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Crews breathe easier thanks to 550th CMMXS’s 'Air' Force

As the room fills with “smoke,” Bradley Lange and Zach McCain make sure converters are being filled with liquid oxygen safely and correctly in the Oxygen Maintenance Depot’s Fill Room. The employees who work in this room have to wear the required safety gear because liquid oxygen’s freezing point is 50.5K, or -368.77 Fahrenheit. (Air Force photos by Kelly White)

As the room fills with “smoke,” Bradley Lange and Zach McCain make sure converters are being filled with liquid oxygen safely and correctly in the Oxygen Maintenance Depot’s Fill Room. The employees who work in this room have to wear the required safety gear because liquid oxygen’s freezing point is 50.5K, or -368.77 Fahrenheit. (Air Force photos by Kelly White)

Curtis James works on an E-3 Oxygen Converter, which holds 75L of liquid oxygen, or LOX, in the Oxygen Maintenance Depot in Bldg. 1055. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Curtis James works on an E-3 Oxygen Converter, which holds 75L of liquid oxygen, or LOX, in the Oxygen Maintenance Depot in Bldg. 1055. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Randy Trotter trains Dung Tran on a purge eater, which pushes cold air in, heats it and then pushes it back out. The instrument mechanics are part of the 550th Commodities Maintenance Squadron’s Oxygen Maintenance Depot. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Randy Trotter trains Dung Tran on a purge eater, which pushes cold air in, heats it and then pushes it back out. The instrument mechanics are part of the 550th Commodities Maintenance Squadron’s Oxygen Maintenance Depot. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Like a complex puzzle, Cathy Ross, an instrument mechanic, assembles an 0393 oxygen regulator. This particular piece of equipment is made up of approximately 200 parts. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Like a complex puzzle, Cathy Ross, an instrument mechanic, assembles an 0393 oxygen regulator. This particular piece of equipment is made up of approximately 200 parts. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Jason Jenkins troubleshoots and runs tests on an 0393 oxygen regulator in the Air Force’s only Oxygen Maintenance Depot. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

Jason Jenkins troubleshoots and runs tests on an 0393 oxygen regulator in the Air Force’s only Oxygen Maintenance Depot. (Air Force photo by Kelly White)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- A one-of-a-kind shop at Tinker literally puts the "air" in the Air Force.

"We supply the air you breathe," said Thomas Spicuzza, section chief from the 550th Commodities Maintenance Squadron, 76th Commodities Maintenance Group. "This is mission critical equipment. You can't fly without it."

The 550th CMMXS's Oxygen Maintenance Depot is the technical repair center and world's leader in maintenance, repair and overhaul for military life support systems and their associated oxygen generation systems, including the on board oxygen generating system, Aviation Oxygen, Oxygen Concentrators, Oxygen Generation Systems, Oxygen Regulators and Oxygen Converters. "The 550th CMMXS's Oxygen Maintenance Depot supplies the entire Air Force, some Navy and FMS with oxygen to "keep 'em flying." They support the warfighter throughout the world.

"Those of us working in the O2 shop share the same philosophy that what we do is important," Mr. Spicuzza said. "Lives are at stake and we have the mindset that the work we do and the items we produce are important and critical to the mission".

Cabin pressurization is necessary at altitudes of 10,000 feet or more to protect from altitude sickness and ultimately hypoxia, where there is insufficient levels of oxygen in the blood or tissue. Altitude sickness caused by lower oxygen levels in the brain causes dizziness, shortness of breath and mental confusion, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.

"Most regulators are calibrated to 50,000 feet, though most aircraft don't go to that high altitude," said Joe Zais, first line supervisor of the Oxygen Maintenance Depot.
In a clean room environment, the Oxygen team works on concentrators, converters, regulators and monitors while running air/altitude simulations to ensure that all the equipment is working properly prior to sending it out in the field.

"The regulator controls the flow of oxygen a pilot receives through the mask," said Faye White, first line supervisor in the 550th CMMXS Oxygen Maintenance Depot. "The regulator performs differently at different altitudes and expands automatically".

Ms. White said the "converter" converts liquid oxygen, or LOX, to 02 that is sent through the regulator and mask to the flight crew. The LOX is maintained at -297.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though the concentrators, converters and regulators have their own specific job, they come in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit varying aircraft. According to Ms. White, Tinker supports the F-16, F-15, B-2, B1, F-22, B-52, C-130 and the E-3, all very different in size, but serving the same purpose. "There is even a 'hundred man' regulator that is used on larger aircraft that supplies oxygen for large troop movement" Ms. White said.
Oxygen is extremely flammable, so safety is a priority.

"The clean room is kept at a constant 72 degrees, +/- 5 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 30 percent and 50 percent for moisture control," Mr. Spicuzza said. "Safety equipment such as eye and ear protection, masks and aprons are worn. If the heat or air cooling system, or filtering system goes out, we could temporarily lose the capacity to work certain tasking's due to temperature and humidity controls driven by Tech Data."

The 300K class clean room is driven by Tech Data meaning that 300,000 particles per cubic foot per air sampling and the same rules for the 100K clean room, someone with a sunburn or maybe poison ivy would not be working in the room due to the lotions or medication on their skin, according to Ms. White.

"There are limits on products we use every day like hand lotion and the likes due to their high propensity for ignition," she said. Even hand sanitizer is off limits in the clean rooms.

"Ensuring a clean work environment is paramount to safety, quality and production," said Mr. Zais.

Mr. Spicuzza said there are also areas that are to be protected from electro static discharge within the clean rooms. "Here at the depot we fill the converters with LOX and after flow tests, checks and double checks, they are ready to send off in their bright green canisters," Mr. Spicuzza said, noting that green in the color code represents oxygen. The shop has its own powder coat capability so it can send out the canisters in "like new" condition.

"We all take this job seriously," said Mr. Spicuzza.

The Oxygen Maintenance Depot recently won an award for Quality Shop of the Quarter from the 76th Commodities Maintenance Group. "We here in the Oxygen Maintenance Depot believe in continuous process improvement and that achieving 'the Art of the Possible' is truly possible and we make it happen every day," he said.