This critical Air Force unit helps pilots breathe easy
When a pilot is taking off, the last thing they should have to worry about is the ability to breathe clean air, or having contaminated fuel in the aircraft. Without quality assurance checks, they may not have the peace of mind needed to perform at the highest level.
A small unit, consisting of only Maj. Kevin Pastoor, Aerospace Fuels Laboratory commander, and two technicians are responsible for all of Pacific Air Forces oxygen and fuel testing. The laboratory is part of the Air Force Petroleum Office, headquartered at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The AFPET consists globally of more than 100 individuals throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia, with only one-third of employees being service members. The Aerospace Fuels Laboratory can not only provide that peace of mind to pilots but also firefighters throughout PACAF.
"The Aerospace Fuels Laboratory is primarily responsible for performing quality assurance for PACAF fuels, aviator's breathing oxygen and compressed air for firefighters," Pastoor said.
The laboratory tests everything from water, fuel and oil contamination to aircraft incidents, which can make for many long-shifts based on the samples and tests needed.
Tech. Sgt. Shanice Spearman, Aerospace Fuels Laboratory Non-Commissioned Officer In Charge, explained that as a petroleum, oil and lubricants troop by trade, she typically helps refuel aircraft. Working in the laboratory allows her to learn how to do multiple tests on fuel enabling her to use skills that she otherwise wouldn't in her normal trade.
With a unique set of challenges specific to maintaining quality standards on oxygen and fuels, it's a task to keep everything running and ready to produce test results at a moment's notice.
"The hardest part of the job is maintaining this laboratory," Pastoor said. "We put a lot of time into maintaining, calibrating, and ensuring our laboratory equipment is operating as it's supposed to."
Despite being a small, 3-man shop, the unit makes sure the mission is completed on time.
In the case of major incidents, the laboratory can quick-turn tests in four to eight hours, Pastoor said.
With a global presence, AFPET makes certain Air Force firefighters and pilots can breathe easy and perform the mission.
"The importance of what we're doing here comes down to safety," Pastoor said. "We provide assurance that the fuel and oxygen within PACAF is safe to use."