Cryogenics: It's not just for people

OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The cryogenic lab deals with materials that operate at sub-zero temperatures. Specially, Osan stores and uses liquid oxygen, or LOX, and liquid nitrogen, or LIN, for a variety of reasons to accomplish our mission.

"Pilots depend on these," said Master Sgt Jason Owens, 51st Logistcs Readiness Squadron. "When they are pulling Gs, or in the middle of a dog fight, this is what they suck in, this is what keeps them up in the sky."

LOX is a pale blue, nontoxic, water-like fluid with a boiling point of -297 degrees Fahrenheit. In the aircraft, the super cooled, liquified gas is warmed to the point it becomes a breathable gas. It is used by pilots when flying at high altitudes or flying and maneuvering at speeds that cause an excessive G-force.

LIN is a colorless, odorless, nonflammable, nontoxic and chemically inactive, water-like fluid with a boiling point of -320 degrees Fahrenheit. When LIN is converted to nitrogen, it is primarily used by aircraft maintainers to service aircraft tires and struts. Nitrogen is used due to the fact it is clean, dry and more stable than regular air. These characteristics prevent moisture from freezing and the potential failure of tires or struts.

In addition, LIN is used by the Medical Group for wart removal.

While checking the purity of the LOX, a team member noticed something black, cooking in the LOX. After a second look, it was a grasshopper in the sub-zero liquid. When the team member took out the grasshopper, it shattered when it touched the ground, said Flores.

Extreme caution must be exercised with both of these products due to their sub-zero temperatures. Before dealing with the cryogenic products, the teams wear a lot of personal protective equipment to keep the material from making contact with their skin. The gear includes clean white, protective gloves with gauntlet cuffs, long sleeves that extend to the gloves, cuff less trousers worn outside boots or over high-top shoes to shed spilled liquid, shoes laced tightly to prevent spilled cryogen from seeping inside and only tightly woven materials, face shield and an apron.

Because of LOX's potential to fuel a fire, LOX and petroleum-based products do not mix. Such a combination is shock sensitive and will explode if shaken. The team performs meticulous inspections on our cryogenics area to ensure there are no petroleum-based products such as oil or grease.

LOX must meet stringent AF requirements... 99.5 percent pure, odorless, and contain less than 1 part per million by volume of any particle. The teams perform rigorous quality control checks beginning at the contracted production plant all the way through servicing of the maintainer's LOX cart.

At the production plant, Osan has a quality assurance representative who draws periodic inspection samples for analysis by an area lab located at Kadena AB, Japan. The second test is performed at base level by the cryogenics team. They obtain a 200 milliliter sample from the contractor's truck and perform an odor and particulate test.

Safety, and on-specification product, are first and foremost for our pilots and tenant flying operations. They provide the only cryogenics on base with the full assurance the fuels team will meet and exceed mission requirements.