Army Aviation and Helicopter Refueling: 5 Safety Tips

Refueling in general has a lot of safety concerns. A lot of people don’t realize how much goes into Petroleum, Oil and Lubricants (POL) handling, let alone draw the conclusion that the safety rules in the Army should also apply at their common gas station. I was fortunate enough to be a fueler in an aviation unit, which was a lot of fun and a unique experience. The safety principles apply everywhere, and in every type of unit, but aviation has a few different circumstances that everyone has to be aware of. 

1.    You need to make sure to do your daily and monthly fuel tests. I am referring to the aquaglo and millipore tests. The aquaglo should be done every day that you plan to refuel aircraft. You can run fuel out of one HEMTT for ground and air vehicles, but if your plan involves aviation refueling then this test must be done. It measures the ppm of water in the fuel. If it is over 10, then the fuel is considered unsafe. The millipore is supposed to be done every month and measures the sedment in the fuel.

2.    Make sure you follow all safety checklists provided by the safety officer when setting up your fuel point. This is generally more important if you plan to do a ‘hot’ refuel (aircraft blades are still turning), but there is a comprehensive checklist you will have. It is easy to follow and it tells you exactly what you need to have, and where it should be. The safety officer will come check your work, and if you follow the checklist, they shouldn’t have any issues.

3.    Have an escape route. Hot refueling can be dangerous in certain conditions. Make sure that your HEMTT is positioned to get away quickly in the event of a fire.

4.    Have all appropriate PPE!  This one is a no brainer, but make sure you are wearing the appropriate clothing, and have goggles and gloves made from appropriate materials. Ensure the grounding rods are correct and the fire extinguishers are in the right place.

5.    Take all commands from the crew chief. When the crew chief is off the aircraft, THEY are in charge, not you! It may be your fuel point, and they should listen to you in regards to fuel safety, but they are in charge of that aircraft! Don’t just run up to it and start fueling. Pay attention and listen. That rule actually applies when you are going to be a passenger, or anything else.

Bottom Line: Aviation refueling is fun and rewarding. The pilots appreciate having competent refuelers that are proud of their job, and that can do it efficiently and safely.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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7 thoughts on “Army Aviation and Helicopter Refueling: 5 Safety Tips”

  1. Safety is number one! Refueling can be a seemingly thankless job, but having a competent and efficient refueling team is important to any mission. It’s a position that requires properly trained soldiers who are on top of their game. Doing proper testing, and knowing protocol in the event that something goes wrong. You want to get these military aircraft back up in the air as quickly, safely and efficiently as possible.

  2. Great tips! I know that it is sometimes easy to get nonchalant when it comes to positions such as this. Lives are on the line and not being safety conscious can put many lives in a precarious situation.

    I believe all fuel handlers should have lists such as yours in front of them at all times. It may stop errors and accidents that could maim or kill.

    1. The Army, and especially Aviation, is very big on safety checklists. I think this is a good thing. Like a pre-flight checklist, fuel handlers have certain steps and procedures to follow.

    2. Candace Ginestar

      Hi Greg,
      While aircraft refuelers do not have this specific checklist, they do have a safety checklist, and a FARP checklist that is much more detailed than this one. Safety is pounded into our heads from day one, at our unit. At AIT, the block of instruction for aviation fuel was MUCH longer than literally everything else we did, and it was the biggest hands on test. No notes, no open book…they wanted to make sure we knew what was going on, because if anything happened to that aircraft, WE were the first ones the investigators were going to talk to.

  3. Having spent some time as a Fuel Officer myself, I can tell you that this is a tough and important job. Fuel is very dangerous to handle, especially JP4, and most Soldiers have no idea about the logistics involved with storing, handling, and issuing fuel. Add in the required checks and tests, safety procedures, and logistics pipeline and it is a huge task. Thanks for sharing your wisdom about handling fuel properly.

    1. I can just imagine the BS you guys had to deal with on that end. I know the mess we have to deal with if we even spill a little bit of fuel or we open our drain plugs without being over an oil/grease separator structure. I know one thing and that is to always be on the good side of your fuelers! Without you guys we go nowhere and have to walk!

  4. Great tips, Candace. I think the last tip is the most important and often forgotten rule. Even as a Pathfinder from time to time we had to be reminded that yes, we own the LZ and the pilot listens to US when it comes to air drops, etc. but once on the ground the crew chief is THE man. I must say that the Army does not a do a very good job between the different personnel in promoting a TEAM mindset when it comes to aviation efforts.

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