MCAS BEAUFORT, S.C. -- It’s possible that the first thing people think of when they hear cryogenics is being able to freeze themselves, be thawed sometime in the future and being able to drive a flying car.
This is not the case with Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 31 Cryogenics. Instead, they produce and monitor nitrogen and oxygen in liquid and gaseous form to support the Air Station squadrons with their daily maintenance.
Cryogenics also keeps jets safe by sending a burst of dry oxygen over the front of heat-seeking missiles as they are deployed. This keeps them from seeking the aircraft that fired the missile and gives them time to seek their target.
“Our primary job is servicing and making sure the purity of the nitrogen or oxygen in order to keep the jets flying,” said Sgt. Michael Whitlock, a work center supervisor for MALS-31 Cryogenics.
It takes between an hour and an hour and a half, in ideal conditions, to pull and analyze a sample of liquid nitrogen or liquid hydrogen and ensure the product is pure.
“The higher the quality of the oxygen, the better the pilot can process it through his bloodstream and help prevent black outs,” Whitlock said.
Each sample that is taken should be no less than 99.5 percent pure, according to the Aviator Breathing Oxygen Field Surveillance Manual A6-332-AO-GYD-000.
The product is then issued to the squadrons to fill F/A-18 Hornet tires, seat pans, which help the pilot breathe, and nitrogen servicing carts, which are used to transport nitrogen on and off the flightline daily.
If foreign materials, such as grease and fuel, mix with either the nitrogen or oxygen it could result in a chemical explosion. To prevent contamination, a sample is taken every 45 days to ensure tainted material does not reach the squadrons.
When handling the dangerous materials such as liquid oxygen, each cryogenics technician must wear white boots and coveralls to highlight the possible presence of any petroleum, which could cause a chemical reaction, as well as a rubber apron, face shield and gloves to prevent any injury. Cryogenic burns cause the flesh to solidify and removal causes the flesh to peel off.
In order to keep the Air Station operational and the jets in the air, cryogenics Marines keep their equipment and purity at its best at all times.
“Our job is to make sure that the materials that we issue out are in 100 percent working order, so the squadrons have no problem completing their mission,” Whitlock said.