AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
In order for the U.S. Air Force to provide the airpower needed to fly, fight and win around the globe, electrical power is a must to keep each base and its operations running no matter the hour.
The 31st Civil Engineer Squadron electrical systems team and the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Civil Engineer Maintenance, Inspection and Repair Team (CEMIRT) helps ensure that Aviano Air Base has reliable power distribution to always complete the mission.
CEMIRT provides Air Force-wide specialized maintenance, installation and repair support on electrical distribution systems and power production systems. Team members also perform maintenance on aircraft arresting systems and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems during peacetime and emergency response operations. There are only two CEMIRT operating locations that deploy globally across the U.S. Air Force -- at AFCEC's Detachment 1 at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, and from a smaller AFCEC contingent at Travis AFB, California.
CEMIRT members provided their expertise to Aviano AB last month and taught and assisted the 31st CES in performing scheduled maintenance and tests on 19 electrical systems and substations on Areas F, 1, C and E.
The purpose of a substation is to 'step down' high voltage electricity from the distribution system to a lower voltage that is safe to use in the buildings on base.
“[Most stateside bases] have one or two [substations], it just depends on the base,” said Tech. Sgt. Jacob Lanzer, CEMIRT electrical systems craftsman. “Smaller bases will have one and then branch out to a distribution system.”
In order to test the substations, the team had to turn each one off and on individually to isolate any potential faulty substations and make sure everything was operating correctly. This allows them to fix each problem they find to the best of their abilities.
When each substation was isolated, the buildings it powered were completely out of electricity for the duration of the outage or until they were finished with maintenance. The outages were scheduled at night when the least amount of people would be working to affect mission performance as little as possible.
CEMIRT used specialized equipment and training when teaching the 31st CES how to work on Aviano’s substations because they were significantly different compared to the electrical components CEMIRT is familiar with.
“When we work with CEMIRT, they teach us a little bit of everything,” said Senior Airman Kevin Nguyen, 31st CES electrical systems electrician. “They teach us how to oil each circuit breaker. We don't have enough equipment to do what they do, but they try to give us enough knowledge to fix it if required.”
This training familiarized the 31st CES with Aviano AB’s unique electrical systems and empowered the team to act upon any potential situation right away.
“Here we're performing preventive maintenance on the low and medium voltage breakers,” said Lanzer. “We are also performing maintenance on the relays that protect the medium voltage breakers. This allows us to ensure that the system is operating the way it was intended.”
The circuit breakers and relays need to be inspected and tested for maintenance every one to three years, depending on the severity of duty encountered by the circuit breaker.
“As far as performing maintenance on the breakers, we test the insulative properties to prevent catastrophic failure of the breaker,” said Lanzer. “Additionally, we will take readings on the main contact resistance between the line and load side of the breakers ensuring proper operation.”
The relays that control the breakers also need to be inspected and tested to make sure they’re operating correctly. Without them, even a functional breaker will not work.
“The relays are basically the ‘brains’ for the breakers,” said Lanzer. “They control the operation of the breakers, which are essentially switches for the circuits. We utilize computer software and current injectors to test the functions of the relays under faulty conditions. If the relay operates in accordance to its parameters, we can say it is working fine.”
The 31st CES electrical systems team plans to use the training they learned to sustain the mission of powering the base far into the future.
“I think it's a great learning experience opportunity,” said Nguyen. “Knowing that if anything goes wrong in the substation and the power goes out, they can count on us to turn back on the power and make sure that communication and the mission keeps going on.”