June 24, 2013

Fill Her Up! Fueling the Angel MedFlight Jets

By Angel MedFlight Contributor

We've all seen parts of the process while at the airport or sitting on an airliner looking out the window waiting for pushback, but what actually goes in to fueling an aircraft? At Angel MedFlight, our flight crews make sure that when a fuel stop is necessary, the process is done safely and efficiently.

Kindle Tannery is Chief Pilot at Aviation West Charters, which is the FAA F.A.R. Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate Holder for Angel MedFlight. "For the safety of flight, the first thing you have to determine is how much fuel you need. The captain will come up with a number and will verify with the co-captain or flight officer for that day," says Tannery.

If the distance between sending and receiving facilities is too great and we don't have enough fuel to get to our destination, we'll plan a fuel stop. Tannery says, "Our crews know in advance how far they can go and how much fuel they're going to burn. In our cars we drive around until the fuel gauge is on empty. With our aircraft, we have a plan and know how far we can go." 

When our jets land at a tech stop (or fuel stop) at a fixed base operator (FBO), the pilots make sure the fuel they're getting is one they're familiar with. They look for well-known brands. "We're not going to have some guy pull up in a truck with a barrel on the back of it." Tannery says there are countermeasures in place in case this happens. "The pilot has the means to test the fuel before it's even loaded on."

When the crew had decided on how much fuel the jet needs, one crew member supervises the loading of the fuel. Before the nozzles are even hooked up to the aircraft, the pilot will ensure that the fueler is trained on the truck. The pilot also makes sure the fuel truck has been sumped, which means all the water and contaminants have been removed from the fuel.

The pilot supervises the actual fueling because as Tannery puts it, "There are many different types of aircraft and there's one fuel guy so he may not be familiar with all the aircraft. The pilot is there to assist him in hooking up the aircraft and making sure everything is fueled properly."

A very important part of the fueling process is grounding the aircraft to prevent a static charge. The fuelers are required to ground the aircraft to the fuel truck or to the ground before they touch the nozzle to the aircraft. They do this by taking a cable from the truck and attaching it to what a looks like a microphone jack on the plane. The cable is plugged in and the aircraft is now grounded. Tannery says where the ground is depends on the aircraft. "Sometimes they're on the wing, sometimes they're next to the fuel ports, sometimes they're just connected to a piece of metal on the gear."

Tannery says our pilots like to spend no longer than 30 minutes on the ground for a fuel stop. "Land, get your fuel, pay and then you're on your way." Angel MedFlight picks out airports specifically for quick turnarounds. Tannery says the FBO in Salina, Kansas "is one we love to go to because they're very good at getting the aircraft in, taking care of payment and taking care of the fuel." Tannery says in Salina (SLN), they can get our planes in and out in about 20 minutes.

Gallons or pound of fuel? Our pilots will tell the fuel truck operator gallons, "but we need pounds," says Tannery. We calculate how much fuel we'll need by the burn and we'll burn on the average 1,500 pounds an hour of fuel." That's about 225 gallons.

There are two types of fuel at FBOs:  Avgas (for piston engines) and Jet A, which is kerosene-based. Tannery says Avgas is lead-based and yes, you could put some in your car but "it's going to run really hot." Our Learjet 35 can actually operate on either fuel with certain limitations. Tannery says it's not commonly done but in a pinch, the Lear 35 could get you there on Avgas.

Fueled and ready for takeoff, an Angel MedFlight air ambulance is off to its next medical flight.

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