AFE provides life-saving equipment for pilot readiness

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Deanna Muir
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

From parachutes and helmets to oxygen masks and survival kits, A-10 pilots wouldn’t be able to fly without the 23rd Operation Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment shop at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia.

These life-saving pieces of equipment require rigorous inspections and repair, and the AFE specialists also have the responsibility of ensuring flight crew are prepared for any situation.

These situations could range from losing an aircraft canopy -- causing aircrew to rely solely on their helmet, mask and visor for windshield protection -- to ejecting from the aircraft and landing in freezing water, said Master Sgt. Larry Lucas, 23rd OSS AFE superintendent.

To account for that vast range, AFE has to split its manpower.

The 23rd OSS AFE is broken down into two shops. The parachute shop packs and inspects parachutes and survival kits while the inspection shop works with the helmet, harness, g-suit and any other gear the pilot wears.

Fully functioning parachutes are an obvious safety requirement, and the survival kits can change depending on the location of the mission. Once this is complete, and before a pilot steps out to fly, they process through AFE for a pre-flight check to ensure their gear is properly working and no adjustments are needed.

Along with pre- and post-flight checks, 2,100 pieces of life-saving equipment are inspected monthly, and equipment is on a rotating cycle for a thorough inspection. Ranging from 30-365 days, each piece of equipment will be broken down and fully inspected to ensure safety.

“If a pilot doesn't have all of their readiness items or equipment, they're not going to be able to fly,” said Staff Sgt. Matthew Plunkett, 23rd OSS parachute shop noncommissioned officer in charge. “That doesn’t happen often here because we use a specific readiness schedule to maintain equipment.”

To ensure pilots are able to continue their mission, AFE Airmen go through extensive training to perfect their craft, as well as needing to fully understand how to use all of the equipment so they can properly train pilots.

“We have to teach our crew how to use this equipment,” Lucas said about his experts conducting hand-on training with pilots. “We have a training syllabus, we have slides, we have a whole classroom that we designated for aircrew training. In order for us to do that, we have to know what we’re talking about.”

It can take years of training to become an AFE expert. Follow-on courses become necessary as concepts evolve and new pieces of equipment are added to their inventory. For example, AFE Airmen can better explain the survival kits by attending advanced arctic, water or land survival school to learn how to use the equipment in a real emergency.

They put this knowledge to use by teaching classes a couple of times a month. Through this class, pilots can supplement their existing survival training with any updates to their equipment or mission set.

And as Moody transitions to the lean and expeditious Lead-Wing concept, it’s essential that AFE Airmen know exactly how to inspect their assigned equipment and make sure a pilot is prepared for any situation.

The commander of Air Combat Command has further clarified and officially designated Moody as one of five Lead Wings to be ready to “rapidly generate combat power as a deployed force.”

“It’s helpful for us to always try to stay a step ahead,” Plunkett said, “so they're always ready to go out the door at a moment's notice.”

Around the Air Force, AFE’s motto is ‘Your life is our business because we’re the last to let you down’ and thanks to AFE’s key role in the mission and their meticulous work, pilots are able to fly with confidence as they provide combat airpower across the globe.

“We give aircrew operators that confidence bump, we give them that security, we give them that knowledge that they can push themselves to the limit in their training, in combat scenarios,” Lucas said. “They can push to the limit knowing they have a safety net provided by aircrew flight equipment and the great work that we do.”