Cryogenics: Breathing life into aviation

25 Mar 2014 | Cpl. Sarah Cherry

Many people hear ‘cryogenics’ and picture freezing people in sub-zero temperatures to be revived later, like Han Solo in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strike Back, Austin Powers, or the real life baseball player Ted Williams.

Cryogenics technicians in the Marine Corps make liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen to support the F/A-18s aboard Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort.

"No one knows what cryogenics is," said Lance Cpl. Ryan Finnerty, a cryogenics technician aboard the Air Station from Des Moines, Iowa. "It kind of makes you feel small, but we have a significant role to play with the jets."

The liquid nitrogen cryogenics manufactures helps prevent aircraft fires.

"We provide gaseous nitrogen for the tires of the aircraft," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Willoughby, cryogenics technician from Smith’s Falls, Ontario, Canada. "It’s an inert gas, so it doesn’t support any kind of spark when they’re landing."

If the tires contained oxygen, said Willoughby, the potential for sparking a fire would be much higher.

Cryogenics also provides the oxygen pilots breathe in high altitudes.

"It’s important because you’re protecting the oxygen the pilots are breathing," said Finnerty. "[Our most important role] is giving the pilots clean oxygen so they don’t pass out."

Cryogenics Marines make sure that the manufactured oxygen meets Federal Aviation Administration standards and regulations. This helps maintain a high level of safety.

"Part of the process after we make oxygen is that we actually sample it ourselves to make sure that what we’re handing out to the squadrons meets the standards of the FAA," said Willoughby.

While cryogenics is not very well known, it is a crucial job that demands excellence and rejects failure.

If cryogenics equipment in the United States fails, civilians can temporarily fill a gap. On a deployment, alternatives are less than scarce.

"If something in cryogenics goes down [during a deployment], almost no jets are flying or they’ll halt flights so they don’t use up all the resources," said Finnerty. "When you’re deployed, people know who you are and how important you are to the mission."

Cryogenics is a vital resource for the F/A-18 squadrons of the Air Station, and even more crucial to the mission in a deployed environment.