173rd Fighter Wing fuels shop undertakes major fuel systems upgrade project

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  • 173rd Fighter Wing

This summer marks a rare occasion at the 173rd Fighter Wing as the 50-foot-tall main fuel tank stands empty while maintenance crews swarm over it in preparation for decades of future operations.

Approximately every 10 years tanks like this one are taken out of service for inspection, maintenance, and upkeep says Senior Master Sgt. Eddie Gibson, the 173rd FW fuels management superintendent.  This time the project is designed to ensure the tank is viable for another 40 to 50 years of service, he adds.

“We are upgrading plumbing and valves, adding audible alarms for safety including low and high levels, as well as other general maintenance,” he says.

Two small hatches on either side of the main tank allow access to the interior of the tank where a crewmember pressure washes the floor. He is tall and his head nearly touches what looks like a ceiling inside the tank—it’s actually a pan that floats on top of the fuel in the tank in order to minimize fuel evaporation.

Around the concrete base of the tank workers apply a joint compound to any small cracks that have developed, and the lattice work of pipes show fresh welds where new valves have been added. Sections of piping are sand blasted to bare metal in preparation for priming and painting with heavy-duty two-part epoxy paint designed to last for decades. New stanchions are visible with fresh welds in several places; all of this is work that can only be done on an empty tank free of any flammable fuel vapors.

This tank is very large and stores over 600-thousand gallons of fuel; taking that capacity offline is the product of lengthy planning.

“We brought in 100-thousand gallons of temporary storage before we took this tank down,” says Gibson. “We also worked to keep the downtime to eight weeks.”

He adds that if everything goes according to plan it should be transparent to the flying mission—which naturally depends on a ready supply of jet fuel.  

This summer’s planned maintenance is too long to list, but includes valves, audible alarms, low and high level alarms, interior coating, and pipe reconfiguration to improve efficiency.

He estimates that crews will complete the work in mid-September, thus paving the way to renovate the smaller 150,000-gallon tank next summer.

Gibson says these upgrades ensure the flying mission continues and he adds that future plans include other upgrades, which will ensure the fuel supply goes uninterrupted into the foreseeable future.

The 173rd FW is the sole schoolhouse for F-15C formal training and its robust flying schedule relies heavily on the ability to have adequate fuel.