New fuel pipeline keeps Boise jets flying

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Sarah Pokorney
  • 124 Fighter Wing
A new above-ground pipeline at Gowen Field is brining "clean and dry" aviation fuel to the A-10s and visiting aircraft. The stainless steel pipeline, that is easier to access and maintain, became operational at the end of May. It replaced an aging underground system that was the source for alarming contamination that occurred in 2009.

The 124th Fighter Wing is one of only three bases that have a direct aviation fuel pipeline; others have to truck in their fuel. The fuel travels from Salt Lake City through the Chevron Pipeline to Idaho Pipeline, the dedicated fuel provider for the wing. The fuel comes directly from Idaho Pipeline, a high-volume commercial fuel supplier who operates two tanks on Gowen Rd. These tanks feed the 124th Fighter Wing's fuel tanks, on base in two 400,000 gallon tanks.

"When the 22 F-15s where here from Klamath Falls we were using 1.4 million gallons of fuel per month," said Senior Master Sgt. Cal Garlock, Fuels Superintendent.

From the tanks jet fuel travels through three separators that remove contaminants, sediment, and water before it reaches the fuel transport trucks. The Gowen Field fuels lab samples and tests fuel for quality and safety weekly and every time fuel is ordered. Petroleum, Oils, and Lubricant (POL) Fuel Systems specialists filter the JP-8 fuel three times and testevery batch of fuel before pumping it aboard an aircraft's fuel tanks. They ensure that it is "clean and dry" --free from water, debris, or contaminants.

"It's our job to make sure the fuel is clean and dry. We have a lab here onsite dedicated to testing," said Garlock.

The pipeline was replaced due to contamination issues from the old pipeline. In 2009 when the Klamath
Falls F-15s and fuel usage was at the high usage of 1.4 million gallons per month, a routine check of a fuel truck by Staff Sgt. Jim Hubbard revealed metal fragments in the fuel.

"A fuel truck was filled and had fueled at least two A-10s with rust contaminates (unknown at the time) - before the rust was found in samples taken from the truck one aircraft had already started and took off for a training mission - putting the aircraft and the pilot in certain danger," said Lt Col Scott Wakefield IDANG, 124 Fighter Wing Flight Safety.

The aircraft were grounded for two days and the source of the contamination was traced back to an improper weld that was made when an older fuel tank was removed. The slag from the poor weld had cut through the filters in the separators and made it through to the fuel trucks and aircraft.

"We replaced the weld after we removed tank two. It was an immediate fix to get us back into the race," said Garlock.

Further investigation reviled other issues with the aging pipeline system that required maintenance and ultimately the full replacement. Much of the old infrastructure had been in place for 50 years.

"We allocated several hundred man hours to correct the situation and clean affected systems, aircraft, fuel trucks and repair the affected line to mitigate the problem," said Wakefield. "This situation was sure to re-manifest itself until a new pipeline is built."

The new pipeline project took a year and a half to complete and cost the Defense Logistics Agency an estimated $750,000. DLA West, located in California, owns the tanks and the pipeline infrastructure on Gowen Field. They provide the guidance and maintenance as well as filters and testing supplies. DLA made the ultimate call on the replacement of the pipeline. The new pipe is expected to last at least 50 years.

"DLA owns the fuel until it reaches the aircraft," said Garlock. "They paid for the upgrade and had the expertise to manage the project and hire contractors."

The new pipeline is made of six inch stainless steel that is far more durable, being above ground has many benefits as well.

"It is much easier to tell the condition of the above ground pipe, when it's underground it's more likely to corrode. Stainless steel is also much better quality." said Garlock.

In addition to the A-10s and visiting aircraft, the pipeline also provides fuel for the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) and to the Army for their helicopters, tanks, and Humvees.

The next phase of the project is to move the three filling stations for the fuel trucks so that they are closer to the pump house that holds the separators. This will eliminate the need for the final stretch of pipeline that is still underground. This final phase of the upgrade has not yet been scheduled.

"The new pipeline is definitely a great step to prevent future (safety) issues and costly repairs," said Wakefield.