At the Forefront: Citizen Airmen lead efforts to save fuel and money

The 916th Air Refueling Wing from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, released one of its KC 135 Stratotankers permanently to the 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls International Airport Air Reserve Station, New York, as the 914th converts to a refueling wing. While en route to Niagara Falls, the KC-135 refueled a KC-10 Extender. (Senior Airman Joshua Williams)

The 916th Air Refueling Wing from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, released one of its KC 135 Stratotankers permanently to the 914th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls International Airport Air Reserve Station, New York, as the 914th converts to a refueling wing. While en route to Niagara Falls, the KC-135 refueled a KC-10 Extender. (Senior Airman Joshua Williams)

Citizen Airman/Aug. 2017 -- (Editor’s note: Air Force Reserve Command and Air Mobility Command have enjoyed a close working relationship since 1968. Following is one of a series of stories designed to focus on current successful AFRC/AMC partnerships and how the commands are planning to maintain and expand that relationship into the future. Previous partnership stories can be found in the December and February issues, which are available online at http://www.citamn.afrc.af.mil/Past-Issues/.)

With the ongoing mission to utilize Air Force resources more effectively and to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars, Air Mobility Command’s Fuel Efficiency Division is tasked with finding innovative ways to enhance mission effectiveness through saving fuel and money. Citizen Airmen have been at the forefront of this important effort since the Fuel Efficiency Office’s inception in 2008.

Originally manned with two officers — both commercial airline pilots — from Air Force Reserve Command and two contractors, the office was responsible for putting programs in place to achieve the secretary of the Air Force-directed goal of a 10-percent fuel consumption reduction by the end of 2015.

“In 2008 and 2009, fuel prices had spiked significantly to more than double and accounted for a significant portion of the Air Force budget,” said Lt. Col. Vince Zabala, Fuel Efficiency Division program manager. “Because of this, it was imperative to increase fuel efficiency across the mobility air forces.”

As the need for fuel efficiency increased, so did the size of the office and the number of Reservists supporting the mission. The mission is especially important given the fact that AMC today accounts for more than 50 percent of the total aviation fuel costs for the entire Air Force.

“Many of these Reservists were also airline pilots, who were able to infuse many of their commercially proven fuel-saving initiatives into AMC operations,” Zabala said. “Additionally, AMC was able to convince the Air Force that, by providing small measures of seed money, fuel efficiency programs could harvest definitive savings back to both the command and the Air Force.”

That investment paid off in April 2013 when the Air Force reached its goal of achieving a 10-percent fuel consumption reduction, more than two years ahead of schedule. With the fuel consumption goal achieved, a new goal was established to increase fuel efficiency by 10 percent by 2020.

To meet the new objective, the Fuel Efficiency Division began to research ways to leverage various concepts, such as changes to policies, procedures, planning and maintenance practices; aircraft material changes; and science and technology advances.

One significant initiative the division fielded is the KC-135 Stratotanker Engine Compressor Upgrade Program, which improves engine longevity and efficiency by saving fuel and sustainment costs.

Another development is the Air Refueling Liaison Office, which started in 2010. The ARLO uses tankers already airborne to fill refueling requests, rather than launching a sortie specifically to fill the request. Over the years, the office has become a normalized process in mobility air forces operations, with approximately $28.6 million in extra fuel costs avoided since its inception.

The division also played a supporting role in the development and operationalization of the Mobility Air Forces Cost Avoidance Tankering concept. The MAFCAT process not only helps the Department of Defense avoid overall costs, but it also helps save lives in the combat zone.

“That program avoided spending approximately $20 million in DOD enterprise dollars and potentially saved more than two dozen lives in the (area of responsibility) by tankering fuel from less expensive locations to avoid refueling at expensive locations,” Zabala said. “While this requires MAF aircraft to carry more fuel than needed for each specific mission and generates an additional cost to carry the extra gas, it removes dangerous fuel convoys that would be needed to supply those expensive locations in U.S. Central Command and saves the overall DOD enterprise more dollars than that used to tanker the gas.”

Much of the success of the division is attributed to the strong collaboration between AFRC and AMC and the major role Citizen Airmen play in the MAF mission.

“A significant portion of the mobility air forces resides in the Air Force Reserve, and teamwork between active-duty and reserve components will ensure continued efficient operations that can save precious resources, while improving operational capability,” Zabala said. “Specifically, our Reservists are the fuel efficiency analysts and program managers in charge of delivering actionable results to improve MAF fuel efficiency, and AMC leads the way for the Air Force.”

Reservists manage fuel efficiency programs currently under development like Surfing Aircraft Vortices for Energy. The program, developed by Air Force Research Laboratory and Boeing, uses updated software on the C-17 Globemaster III to fly just outside the lead aircraft’s wake vortices, thus taking advantage of the lift generated.

Research into these types of programs has paid great dividends. As of fiscal year 2015, it is estimated that 11.2 million gallons of fuel have been saved due to the practices and innovations developed by the Fuel Efficiency Division, and that reduction equates to approximately $300,000 saved every day.

Recently AMC, U.S. Transportation Command, the Defense Logistics Agency and the Tanker Airlift Control Center have worked together to standardize the process and expand MAFCAT to worldwide operations.

“Those results showed tremendous potential to save the DOD additional millions of dollars annually, while, at the same time, the automated computation method actually decreased the workload,” Zabala said.

If trends continue, DOD’s annual fuel cost savings could potentially amount to approximately $50 million as MAFCAT is normalized globally.