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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Will heating fuel reach Nome, Alaska in time? – 11 Jan 12

You may have seen the news and pictures covering the Russian fuel tanker Renda and the Coast Guard Cutter Healy (icebreaker) trying to provide a path for the tanker to reach Nome, Alaska. Will they get there in time?

Route of Renda & Healy map provided by the New York Times.

The area is a tough go at any time of the year, but especially in the winter months. The Bering Sea and the rate of freeze makes it even tougher—as soon as the Healy cuts a path, it freezes back. Check out the depth of ice in the pic above. (provided by the New York Times).

Russian tanker Renda & Coast Guard Cutter Healy – provided by the AP Photo &US Coast Guard - Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis

Nome, Alaska isn’t gonna run outta heating fuel—at least not anytime soon. Re-supply of petroleum products via air and Army personnel was tested as far back as the winter of 1972 – 1973 as far as I can attest.

I know this for a fact. I was there and the officers and soldiers of my platoon did the actual work.

We were re-supplied with product out of Elmendorf Air Force Base by a C-130 “Bladder Bird” a especially equipped cargo plane with fuel tanks which pumped fuel directly into our airlifted petroleum cargo trucks from Fort Richardson (both activities located just outside Anchorage, AK).

The operation above tested the movement and refueling of Army helicopters but the same procedures can be adapted to any fuel and any storage device.

Reprint from Fort Richardson community paper published after the test took place:

“Men responsible for refueling military vehicles and aircraft when the Army is on the move in Alaska tried new techniques last week during Exercise ACE CARD VI at Nome. Speedy fueling of more than 70 Army helicopters was accomplished during a single hour shift.”

“According to 2nd Lieutenant Larry Wilson, the brigade’s petroleum, oil and lubricant (POL) officer, the refueling of all aircraft while their engines are still operating is routine, but this procedure is a first for the large, twin rotor CH-47 “Chinook” helicopter.”

“The aircraft fuel is dispensed from two 10,000 gallon fabric tanks (bladders). To distribute the fuel the men use three 350gallons-per-minute pumps (with separators to keep the fuel clean of dirt and water), and 2000 feet of hose. In an hour the men refueled a CH-54 “Flying Crane,” 11 CH-47 “Chinooks,” six AH-1G “Cobras,” 23 UH-1D “Hueys” and 30 CH-58 “Kiowas.”

“With wind chill temperatures ranging to 50 degrees below zero, with the primary hazard being frostbite, eleven soldiers alternately work in fifteen minute shifts, and handle the POL equipment. They must be extra careful, for fuel touching the skin will evaporate, causing quick cooling of the tissues and instantaneous frostbite.”

“During Exercise ACE CARD VI, the POL section handled 73 aircraft plus all other vehicles in the Brigade. In only two days the section dispensed 22,000 gallons of gasoline and 4,000 gallons of diesel fuel.”

Two points I would like to clarify here: (1) Larry Wilson was the 2nd POL officer to fill the position during my tenure as the Supply Platoon Leader (LTs: 1-Kring, 2-Wilson, 3-Brown and 4-Kuchta )and (2) the reporter confused the numbers on gallons dispensed. They should have read 22,000 gallons of jet fuel and 4000 gallons of diesel and Mogas. Be that as it may, in those two days they did a great job under some tough conditions.

I have very few pictures of the winter operations we were involved in as my camera (a Pe3tri, fully automatic 35mm) was frozen most of the time—I continually forgot about it and left in my jeep overnight and when time to use it presented itself; it failed to operate correctly.

I will, however, provide you with the two shots that follow:

2LT Larry Wilson at Eielson AFB a couple months prior to the Nome test

SGT Garcia & 2LT Doug Brown atop a 10,000 gallon fabric tank

So, just as the Alaska National Guard digs out the southern coastal city of Cordova, Alaska; the military contingent in Alaska has the where-with-all to insure that Nome does not run short of heating fuel.

By the way, I always ask this question every time I have the opportunity to show the Brown-Garcia shoot; can you guess what my very next action was subsequent to taking the photo that day?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your service ... if I looked out at such a scene, or woke up to find 18 feet of snow on the ground, I'd be on the first chopper/dogsled/whatever south with whatever I could get on my back, and NEVER come back!