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OHIO F-16s GO 'GREEN' - Alternative fuel appears to be safe

1st Lt. Brett McNichols checks a fuel sample Feb. 8, 2012, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory, like McNichols, analyse fuel samples from all around the world. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock)

Biofuels scientist 1st Lt. Brett McNichols, at the Air Force research Laboratory checks fuel samples that have been sent in from all over the world on February 8, 2012 at Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force Photo by: MSgt Jeremy Lock) (Released)

f-16 two ship

SPRINGFIELD AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Ohio – Two 178th Fighter Wing F-16 Fighting Falcons fly over Springfield Air National Guard Base, Ohio, in November 2008. The 178th Fighter Wing trains active-duty Air Force, Air National Guard, and Air Force Reserve pilots to fly F-16 Fighting Falcons. The wing is one of three stateside National Guard units that is designated as a training unit to prepare future F-16 pilots for worldwide missions. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Joseph R. Stahl)

Staff Sgt. Chad Lavigne prepares to refuel an F-16 Fighting Falcon Feb. 12, 2012, at the Ohio Air National Guard Base. The F-16 is a part of the field service evaluation for biofuel operations. Lavigne is a fuels specialist assigned to the 180th Mission Support Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. Jeremy Lock)

U.S. Air Force Fuels Specialist Staff Sgt. Chad Lavigne from the 180th Fighter Wing ANG prepares to refuel a F-16 Falcon with a new biofuel mixture on February 12, 2012 at Wright Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force Photo by: MSgt Jeremy Lock) (Released)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- In a joint effort by Airmen from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, and Airmen from the Ohio Air National Guard's 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo, Ohio, the F-16 fighter jet is currently undergoing a field service evaluation of biofuel.

As the largest consumer of energy in the Defense Department and $8 billion spent on fuel in fiscal 2011, Air Force officials are working toward making the fleet a little "greener" by researching, testing and ultimately implementing the use of alternative fuels.

Although other airframes, such as the C-17 Globemaster III, have been certified to use biofuel for unrestricted operations, this is the first evaluation of the F-16 Fighting Falcon.
 
Two F-16s from the 180th FW fleet have been designated to test the 50/50 blend of Jet Propellant-8 petroleum and Hydroprocessed Renewable Jet fuel derived from the camelina plant. Camelina is essentially a weed that grows throughout the United States and requires very little horticulture.

The 180th FW was an ideal location for the fuel test because of its proximity to Wright-Patterson AFB, where the Air Force Research Laboratory is located, and its continued focus on green energy. In 2011, the wing garnered the Reduced Energy Appreciation Program Award from the Air Force Civil Engineer Support Agency's Air Force Facility Energy Center.

"It's part of the Air Force's strategic goals to be able to reduce energy across the Air Force, so we really embrace that," said Col. Steve Nordhaus, the 180th FW commander. "We're trying to do everything we can to reduce energy costs because we know that every dollar we save there, we can use to buy more aircraft that protect our country or help support Airmen who are out there doing critical missions that affect our homeland defense." The jets have been flying with the blend since mid-December and will continue until the test sample is depleted, he added.

"Our ability to exercise and use this stuff on a small scale or case-by-case basis makes us ideally suited to test the fuel," said Col. William Gieze, the 180th Mission Support Group commander.

The staff at AFRL worked with commercial fuel manufacturers to develop a blend that would meet Air Force specifications. Safety considerations such as the flash and freeze points of the fuel were some of the major factors when determining the specifications for the F-16.

"Manufacturers are making alternative fuels for both the military and commercial customers," said Dr. Tim Edwards, a senior chemical engineer for the AFRL fuels division. "Typically, they'll send samples of their fuel, and we'll evaluate and say, 'Yes, you're on the right track; this could be a jet fuel.' When they get to the point where they can make large enough quantities, we'll hand them off to the Alternative Fuels Certification Office."

The Air Force goal, by 2016, is to have half of the fuel that is purchased domestically to be at least a 50/50 blend of conventional and alternative fuel, Edwards said.

Another goal for the researchers and developers was to make the transition as seamless as possible. To date, there has been no additional training, equipment or maintenance required to begin using the fuel.

"When we first started this we were a little concerned because a few years ago we made the switch from JP4 to JP8 jet fuel," said Col. Scott Reed, the 180th Maintenance Group commander. "The difference between the two caused a few hiccups initially. Some of the gaskets and O-rings didn't expand as they normally would in the presence of the fuel, so we had leaks." The colonel likened the process to driving a car from Los Angeles at sea level to the Rocky Mountains. Adjustments need to be made for the car to operate at peak performance at different elevations. But with the new fuel blend, the transition has been totally transparent.

After each flight, the pilots complete a debrief form and each week the fuels technicians complete a debrief form to provide data to the Alternative Fuels Certification Office about how the jets are performing with the new fuel blend.

And just as in real world operations, the jets designated for the test can refuel from the same tanker as the rest of their fleet during mission. Since biofuels may not be available at every base or some overseas locations, the fuel blend must be interchangeable with standard JP-8.

"The truth of it is there has been absolutely no noticeable difference whatsoever," Reed said. "There have been no fuel leaks, no operational impact."

Once all of the data is collected and analyzed and any issues are rectified, the fuel can be certified to be used for all F-16s.

"The fact that we're going to be doing something that not only affects the Air National Guard, but the total force was really our end goal," Gieze said. "We really want to see the F-16 get certified on this and allow our country some other avenues for fuel."