JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- The 673d Logistics Readiness Squadron (LRS) fuels team’s C.B. hose was named one of two Pacific Air Forces Spark Tank nominees to compete in the 2020 Air Force Spark Tank.
The C.B. hose, short for Cox-Bernier hose, is designed to alleviate complications when defueling fighter jets’ external fuel tanks.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Cox, 673d LRS noncommissioned officer in charge of fuels training, and U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jeffrey Bernier, 673d LRS fuels service center controller, both assigned to Fuels Management Flight, are the genesis of the innovative hose.
For certain missions, fighter jets, like the F-22 Raptors at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, are fitted with two external fuel tanks, one under each wing. When a jet completes its mission, the external fuel tanks need to be emptied before they’re removed. In order to defuel the external fuel tanks, a flexible rubber hose is fed into an opening on top of the tank, and the fuel is siphoned out.
One of the problems is the hose doesn’t stay at the bottom of the tank - it curls like a pigtail inside the tank, Cox said. As fuel is siphoned out, the fuel level drops. If the hose isn’t sitting at the bottom of the tank, it sucks in air. Then, the air inside the hose needs to be pushed out before more fuel can be siphoned in, and the hose adjusted so the end of the hose is below the fuel level to continue to suck up fuel rather than air.
The opening on the top of the fuel tank where the rubber hose is inserted isn’t much larger than the hose itself, so the person adjusting the hose can’t see much of what’s happening inside the tank, said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. William Charleton, 3rd Maintenance Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of aircraft fuel systems repair. Currently, defueling the external fuel tanks under fighter jets’ wings takes anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours per tank, and sometimes more than six.
Last year when Cox and Bernier were defueling an external tank together and wrangling with the usual hose trouble, they started sharing ideas on how to fix it.
“Our main goal in this was to get rid of a major headache and make the quality of life better for everybody else,” Bernier said.
“We threw a couple ideas around and we finally set on just trying to change the fuel hose,” Cox said.
After Cox and Bernier presented their ideas at a staff meeting where they gained support from 673d LRS leadership, they have welcomed insight and input from people in different career fields to develop the C.B. hose prototype.
“We know POL [Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants],” Cox said. “We don’t know too much about metals tech; I don't know too much about fuel cell. It’s been really nice having different perspectives, having people from different jobs, take a look at our idea and say, ‘You guys are doing it this way, but have you thought about doing it this way?’”
Cox and Bernier said with help from Charleton, they are able to view what happens when the unmodified fuel hose is inserted into an external fuel tank and test the C.B. hose prototype.
“We have the side access panels off an external tank, and we can pop off the filler cap and stick in the old hose and view it from the outside looking in and take videos and pictures for the people actually making the hose,” Charleton said. “There are different components inside the tank depending which compartment they’re going in to. We’re able to demonstrate the exact angle and design of what they need to get inside there. We’ve also tested it on the aircraft itself, on the distances between the wing and the tank, to get an idea of how the hose needs to flex, and how much flex it needs.”
In September 2019, Cox and Bernier connected with Jarred Sapp, U.S. Army Alaska science advisor, and U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Michael Offenbacker, 3rd Wing innovation lead, at the Begin Morning Nautical Twilight workshop in the JBER innovation lab.
There, Sapp suggested fitting the end of the hose prototype with a unique flange, Cox said. This flange functions as a base plate, with channels or grooves cut into the underside, and sits flat on the floor of the tank. This will ensure the hose only sucks up fuel until the tank is virtually empty.
But how to prevent the rubber hose from curling once inside the tank? A rigid attachment can’t be used because there isn’t enough space between the wing of the aircraft and the external fuel tank. With help from Offenbacker, the team devised stiffeners to provide rigidity for part of the hose once it’s inserted into the tank.
The two to three aluminum stiffeners that wrap around the hose like a splint, Bernier said. The person doing the defueling can then maneuver the hose to firmly stand upright on the floor of the tank.
“This would allow us to have just enough flexibility to get to the external tank when it’s attached to the aircraft, but also sturdy enough that the hose won’t bend when we try to defuel the external tank,” Cox said. “Another benefit would be that we would be able to defuel the external tank entirely, saving crew chiefs from having to manually drain these tanks, which adds on at least another hour to the crew chiefs’ workload.”
This innovation would cut the defueling time by two-thirds, potentially saving over 1,000 man-hours annually at JBER, Cox said. The C.B. hose is being designed with other fighter jets in mind, to function for all fighter jets’ external fuel tanks across the U.S. military.
“From a 3rd Wing Maintenance Squadron perspective and as a fuels troop, we appreciate everything the POL section has done to alleviate this painstaking process and turn it into something that is super quick, super easy and super effective,” said Charleton. “We can continue on with dropping the external tank, getting it back to the section and start working on it versus spending hours and hours on hours on the line trying to get the fuel out.”
The entire process, from ideation through prototype development, has been fast-tracked through networking with other career fields and support from leadership.
“When our younger Airmen bring up ideas, we need to be able to listen to them, and support them with anything they need to get whatever they need done,” Cox said. “The entire chain of support, from fuels management flight up to Col. [Patricia] Csànk [673d Air Base Wing and JBER commander], has been nothing but supportive and has given us just about everything we need to get this idea off the ground.”
U.S. Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Stevens, 673d LRS fuels management flight commander and Arctic Spark Council vice president, praised Cox and Bernier for their motivation to be problem solvers and for partnering with JBER personnel across the installation.
“Seeing them lean forward and not afraid to try something new, even if they’re not sure how it’s going to work out, just going for it and trying to make something better has been awesome,” Stevens said. “They’re known throughout the career field now and it’s inspiring other Airmen of all ranks that maybe there is something to this innovation thing and being bold and taking risks.”
The team is currently in the testing phase for the C.B. hose prototype, continuing to collaborate with people from different career fields across two service branches at JBER.