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Team McConnell performs KC-46 fuel tank maintenance

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. — Airmen continued to gain experience on the KC-46A Pegasus this week during fuel tank maintenance.

“This is the first time that we have opened up the KC-46 tanks and entered them [here at McConnell],” said Tech. Sgt. Brenton Dube 931st Maintenance Squadron fuel systems repair technician.

Fuel cell Airmen are responsible for internal and external maintenance of the fuel system. They also maintain some avionics, hydraulics and electrical components.

Before the maintenance begins, preparations and readings must be completed to make the aircraft’s safe for maintenance. Multiple checklists are completed, which include hangar, aircraft and fuel systems checklists. This also includes tagging equipment with warnings and disconnecting batteries.

Along with ensuring the aircraft is grounded and purging tanks for 30 minutes, the Airmen are responsible for donning protective gear and removing residual gas in the fuel tanks.

Tech. Sgt. Kyle Almy, 22nd MXS fuel systems repair technician, explained that while the residual gas is removed, a photo ionization detector is used to test whether the environment is oxygen enriched or has decreased oxygen levels that could inhibit breathing.

“Once the aircraft is safe for maintenance; you receive a confined space entry permit, which is being validated this week for the KC-46,” said Almy.

Safety is important when an Airman’s life could be in danger.

“In my career of almost 13 years, I have never seen anybody pass out or become incapacitated in tank and have to be removed, but we do a yearly extraction exercise so that everyone is aware of the procedures and are able to perform them,” Almy.

The entrant, the individual climbing into a tank, is accompanied by an attendant and a runner. While the entrant is maintaining, the attendant is conversing and keeping visual contact. When an emergency develops, the attendant informs the runner who then calls the appropriate personnel. It’s possible for an Airmen to get stuck due to the size of the tank.

Almy said that when someone is flying on a commercial airline and staring out the window at the wing, they usually don’t realize that the entire wing is filled with fuel. That’s the fuel tank for the aircraft and for the KC-46.

“There are tanks that you can physically crouch down and walk across, and then there are areas where you can’t move your arms and legs and it’s difficult to get out of the tank.” said Almy.

While fuel is stored in the wing, the KC-46 also contains separate fuel in body tanks located below the fuselage. In the KC-135 Stratotanker, the entire area under the fuselage is a body tank.

“The KC-46 holds between 210,000 to 212,000 pounds of fuel,” said Almy. “The KC-135 also holds between 209,000 and 210,000 pounds of fuel.”

McConnell houses Airmen that are certified on both the KC-135 and the KC-46. Even with the addition of the KC-46, the fuel shop will continue to maintain the KC-135.

“This is our job and it’s what we were meant to do,” said Dube. “Our main goal, especially for the new [Airmen], is to learn as much as possible.”