Cryogenics: Helping pilots breathe at 10,000 feet

Cryogenics: Helping pilots breathe at 10,000 feet

RAMSTIEN AIR BASE, Germany — Breathing is one of the most basic, involuntary and often overlooked human actions. At higher altitudes, breathing can quickly become one of the most conscious thoughts as it becomes harder to do. That’s where a small, but vital team of cryogenics experts from the 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron takes over. They help make sure aircrew members can breathe easily at altitudes of 10,000 feet and higher. 

“My job is to keep planes flying,” said Senior Airman Jeffery Halda, 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron cryogenics technician. “Without us, the mission wouldn’t continue because the aircrew members couldn’t breathe.”

Liquid oxygen can burn right through skin as it is -297 degrees Fahrenheit and liquid nitrogen is -321 degrees Fahrenheit. To ensure their safety, the cryogenics ensure they wear the proper personal protective equipment when on the job. 

“If you talk to most people who work on the flightline a common misconception about us is that we don’t work,” said Halda. 

The cryogenics team fills tanks full of liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen and then transport them onto the flightline to ensure the pilots have enough to accomplish their mission. According to Bruning, in an average month, they fill about 5,000 gallons of liquid oxygen and 8,000 gallons of liquid nitrogen. They fill the tanks, sample the chemicals inside of them then send them off to a lab for a more intensive examination.

“We take a sample, let the pressure build up to about 15 to 19 pounds-per-square inch and turn it into gas,” said Senior Airman Seth Bruning, 86th Logistics Readiness Squadron hydrants technician. “Once it’s in a gas state, we ship it to one of our aerial labs and they run tests on the samples.”

They see how pure it is and if there are any problems with that oxygen they let us know.

The Air Force standard for liquid oxygen is 99.5 percent purity, however, the cryogenics team consistently maintains a higher level, exceeding the Air Force standard.

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