AFE: One stitch between life, death

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
  • 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

“When someone’s life is in your hands, you have to be cognizant that their life depends on you... You only get one chance,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Tyler Wineman, 1st Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment technician, eluding to what could happen to a pilot if technicians, like him, did not do their job correctly.

Other 1st Operation Support Squadron Aircrew flight equipment technicians at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia, like Wineman, are in charge of maintaining and repairing the equipment needed to increase the survivability of pilots flying a fifth-generation stealth combat fighter aircraft.

For Wineman, who primarily maintains and inspects parachutes, having someone else’s life in his hands is something that resonates with each stitch, stow and fold involved with packing a parachute.

“You have to have a mindset of ‘I feel confident enough to jump with these. I can give it to another person,’” said Wineman. “I’m going to take my time, I’m going to do this right and if something looks wrong, I may have to condemn a chute.”

According to Wineman, who was previously stationed at a base where a parachute was successfully ejected and saved a pilot’s life, faulty chutes have been turned over to be condemned after up to four or more hours of packing.

“He punched out of a jet and my buddy’s name was on the repack, he was an Airman just like me,” said Wineman. “What we do is an important factor – our guys were (also) involved in rescuing him when he came down.”

Along with saving lives during ejection scenarios, AFE technicians maintain routine flight equipment that enables pilots to fly up to altitudes reaching 60,000 feet and at speeds of Mach 2.

“If the helmet goes wrong, if the communication goes wrong, we can fix that by running out to the jet to switch the components and get them back on their flight,” said Senior Airman Patrick Long, 1st Operation Support Squadron AFE technician. “But if the G-gear fails we have to fit them to an entire new suit.”

The G-suit is an antigravity suit that inflates to keep blood flowing regularly when pilots pull positive Gs. In order for it to work properly, AFE technicians must guarantee that the suits inflate to the proper pressures, and that they are not contaminated, ripped, cut or torn, preventing them from failing in flight.

According to Long, if any of those issues caused it to fail, the pilot could pass out, which could lead to ejecting or crashing the jet.

While the G-suits and parachutes are time staking and immediately life-saving, every piece of equipment the technicians maintain, from helmets to harnesses, ensures a successful and safe flight.

“It’s very important for us to have acute attention to detail with everything that we do. The slightest error could cause a death or a crash,” said Long. “For instance, the harness holds you to the parachute when you eject. If you miss one little fray in the webbing, the whole thing could unravel and the pilot could unfortunately lose his life.”

Thanks to the care, maintenance and repair performed by the JBLE AFE technicians, the F-22 Raptor and T-38 Talon pilots can face worst-case scenarios with higher levels of survivability as they deliver combat airpower worldwide, at moment’s notice in joint and coalition operations.