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Fuel systems specialist multi-unit team replaces aircraft fuel cell

Two Airman sit on top of a C-130 wing inside of a hangar and connect electrical components inside of a panel.

Tech. Sgt. Ryan Santella, 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel system specialist, and Staff Sgt. Zane Strand, 934th Maintenance Squadron fuel system specialist, work together on top of the wing of a C-130 aircraft to connect electrical components inside of a panel July 13, 2020, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The components are connected to the wall inside the aircraft that borders the fuel cell and configuring the connectors is part of removing and replacing the cell. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Fuel system technician uses wrench to screw cover plate onto large black rubber fuel cell while joking with his team.

Tech. Sgt. Ryan Santella, 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel system specialist, jokes with his maintenance team while securing a cover plate onto an auxiliary fuel cell belonging to a C-130 aircraft July 11, 2020, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The cover plates are necessary to inflate the fuel cell with compressed air so it can be inspected for leaks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Fuel technician applies grease to metal frame of an aircraft fuel cell.

Staff Sgt. Tiffany Fairbanks, 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel systems specialist, applies grease to a personnel door opening of an auxiliary fuel cell belonging to a C-130 aircraft July 11, 2020, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The grease is necessary to fit a flexible rubber ring into a small track inside of the doorway, creating an airtight seal when the doorway cover is secured onto the fuel cell. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Fuel cell technician laying on the ground inserts screws into a plate that fits onto an aircraft fuel cell.

Senior Airman Brian Rabelo, 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel system specialist, secures a personnel door cover onto an auxiliary fuel cell belonging to a C-130 aircraft July 11, 2020, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. The cover plates for the fuel cell are necessary to inflate the cell with compressed air so it can be inspected for leaks. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Fuel system technicians pull a fuel cell out from a door on the underside of a C-130 aircraft wing.

A team of fuel system specialists from three different airlift wings work together to uninstall a C-130 aircraft auxiliary fuel cell July 8, 2020 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. Two technicians inside of the aircraft wing pushed the fuel cell out of the aircraft while two additional technicians pulled from below, removing the fuel cell to inspect it after a fuel leak was discovered. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Fuel system technician laying on the ground spraying soapy water from a spray onto an inflated aircraft fuel cell.

Senior Airman Ryan Rabelo, 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel systems specialist, sprays soapy water on different sections of an inflated auxiliary fuel cell belonging to a C-130 aircraft July 12, 2020, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. If a fuel cell is leaking fuel then it will leak air from the same location when inflated, so technicians detect elusive leaks by spraying soapy water all over the inflated cell and see where leaking air causes the water to bubble and foam. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Lundberg)

Two hands point at a damaged metal ring on an aircraft auxiliary fuel cell.

Master Sgt. Jason Wiley, 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel system shop section chief, points out the defect which led to a leak on an auxiliary fuel cell belonging to a C-130 aircraft July 8, 2020, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. A team of fuel systems specialists from three different wings worked together to replace the fuel cell after the leak was discovered on the aircraft, a major maintenance task that hasn’t been done at the 302nd Airlift Wing in 25 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

Fuel system technician inspects a metal ring attached to an aircraft auxiliary fuel cell.

Staff Sgt. Chase Young, 908th Maintenance Squadron fuel systems specialist, inspects a connecting port on an auxiliary fuel cell belonging to a C-130 aircraft July 8, 2020, at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. A team of fuel systems specialists from three different wings worked together to replace the fuel cell after a leak was discovered on the aircraft, a major maintenance task that hasn’t been done at the 302nd Airlift Wing in 25 years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Justin Norton)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

Reserve Citizen Airmen from the 302nd Maintenance Squadron fuel cell shop swapped out a fuel cell from a C-130 aircraft assigned here for the first time in 25 years with the help of technicians from two different wings.

After flight line maintainers initially identified a fuel leak on an aircraft, 302 MXS fuel cell technicians went to work doing in-depth troubleshooting to determine the location of the leak. The C-130 has multiple flexible fuel cells contained inside the aircraft, separated by walls and connected by a network of hoses that transfer fuel from one cell to another. In this case, only one cell was leaking.

“The leak was inconsistent, but no leakage is allowed at all from the fuel cell the leak was coming from,” said Master Sgt. Jason Wiley, 302 MXS fuel systems section chief. “The auxiliary cell is needed for the aircraft to deploy, so if that cell leaks the aircraft can’t be used to deploy.”

Once the leak location was identified, technicians removed fuel from the aircraft and prepared the area for them to enter the cell. While wearing respirators and a full body suit, two technicians opened the door to the fuel cell and climbed inside, getting to work inspecting and replacing components that may have caused the leak.

“After we replaced the packings and the O-rings inside of the cell it still didn’t fix the problem,” said Wiley. “That’s when we knew we needed to change the cell. I did some research and discovered this unit hasn’t changed a fuel cell since 1995, so nobody here at this shop had done it before.”

Wiley said he started making calls to the other fuel cell shops around the Air Force Reserve, searching for Airmen who had done the replacement recently to discuss the task. After going over some of the potential pitfalls associated with replacing the cell with other fuel shop section chiefs, he sought to bring experienced Airmen out from other units for some technical assistance.

Two Airmen from the 908th Maintenance Squadron at Maxwell Air Force Base and two Airmen from the 934th Maintenance Squadron at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station answered the 302nd Airlift Wing’s call for assistance with getting the fuel cell replaced.

“It’s good to come out here and do things like this because we’re sharing knowledge,” said Staff Sgt. Chase Young, 908 MXS fuel systems specialist. “There might be ways that I work that are better for them, and ways they work that are better for me. It’s the whole reason for this trip.”

Since the cell is made of flexible material, the Airmen had to fold it up inside of the aircraft to compress it small enough to shove the entire cell outside of a hole in the aircraft frame. Once outside of the aircraft, the Airmen laid the cell out on the floor to visually inspect it for defects, eventually inflating the cell with air to check for the exact location of the leak.

It takes up to four hours for a team to prepare the aircraft for the task and ensure the work area is safe for maintenance.

“The recent experiences of these Airmen are what qualify them to be out here helping us get this done,” said Wiley.

Young had recently performed a fuel cell change at his unit and was able to identify why the fuel cell didn’t seal properly when his unit first changed it, and was able to fix it.

Staff Sgt. Trevor Serbus, 934 MXS, assisted in changing out electrical components on the aircraft associated with the task and helped Wiley through every step of the process on this job.

When the time came for the new fuel cell to be installed inside of the aircraft, it seemed the cell may not fit inside of the aircraft without damaging it. Staff Sgt. Zane Strand, 934 MXS, confidently pushed the cell into the aircraft, knowing from previous experience that forcing it is the only way to make the cell fit.

After the fuel cell was changed and reconnected, technicians uncovered another major maintenance discrepancy with an indicator on the aircraft. Master Sgt. Richard Day, 908 MXS, was instrumental in addressing the issue, working with specialists from other maintenance career fields to resolve the problem.  

 “The biggest thing we learned was cooperation,” said Wiley. “We had some disagreements already and landed on three different answers, but I didn’t want to blindly say one was right so let’s do it that way. We discussed the issue and decided on courses of action together as a group.”

This maintenance task was the catalyst for fuel shops around the Air Force Reserve to begin communicating with each other more often, Wiley said.

 “I would’ve never had the chance to come out here and meet folks from Minnesota and Colorado otherwise,” said Young. “It helps us get more familiar with each other across the reserve fuel shops. I came in here and on the first day they treated me like I’d been here for the last five years.”

The various fuel shops across the Air Force Reserve have plans to send Airmen to different bases now over the next year to inspect their programs and how they operate, said Wiley. 

“After talking with other section chiefs, we realized the Airmen didn’t really know each other,” said Wiley. “If they don’t know each other then they don’t know who to call when they have a problem. So not only do the shop chiefs know each other better and have a relationship, now some of the Airmen do as well.”