November 13, 2008 (by A1C Jamal D. Sutter) - The third of about five hungry F-16s has just marshaled into the hanger and the profound and familiar smell of jet fuel encompasses the flightline air.
Communication is key to mission success and the margin for error is slim to none as an Airman grasps the "dead man," which eventually pumps life back into an eager aircraft. It's just another day in the life of a hot-pit refueling crew.
Hot-pit refueling is an operation done that grants the 13th Fighter Squadron more flying time with less man hours, thus taking full advantage of the available airspace. Though hot-pit refueling is a part of the fighter squadron's normal flying operations, a recent series of hot pits have been unique in their own way.
Last week, the fighter squadron performed four "surge days." On those surge days, hot pits were performed during morning and afternoon flying operations. For this reason, the fighter squadron was able to completed 167 sorties, which is about four times as many as when not hot pitting, said Captain Eric Freienmuth, 13 FS
deputy chief of weapons.
Normally, only one day of the week is dedicating to surging. One reason for the recent surge increase is because the 35th Fighter Wing is contracted to complete a certain amount of flying hours in a year and November is one of the preferred months for flying here in Northern Japan, explained Master Sgt. Thomas Abram, 35th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron lead production superintendent.
Though capable of sustaining flying operations virtually anytime throughout the year, the fighter squadron recognizes the difficulties present during Misawa's harsh winters and, therefore, gets much of the flying done before it arrives, Sergeant Abram added.
Consequently, with the rise in flying time comes a boost in dedicated hard work, which was noted by Captain Freienmuth.
"Maintenance did an amazing job of keeping the jets flying last week," he said. "Usually when we surge like that, you can't get all the sorties by the end of the week because you have a lot of broken jets and they don't have long to fix them but our maintainers were able to keep up the pace and get us those 167 sorties in four days."
During normal refueling operations, the aircraft lands, parks and the engines are given the chance to cool. The pilot then exits the aircraft, and the refueling team is called. Conversely, during hot pits, the aircraft lands, is immediately fueled without shutting down the engines and takes off again for more flights.
"If we shut down between flights, more inspections are required," Captain Freienmuth said. "Each aircraft has to be refueled by a fuel truck and forms must be reviewed my maintenance supervision on the line. If we hot pit, we can get double the sorties with the same number of post-flight inspections."
Airman 1st Class Casey Kubik, 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron refueling operator, was a part of the teams that helped keep the aircrafts flying last week. Airman Kubik's job was to fuel the jets using an R-11 refueling unit and pantographs, which are hose-free systems used to refuel aircrafts. He also recognizes the possible dangers present when dealing with fuel.
"I take part in hot refueling operations on a daily basis," he said. "There are many potential hazards during the operations. These include running aircraft engines' volatility of fuel, personnel within proximity of operation and loss of resource and personnel due to these hazards. I prepare for this by inspecting the stainless steel articulating pantograph arms and the system it is connected to prior to performing this operation."
Though lots of hard work goes into hot pit refueling, the bigger picture is quite evident to those who contribute, according to Captain Freienmuth.
"By hot-pit refueling," he said, "the 35 FW is able to accomplish the flying training requirements to remain ready at a moment's notice for tasking in the Pacific area of responsibility, prepare for our upcoming Air Expeditionary Force flying requirements, and still provide time to our maintainers to accomplish their day to day training requirements as well as the additional items they are required to accomplish for our upcoming AEF