should be equipped with proper venting and overfill protection and alarms.
Jet fuel should be re-circulated through filtration on a regular (weekly) basis to maintain product quality. Fuel samples should be taken while the system is pressurized (flowing) to determine quality of stored product.
Proper signage is required for all jet fuel storage tanks and piping. Jet fuel identification decals employ white letters on a black background. Pipe banding of jet fuel pipelines employs a single black band.
Flammable, No Smoking, Emergency Shut-Off and other safety signage is to be provided in addition to product identification.
Jet Fuel Dispensing
Cast iron, copper and galvanized steel piping, valves and fittings are not permitted for use with aviation fuels. Ductile iron valves are permitted.
Jet fuel filter/separators should meet API 1581, Group II, Class B, Third Edition performance criteria and be minimally equipped with an air eliminator with check valve, pressure relief valve, piston-type differential pressure gauge with pushbutton, dual SS fuel sampling probes and manual water drain valve. Date of the last filter change should always be marked on the vessel. In cold weather climates, an explosion-proof, thermostatically controlled heater is recommended for installation in the filter sump housing.
Filter/Monitors are increasingly specified for jet fuel service due to the fail-safe nature of the water-absorbing element technology they employ. Filter/Monitors use what are sometimes called "Go-No-Go" fuses which, upon contact with water, swell and stop the fueling process thereby preventing the introduction of water contaminated fuel into the aircraft.
All aircraft fueling facilities must be designed and equipped with Emergency Fuel Shutoff Stations capable of shutting off fuel flow to all dispensing outlets. Shutoff stations (typically consisting of explosion-proof, red mushroom switches) should be located convenient to each fueling position as well as outside the probable spill area and near the route that is normally used to leave the spill area or reach the fire extinguishers provided for area protection.
All fuel dispensing systems should be equipped with a Deadman Control. For overwing refueling, this control is built into the manual overwing nozzle. For underwing (or single point) refueling, a deadman control typically consists of a control valve with a hand-held electric or hydraulic deadman handle (switch) deployed via a cable or hose reel assembly. After the underwing nozzle is locked onto the aircraft receptacle, fuel flow begins only after the deadman handle is depressed. When bottom loading refueler trucks, a deadman control in the form of a valve or electronic pump control is employed to insure that bottom loading is always an attended operation.
Static protection in the form of static cable reels should be employed to bond aircraft to refueling vehicles, carts or cabinets to prevent a difference in their electrostatic potential. A cable with a clip or plug is also required on each overwing nozzle.
Jet fuel acquires a static charge as it passes through the filter/separator. API RP2003 recommends a minimum 30-second relaxation period for the fuel downstream of the filter to allow the dissipation of the charge before introducing the fuel into a refueler tank truck. Installing a relaxation tank in the truck loading circuit or doping the fuel with Static Dissipater Additive (SDA) addresses this requirement. A typical relax tank is an ASME code vessel equipped with an air eliminator, check valve, pressure relief valve and manual water drain. Fuel relaxation is not required for aircraft refueling due to the geometry of aircraft wing tanks and the relatively few electrostatic incidents that have occurred with aircraft as opposed to refueler trucks.
All refueling hoses should comply with API Bulletin 1529 and should each be serial numbered and furnished with certified test data.
Bottom loading nozzles should be equipped with a minimum 60-mesh strainer screen.
During fueling operations, fire extinguishers should be available on all aircraft servicing ramps and aprons. Each refueler truck should be equipped with a minimum of two (2) 20-B:C Fire Extinguishers; one on each side of the vehicle. Where the open hose discharge capacity of the aircraft refueling system exceeds 200 USGPM, a least one listed wheeled extinguisher having a rating of not less than 80-B:C and a minimum capacity of 125 lbs. of agent shall be provided.
While the above checklist of fueling system safety is not intended to be a fully comprehensive survey of recommended fueling practices, it will hopefully serve as a helpful guide in identifying where your operations can be improved and enhanced. In an environment of increasingly tight budgets and economic cutbacks, it is vital to remain focused on the basics of one of the most essential and yet dangerous aspects of airborne law enforcement-fueling system safety.
Tending To the Farm:
It’s What You Don’t Grow That Counts
By Carl Hammonds, Hammonds Technical Services, Inc.
Who in the world ever came up with the name "fuel farm"? It isn’t where fuel is manufactured
or "grown", but rather a holding place where fuel resides while in our possession.br>
Fuel farms come in all sizes and shapes and can, technically speaking, be anything from a 55 gallon drum to multiple tanks holding thousands of gallons that utilize complex filtering, pumping and fluid control systems. A fuel farm can be above or below ground level.
A fuel farm is where we take possession and responsibility for the quality of the fuel we handle, either as consumers or resellers. It is how we receive, store and dispense that fuel while in our possession that defines how our fuel farm functions. Ideally, our operating practices must at least maintain, if not improve, the quality and specification of the fuel while in our custody. Careful inspection upon receipt, thorough filtering during each handling, fastidious monitoring and removal of water while in storage, and finally, precise additive management are the primary characteristics that measure the efficiency of a fuel farm.
So then, a fuel farm is not simply a "place", but also a process that covers everything that happens to fuel from the time it is received until it is loaded onto an aircraft. The purpose of this article is to focus on the critical importance of the entire process that takes place within a fuel farm.
Let’s take it from the top. Receiving the fuel is perhaps the most critical phase of fuel farm management. Check the certification carefully. Is the paperwork in order? Make sure all certifications and bills of lading confirm the product and specification you are supposed to be receiving. That may seem fundamental, but it is important to be conscious of the specific product that you are receiving. How about your hauler? Is he dedicated to your product, or did he have a load of molasses or dyed diesel fuel before handling your shipment. Was the transport properly cleaned and dried? Transports are a primary source for potential cross contamination of fuel with other products and water.
Does it look and smell like Jet A or AvGas? A white bucket test before the load is received is a must. If the product is Jet A, it should be clear and bright, while AvGas has a blue tint. Follow ASTM guidelines to the letter when making this visual inspection. Be sure and use a white bucket that is grounded before drawing the sample. Make no assumptions; see for yourself by visually inspecting the fuel in a clear glass jar. Oh, and be sure the sample you’re looking at isn’t water. Water is clear and bright too, you know.
Now that you’ve determined you’re receiving the right product, you must make sure you place it in the right tank within your farm. Hopefully you have filtration equipment and it has been inspected and serviced at the proper intervals. Water bottoms in the filter vessels must be drained daily. Fuel should be filtered each time it is handled. In most cases, that will add up to a total of three filtrations from receipt until dispensing into an aircraft. The first filtration takes place when received into storage, again when loading a refueler (if one is used) and finally, when dispensed into the aircraft.
Are you receiving pre-blended product with additive? Does the paperwork confirm its presence? If you handle pre-blended product with FSII (fuel system icing inhibitor) already included, it is vitally important that your fuel filter water sumps be free of water. Water is like a magnet, and will attract FSII. Concentrated FSII is not only bad for the coating in your filter vessel, but it will consume a portion of the additive. Remember, additive is needed in the aircraft, not in the water bottoms of your filter vessel or storage tank. Daily draining of these sumps is minimum, but checking a filter sump just before receiving fuel is cheap insurance that you will maintain your additive concentration at its specified level. Be sure and check the differential pressure on your filter/separator while receiving fuel. The differential pressure gauge is a direct reflection of the condition of your filter media. A higher than normal pressure could indicate clogged filters with either dirt or microbial growth. A lower than normal pressure may be a warning that elements have been disarmed and are no longer functioning properly. Changes in differential pressure should occur gradually over time, reflecting normal service life of the filter elements.
Now, the fuel is in storage and its here where quality can go downhill quickly if conditions aren’t properly maintained. In every phase of fuel handling, free water is a primary concern. Theoretically, if your filter/coalescer is functioning properly, and if the fuel was received at something close to the ASTM standard for free water, you should have little if any water in your tank. But, rarely is everything perfect. Water can and does get through, and there are many ways water can find its way into a storage tank after the fact. Leaking connections in hatches and sump tubes can allow ground or rain water inside the tank. Condensation can be a factor, particularly in above ground tanks. Again, drain the water bottoms daily and check those water bottoms for any discolored media, particularly dark particles. The presence of such material could indicate microbial growth.
This takes us to the next operational pitfall of storing and handling fuel, jet fuel that is; microbial growth. All forms of hydrocarbon based fuels and oils will support microbial growth. Benzene fuels such as AvGas do not typically support microbiological activity. There are about two hundred and fifty varieties of microbes and fungi that can be found in jet fuel, with about a half dozen being the worst actors. These critters consume hydrocarbon fuel as food, and with the presence of water at temperatures above 70° F, can double in colony size every twenty minutes. In other words, under the right conditions, a perfectly clean aircraft or storage tank can become grossly infested in a very short time. Now think about that. Let’s assume you develop a colony of microbial growth. It doesn’t have to be all that substantial; even a minor colony count can develop into a filter clogging disaster, and you will be sharing your new found friends with every aircraft that pulls up to your fuel hose.
We live in a high-tech world of information where crime scene investigators can solve most any crime with physical evidence. It’s no wonder then that you will likely be held accountable for your fuel quality, or lack thereof. Bad fuel that leaves your facility has profound safety, financial and legal implications. The term "fuel farm" is more than so much equipment, it is a place where policy and practice defines your business in an industry that lives or dies by how well it follows the rules.
Major Doolittle's High Octane Dream:
The Development of Aviation Fuels
By Dwayne A. Day, Centennial of Flight
For the first few decades of flight, aircraft engines simply used the same kind of gasoline that
powered automobiles. But simple gasoline was not necessarily the best fuel for the large, powerful engines used by piston-driven airplanes that were developed in the 1930s and 1940s.
Before World War II, Major Jimmie Doolittle realized that if the United States got involved in the war in Europe, it would require large amounts of aviation fuel with high octane. Doolittle was already famous in the aviation community as a racing pilot and for his support of advanced research and development (and would later earn even wider fame as head of the 1942 B-25 bombing raid on Tokyo). In the 1930s, he headed the aviation fuels section of the
Shell Oil Company.
Fuel is rated according to its level of octane. High amounts of octane allow a powerful piston engine to burn its fuel efficiently, a quality called "anti-knock" because the engine does not misfire, or "knock." At that time, high-octane aviation gas was only a small percentage of the overall petroleum refined in the United States. Most gas had no more than an 87 octane rating.
Doolittle pushed hard for the development of 100-octane fuel (commonly called Aviation Gasoline or AvGas) and convinced Shell to begin manufacturing it, to stockpile the chemicals necessary to make more, and to modify its refineries to make mass production of high-octane fuel possible. As a result, when the United States entered the war in late 1941, it had plenty of high-quality fuel for its engines, and its aircraft engines performed better than similarly sized engines in the German Luftwaffe’s airplanes. Engine designers were also encouraged by the existence of high-performance fuels to develop even higher-performance engines for aircraft.
A major problem with gasoline is that it has what is known as a low "flashpoint." This is the temperature at which it produces fumes that can be ignited by an open flame. Gasoline has a flashpoint of around 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1 degree Celsius). This makes fires much more likely in the event of an accident. So engine designers sought to develop engines that used fuels with higher flashpoints.
The invention of jet engines created another challenge for engine designers. They did not require a fuel that vaporized (turned to a gaseous state) as easily as AvGas, but they did have other requirements. Instead of using gasoline, they chose kerosene or a kerosene-gasoline mix. The first jet fuel was known as JP-1 (for "Jet Propellant"), but the U.S. military soon sought fuels with better qualities. They wanted fuels that did not produce visible smoke and which were also less likely to produce contrails (the visible trail of condensed water vapor or ice crystals caused when water condenses in aircraft exhaust at certain altitudes). But a major requirement was for fuels that did not ignite at low temperatures in order to reduce the chance of fire.
Certain types of aircraft operations also demanded that specific types of fuel be available. For instance, the U.S. Navy had to carry large amounts of fuel for the planes and helicopters on its aircraft carriers. When most of the aircraft were piston-driven, they carried AvGas, which had a low flashpoint and was therefore dangerous to have on board because it could easily catch fire. The advent of jets led the Navy to seek jet propellant that had a higher flashpoint than JP-1. Whereas most Air Force aircraft soon used a kerosene-gasoline mix called JP-4, which already had a higher flashpoint than standard AvGas, the Navy developed a fuel known as JP-5 with an even higher flashpoint than JP-4. It also sought to retire aircraft that used AvGas. Fortunately, the introduction of turbine engines on helicopters and for propeller-driven airplanes also reduced the Navy’s need for AvGas. Navy leaders are extremely safety-conscious about fuels. When a Navy jet is refueled in flight by an Air Force tanker with Air Force fuel, safety rules prohibit the plane from being stored below deck on the ship when it lands.
Aircraft operators are constantly refining their fuels to deal with specific performance concerns. The U.S. Air Force, during the 1990s, switched from JP-4 to JP-8 because it had a higher flashpoint and was less carcinogenic, among other things. By the mid 1990s, the Air Force further modified JP-8 to include a chemical that reduced the buildup of contaminants in the engines that affected performance. JP-8 has a strong odor and is oily to the touch, which makes it more unpleasant to handle and less safe in some ways (military personnel who work with it complain that it is difficult to wash off and causes headaches and other physical problems). About 60 billion gallons (227 billion liters) were used worldwide by the late 1990s, with the U.S. Air Force, Army, and NATO using about 4.5 billion gallons (17 billion liters). It is also used to fuel heaters, stoves, tanks, and other military vehicles.
Commercial jet fuel, known as Jet-A, is pure kerosene and has a flashpoint of 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 degrees Celsius). It is a high-quality fuel, however, and if it fails the purity and other quality tests for use on jet aircraft, it is sold to other ground-based users with less demanding requirements, like railroad engines. Commercial jet fuel, as well as military jet fuel, often includes anti-freeze to prevent ice buildup inside the fuel tanks.
The development of the A-12 OXCART spyplane in the late 1950s created another problem for aircraft and engine designers. The high speeds reached by the A-12 would cause the skin of the aircraft to get hot. Temperatures on the OXCART ranged from 462 to 1,050 degrees Fahrenheit (239 to 566 degrees C). The wings, where the fuel was stored, had external temperatures of more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit (260 degrees C). Even with the higher flashpoint, fuel stored in the wings could explode. As a result, the engine designers at Pratt & Whitney sought a fuel with an extremely high flashpoint. Working with the Ashland Shell and Monsanto companies, the engine designers added fluorocarbons to increase lubricity (or slipperiness), and other chemicals to raise the flashpoint. The resulting fuel was originally known as PF-1 but later renamed JP-7. It was used only by the A-12 OXCART (and its sister YF-12 Interceptor) and later the SR-71 Blackbird. JP-7 has such a high flashpoint that a burning match dropped into a bucket of it will not cause it to ignite.
Engine designers and fuel chemists created JP-7 with a high flashpoint that would not explode in the aircraft’s tanks, but this also made the fuel hard to ignite within the engines themselves. Because JP-7 is so hard to ignite, particularly at the low pressures encountered at high altitudes, these planes used a special chemical called tri-ethyl borane (TEB), which burns at a high temperature when it is oxidized (combined with air). Another problem that the A-12 encountered was that the engine exhaust (particularly shock waves created in the exhaust when the engines were at full afterburner) was easily seen by radar. The engine designers added an expensive chemical known as A-50, which contained cesium, to the fuel for operational flights that reduced its ability to be detected by radar.
Not All Fuels Are Equal:
Fuel Quality and the Role of Additives
By Joseph Stonecipher, GE Betz
All fuels are created equal, right? Well, yes and no. It’s true that the jet fuel you receive at your facility or buy at a given airport will meet the required industry specifications to ensure fuel quality and safety, otherwise it wouldn’t go into your aircraft. What might surprise you is that while that jet fuel will definitely meet the required industry standard, it may not provide the same results in some areas that you’ll notice over the longer term.
Ever notice carbon build-up in your engines more frequently after you pick up fuel from certain locations? Ever experience a hard start after receiving new fuel? Ever have a fuel control stick after picking up fuel from a new location? Ever notice more smoke or soot on the tail section? Not all these types of incidents are caused solely by differences in the fuel, but the fuel can be a big factor and definitely contribute to these types of incidents.
The United States Air Force began looking at these types of issues in the late 1980s and found that while the majority of their fuels met their required specifications, there was a definite variability in terms of the fuel quality as measured by things like propensity to form coke and carbon.
How can a fuel perform differently when all the paperwork you get says it’s the same thing you got before, you ask?
To answer that question, let’s look at how aviation fuels are made and transported. It all starts with crude oil. Think of crude oil as a mixture of materials that needs to be separated into the finished products we use. The lighter materials in the crude oil tend to end up as gasoline and aviation fuels, the heavier materials end up as diesel, other transportation fuels, or are converted into the lighter materials. This all occurs at a mystical place called a refinery, where each day they wake up and process crude oils into finished products in the most economical way possible.
What’s that mean? It means they like to buy the least expensive crude oil and convert it into those products that make the most money, or put another way, buy as cheap as possible and sell as high as possible. Jet fuel in demand? Maximize production of jet fuel. Gasoline in demand?
Maximize production of gasoline. You get the picture, but here’s the catch; you can’t maximize all products at the same time. When you maximize one product, it’s normally at the expense of another, and guess which product is in-between gasoline and diesel?
If you guessed jet fuel, give yourself a blue star and move to the front of the class. Simple supply and demand is the name of the game and you and I drive that by what we consume and when we consume it. So let’s review.
We’ve got a refiner who is trying to meet our fuels consumption demands and make money along the way, so each day he’s looking for the best crude at the best price to convert it into our transportation fuels. The different crude oils can lead to the need for multiple processes which in turn creates fuels that, while meeting the same industry standards, can have differences in terms of some of the intrinsic values you and I care about as consumers. Put another way, it’s kind of like making a tuna sandwich and in one case using real mayonnaise, and the other Miracle Whip; both sandwiches look the same, they both smell the same, but when we eat them, they may taste slightly different. Our engines are the same way depending upon what crude oil is bought and where it’s processed to make the fuel; they too can taste slight differences in fuels.
So we’ve made the final jet fuel product, how do we get it to the airport or to your facility? All finished products leave a refinery either through what’s called a pipeline or by truck. The industry takes great precautions to ensure that the on-specification fuel leaving the refinery stays that way, but Murphy’s Law is always lurking. And we help old Murphy along by transporting different products in the same pipelines and trucks. This is why we have so many mechanical devices like filter separators in the distribution system, to make sure we remove dirt and water. But these are geared towards ensuring "clear and bright" and dirt free jet fuels; they do nothing about the trace contaminants that might have come from contact with other fuels while the jet fuel is being transported.
So what can you do?
If you maintain a facility, general housekeeping is key. You want to keep dirt and water out of your fuel, so make sure your fuel handling system consists of the proper equipment and that it is checked and maintained. Sumping water off tanks (both fixed and on trucks) will help keep bugs at bay, but there are approved biocide additives you can apply if that is a problem.
From a facility design perspective, if you can justify three stage systems (combination of filter coalescers and water monitors) or micro filtration to keep excessive dirt from blocking the more expensive coalescers, you’re working in the right direction. But in terms of additives, commercial jet fuel is pretty limited as to what can be added due to safety implications. (I might add that, as someone who flies a bunch, I agree whole-heartedly. It’s pretty easy to pull over a car or truck when there’s a problem, but it’s awfully hard to park an aircraft on a cloud.)
If you’re commercial end-user of aviation fuels, there really hasn’t been much you could do but burn the fuel that they give you. This is unfortunate when compared to other fuels like gasoline or diesel, which have additives to protect from corrosion, improve fuel economy, prevent gum formation, reduce emissions, and help keep engines clean. For the military, additives have always been part of their fuel requirements. But with projects like the JP-8+100 Program, they are now looking at the possibility of additives taking on a more significant role to ensure performance and improve fuel quality not only for today’s aircraft, but also for future aircraft that would need a higher quality fuel.
As these military products become available to the commercial sector, you will have the option to gain the same type of benefits other additives have provided in fuels like gasoline and diesel; cleaner engines, less unscheduled maintenance, less smoke and soot, and lower emissions.
For some users, that day is here. But for others, it’s still a work in progress that can be influenced through requests to your engine customer service reps.
The desired result is that in the not too distant future, we hope to be able to say that while all fuels are not necessarily created equal, we can, through the use of additives, make them equal.
How Mistakes Happen:
Safety In Fueling Operations
By Jay Fuller, APSA Safety Coordinator
A police helicopter landed at the unit’s own facility, refueled and proceeded on its assigned survey mission. Several minutes later, the engine failed over inhospitable suburban terrain. The subsequent autorotation was unsuccessful, and the aircraft crashed resulting in a fatal accident.
A police helicopter returned to its base at night after completing a medevac mission. Calling for fuel while inbound, the pilot set down on the dolly and throttled back to idle for engine cool down before shutdown. At this point, the fuel truck pulled up and parked beside the helicopter underneath the still turning main rotor. With only a foot or so clearance, the pilot gave as much
opposite cyclic as he dared and contacted the fixed base operator (FBO) by radio. The FBO dispatcher in turn contacted the fuel truck driver who moved the vehicle.
Because single point refueling equipment was not available, the military crew chief was refueling his aircraft using a conventional nozzle to fuel the tank operation. All appropriate grounding lines were in place. After a few minutes, the crew chief detected what he later described as a "buzzing" noise. At first, he couldn’t tell where it came from or what it might be. However, it soon became apparent that the sound emanated from the fuel tank. He immediately ceased the fueling operation and started to move away from the aircraft. At this point, an explosion occurred. The crew chief was seriously burned and the aircraft destroyed.
The editorial theme for this issue of Air Beat is aviation fuels and fuel farm operations. Aircraft fuel management is a more complex subject than you would imagine. This is just another example of the importance of safety initiatives in aviation. The precautionary efforts we make in our normal work and everyday lives must be multiplied many times over in the aviation environment. In aviation, nothing can be automatic or routine. All activities require considerable thought, preparation, training and extensive, expensive facilities. Standard operating procedures must be developed and used. Risk versus result analyses should be conducted for all actions (deliberate and preplanned) for extensive operations, and for short mental exercises useful for tactical situations. This point is emphasized in each of the instances given above.
In the first case, fuel in the unit’s POL point had become contaminated, causing the engine problem and subsequent crash. Building, operating and maintaining an aviation fuel farm is really a profession in itself. The main reasons for police units to have their own fuel farm are improved safety through better control of fueling activities (see the next case) and for enhanced operations in an industry that typically requires rapid response and quick turnarounds.
Owning your own fuel facility can generate considerable dollar savings in fuel procurement and reduced non-mission aircraft ferry time; however, these savings must be realistically pumped back into the fueling operation itself. Under these circumstances, hiring an additional unit member, an experienced fuels professional, whose primary (or sole) function would be to maintain the fuel facility, is completely appropriate.
The second occurrence encompasses the broader issue of flight line safety, which is inherently part of fueling. In the case given, the fuel truck driver was virtually brand new to the job and had received minimal training from the FBO (as so often happens). Due to darkness and inexperience, he was not really aware of how close he was to the aircraft and may not have even been concerned had he known. The quick action of the pilot (plus a little luck) averted what could have been a serious accident.
The solution here is training in order to have a more knowledgeable work force and to utilize stricter SOPs. But it’s not that easy if you don’t have control over the refueling personnel. Good communication with the FBO management can usually generate improvements — after all, you have some clout if you’re spending money on their fuel. The safety responsibility and the need for continuous vigilance always remain.
The third case just goes to show that "stuff" really does happen. Despite the fact that all precautions were taken and all SOPs were followed to the letter, an accident occurred. The investigation showed that fibrous foam material placed in the tank to minimize fuel expulsion and vaporization during a crash (and reduce effects should the tank be penetrated by rounds during tactical situations) generated static electricity when impacted by a high-pressure stream of incoming fuel. In fact, evidence of previous electrical arcing was discovered on remnants of the interior fuel tank wall.
Everybody had just been lucky up until then. In all the testing efforts that had been made, no one ever thought to check for this particular effect. Unfortunately (or fortunately), the realm of the unit safety officer doesn’t extend into the areas of engineering or research and development.
I used aircraft fueling stories here in keeping with the theme of this issue. However, the primary point I’m trying to make is that aviation safety must be a pervasive, all-encompassing, continuous effort within the flying unit.
No actions or activities can become routine. The safety officer must carry those responsibilities as a primary or sole function, holding all other assigned activities as secondary. He or she needs to be the right hand staff member of the unit commander, being involved with the normal operations in order to exercise oversight.
In the military, and for those of you who might have been involved in some multi-agency contingency response using the Incident Command System, the safety officer has the same authority to restrict or temporarily halt operations as does the contingency commander. This is the kind of emphasis that needs to be placed on safety in all our units and the kind of emphasis that should be placed on safe operations by all our personnel.
Robbery In Progress:
How Aerial Support Saved Lives
By Jack H. Schonely,
Los Angeles Police Departmentbr> Air Support Unit
For one group of employees, it was the end of an evening shift. For another, the shift had just started. Although these two groups had different employers and started their shifts miles apart, they would soon be brought together by armed gunmen in a violent encounter.
It was closing time at McDonald’s as the manager and three other employees finished cleaning in preparation to lock up and go home. It was after midnight and the closing routine was very typical. The manager was inside his vehicle in the parking lot waiting for the three remaining employees to set the alarm and leave the restaurant.
As one of the employees exited McDonald’s and approached his car, a young male appeared pointing a semi-automatic pistol at his torso. The suspect stated, "Come on, we’re going back inside, this is a robbery." The employee complied with the suspect’s demands and re-entered the McDonald’s.
Once inside, he saw a second armed suspect was now present along with one of his fellow employees. The first suspect exited the restaurant and approached the manager in his vehicle. Suddenly, the manager saw the suspect pointing a gun at his driver’s door window ordering him out of the car. The manager was too slow to comply and the suspect shattered the window with the butt of the gun. The manager was then dragged out of his car and forced back inside the restaurant.
Two armed gunmen wearing masks and gloves were now holding the McDonald’s manager and two employees inside. The suspects demanded that the manager open the safe. The manager explained that the safe was on a timer and that he could not open it. One of the suspects became immediately enraged and began to pistol whip the manager about the head. As the manager fell to the floor, he was kicked repeatedly in the stomach, while the other two employees were forced to lay face down onto the floor.
Fortunately, the fourth McDonald’s employee witnessed what happened to his manager in the parking lot, and he was able to escape detection by the suspects. He snuck out of the restaurant and called 9-1-1, describing the robbery.
As the robbery was taking place, Tactical Flight Officer Cole Burdette and Pilot Dan Johnson were reaching the end of their second flight of the evening. This aircrew was assigned to Air 18, which is responsible for South Central Los Angeles. Dan was already talking with LAX tower as he was flying in the surface area when a high priority call came over the city wide frequency. "77th units and 12X16, 211 (robbery) in progress at 1800 West Century Boulevard at the McDonald’s. Suspects are two male blacks. Suspect one is wearing a plaid button down shirt, black jeans, armed with a handgun forcing the manager to the cash register."
Before the broadcast was complete, Cole was directing Dan to fly to Century and Western, northeast corner. This location was familiar to the crew and they both knew that it was a tough location from an Air Traffic Control point of view. Flying to and around this location requires an additional clearance from LAX as it is between the narrow final approach paths of the north and south runways, approximately two miles from touchdown.
Historically, LAX airport allows us into this area for high priority calls. They do require that the aircraft fly at or below 500 feet and the pilot must call on station. The pilot then keeps very busy on the radio verifying that he has each aircraft in sight as they approach touchdown at LAX. To add to the air traffic concerns, the crew had to deal with high tension electrical lines two blocks north of the McDonald’s.
Cole pointed out the location to Dan as they approached from the north. Dan was pulling in full power to the AS350 B2 as they passed less than 500 feet above the ground. This call sounded good and they were doing their best to get there quickly. The aircrew had no idea as they approached the McDonald’s that the lives of the employees were in their hands.
The suspects had continued to beat the manager in abject frustration. One of the suspects then pressed his gun to the head of one of the employees and stated that he was going to count to five and then shoot each employee until they complied with his demands. All of the employees knew that they could not open the safe and believed that they were about to die. The suspects were heard agreeing on the plan as the hammer was cocked on the pistol. "One! Two! Three!" The interior of the restaurant was instantly illuminated with a blinding light, accompanied by a sound that these criminals had heard many times before. Both suspects shouted "police" as they bolted for a rear exit.
OOnly two minutes had passed since Cole had directed Dan to the robbery in progress. Cole was now concentrating on the McDonald’s below him, directing his Nightsun around the location. Before a second tight orbit over the location was complete, Cole observed two males exit the rear of the McDonald’s and begin running eastbound through an alley. Cole’s experience and calm demeanor kicked in as he had seen this hundreds of times before at locations all over the city. Like a sportscaster calling play by play, Cole described what he was observing from his bird’s-eye view. He directed ground units to the area and even described where the suspects were dropping items.
Things became more difficult for the aircrew as the suspects split up and ran in different directions. Cole and Dan had also seen this before and picked one of the suspects to be the primary concern. As they directed 77th Street Division units to the primary suspect, Cole continued to glance back to the second suspect, who continued to run. Cole requested units to contain the area that the second suspect was running into. /p>
The primary suspect was soon in handcuffs due to the teamwork of Air 18 and the quick response of ground units. Cole had last seen the second suspect enter a yard in the middle of a block. He quickly requested ground units to contain that block at all four corners. The ground units again responded quickly to Cole’s requests and a tight one-block perimeter was established. The suspect had doubled back towards the McDonald’s parking lot, and the aircrew was pretty confident that he had not crossed the lot, which was illuminated. Cole requested K-9 units to respond to the perimeter for a search.
By this time, Dan and Cole were low on fuel and a relief ship was notified of their situation. Air 70 responded to the scene and the aircrews exchanged the information of what had transpired. Cole took an extra second to point out the exact location where he had last seen the second suspect running to the tactical flight officer of Air 70. TFO Al Canche received the information and began to search the area. Al noticed something unusual on the north side of the residence where Cole last saw the suspect. It looked like a trash bag, but he wasn’t sure. He requested the K-9 search team to check it for him.
As the K-9 team approached the location, the suspect popped up and began running. The suspect entered a shed in the rear yard and refused to exit. Because the suspect was known to be armed, SWAT was requested to respond to the scene. After several hours and a couple canisters of gas, the suspect exited the shed and was taken into custody.
While searching for the guns used in the crime, a very alert officer observed a fresh dirt pile with a hand impression on it in a rose bed. He moved the dirt and found a loaded semi-auto pistol. The second handgun was located in the street very close to where the first suspect was apprehended. Officers also returned to the locations that Cole had observed the suspects dropping items during the foot pursuit and discovered stocking masks and latex gloves.
All of these observations and evidence allowed Robbery and Homicide detectives to move forward with a solid case against both defendants. One of the defendants was a first offender and negotiated a plea bargain for fifteen years. The second defendant was a third striker and went to a jury trial. The observations by the aircrew were an integral part of the testimony heard by the jury. That defendant is now going to prison for life.
The McDonald’s employees have stated that the arrival of the police helicopter truly saved their lives.