Saving lives, one stitch at a time

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jonathan Bass
  • 20th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
In the 1996 box office smash "Independence Day," Harry Connick Jr. plays Capt. Jimmy Wilder, a Marine Corps aviator who dies due to hyperventilating in his F/A-18 Hornet after a malfunction in his oxygen regulator occurs.
20th Fighter Wing Airmen who work in aircrew flight equipment are tasked with making sure preventable deaths like that don't happen to any Shaw pilots.

The 20th Operational Support Squadron assigns aircrew flight equipment personnel to each of the three fighter squadron's here, and every shop maintains the highest level of readiness for their pilots' equipment.

"It's cool knowing that the pilot relies on you," said Senior Airman Mario Mendoza, 20th OSS aircrew flight equipment journeyman assigned to the 77th FS. "It's cool because we look after all their equipment; if they were to punch out of the jet they would have what they need to survive."

When a pilot is able to 'punch out', or eject safely from their plane, rescue can be achieved in a matter of hours.

Survival for a fighter pilot means ensuring that their G-suit, helmet, harness, mask, display unit, parachute, and oxygen regulator are all functioning properly.

"We do inspections every month," said Airman 1st Class Edward Boone, 20th OSS aircrew flight equipment journeyman assigned to the 77th FS. "We have a 30-day inspection, 90-day, 120-day, and yearly inspections, to make sure that the equipment works and will keep them safe."

Inspections are only one part of the job though. If during an inspection a hole is found in a suit or on a harness, it needs to be addressed immediately. If that occurs, that hole needs to be repaired, and who better to repair it than the Airman who discovered it.

There are few AFSC's that have a need for knowledge on how to sew, and aircrew flight equipment is one of them.

Although sewing is a seemingly simple task, knowing how to fix a pocket on a flight suit can save a life, said Mendoza. If something were to fly out of that hole in the suit while doing a high speed maneuver, the damage could injure or potentially kill the pilot, he continued.

In addition to sewing, aircrew flight equipment Airmen get to work with some of the Air Force's greatest equipment, said Boone.

"Not every person gets to say, 'Hey, I'm working with night vision goggles'," added Boone.

A normal work schedule is done over 28 days, said Mendoza. They go through each locker, separating it from Monday to Thursday. Tackling four lockers per day, they inspect and ensure that every piece of clothing and equipment is up to standards.

While working with all the life support equipment can sometimes be stressful, aircrew flight equipment Airmen take a great sense of pride in their work.

When they do their job correctly, they are saving lives, said Boone.

With vast attention to detail, aircrew flight equipment personnel work towards the goals of the 20th FW by ensuring that the pilot's gear is ready to go at a moment's notice, said Mendoza.

History has shown that fighter wings are high paced, as in the case of a 2013 deployment of the 79th FS here to the U.S. Air Force's Central Command's Area of Responsibility that mustered in a matter of days. Keeping up with the tempo and tradition of a high speed base, aircrew flight equipment stays at the ready to move at a moment's notice.

"We're ready for any mission," said Boone. "If we had to deploy anytime soon, we're able to do it and successfully go on with the mission."