Senior Airman Charles Medley, 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenics production supervisor, prepares to distribute liquid oxygen Nov. 7, 2017, at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. The cryogenics production flight generates, stores and distributes pure, breathable liquid oxygen and clean nitrogen. (Photo by U.S. Air Force photo/ Airman 1st Class Gerald R. Willis)
ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The U.S. Air Force has two cryogenics production plants, one of which is on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam. For the last year however, the plant has been closed while undergoing repairs to be more energy efficient and bring it to mission capable status.
Cryogenics, or liquid oxygen production, is the process of super cooling normal, outside air that causes the two main elements, oxygen and nitrogen, to liquefy. The production plant generates, stores and distributes pure, breathable liquid oxygen and clean, dry nitrogen. Oxygen and nitrogen is stored in tanks in a liquid state until needed by different aircraft such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon, KC-135 Stratotanker and a variety of others for on-board breathable air.
“We are able to pull in the air from outside and supercool it to an astonishing -321 degrees Fahrenheit,” said Senior Airman Charles Medley, 36th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenics production supervisor. “We support the mission in the Pacific by providing the liquid nitrogen and oxygen needed to breathe on aircraft such as fighters, bombers and several cargo planes as well as support mechanical needs for helicopters.”
The liquid oxygen generated is used on many different aircraft as it is 4,000 times more condensed than gaseous oxygen, making it a much lighter and more space efficient alternative for an on-board breathable air system. Having a reliable supply of liquid oxygen, which is converted to breathable oxygen, allows the aircrew to safely operate at high altitudes.
“Having breathable air inside an aircraft is just as important for the aircrew as gas is for the engines,” Medley said. “The liquid oxygen can last in the small, mobile tanks for about seven days before it degrades and does not meet the standard 99.5 percent purity for use in aircrafts. This means that in order to have enough on hand for training or war fighting capabilities it must be produced and stored on island.”
Producing in-house enables Andersen AFB to be self-sustaining, decreasing its dependency on other resources and organizations. Also, the plant will save the Air Force money as it is cheaper to produce liquid oxygen than it is to buy from a third party.
“Almost everything needed to produce liquid oxygen is pulled from the air, except for the electricity needed to run the plant,” said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Kowalzek, 36th LRS cryogenics flight NCO in charge. “The production plant here is a great warfighting capability that allows us to supply oxygen for any of the many needs that come to Guam. With the ability to produce and the amount of storage we maintain, we will be ready to fulfill any challenge in the future.”
Andersen AFB hosts an assortment of joint and international exercises, such as Cope North and Valiant Shield, so the demand for cryogenics is always high. The team fills as many as ten carts and processes over 500 gallons of liquid oxygen a day during exercises, compared to an average of 400 gallons a week. Having a finely tuned team is crucial to meeting these demands.
“Currently, the cryogenics team is Medley and myself, we are excited to bring in new team members who will be trained to produce liquid oxygen for aircraft,” Kowalzek said. “As new Airmen come in, our new production plant will be up and running smoothly to continue our mission in the Pacific.”