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AFE Airmen ensure flight safety

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Nick Wilson
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Air Force pilots have numerous types of equipment they must know the ins and outs of and be able to properly wear before they can fly. They rely on Airmen working in the aircrew flight equipment properly assembled and ready at all times.

Airmen working in the 509th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment shop are responsible for ensuring aircrew members return home safely by maintaining, inspecting and repairing all flight equipment. A team of 32 Airmen work around the clock in staggered shifts to ensure the equipment is maintained and can be used at a moment's notice.

"Most of the people in our shop are brand new Airmen who are here 24-hours a day, six days a week," said Master Sgt. Thomas DeLong, 509th OSS AFE superintendent. "They sacrifice a lot but they do well and the aircrews have always been happy with the service we've provided to them."

AFE Airmen must be ready to provide safe and fully functional equipment 24/7 because Whiteman's pilots can be called upon at any time. The shop maintains 12 sets of gear that include 72 pieces of equipment per day throughout the year.

Some of the equipment AFE Airmen are responsible for includes pre-flight and post-flight inspections on helmets, masks, survival kits, harnesses and anti-gravity suits. The anti-gravity suits, or 'g-suits', are worn by pilots to stabilize the body when exposed to forces of high acceleration and gravity.

"The majority of the equipment we deal with gets a lot of use," DeLong said. "The backpack style parachutes and survival kits are used the most and they often come back frayed or torn. Those usually take the most amount of work before they are fully functional and ready for use again."

AFE maintenance requires Airmen to stay educated on updates to Air Force Instructions and guidance to ensure their equipment is safe and within standards.

"Our career field is like a jack-of-all trades because it requires us to know rules and regulations of the various agencies we deal with every day," said Tech. Sgt. Damian Bunch, 509th OSS AFE NCO in charge. "We quality control 100 percent of our outside agency equipment, or items, and the outside agencies inspect us on their processes that we do. So those outside agencies keep us in line to ensure we are in the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's standards."

When it comes to maintenance and inspections the team is also challenged with attention to detail and time management, according to Bunch.

In addition to staying current on updates to AFI guidance, AFE Airmen are in constant certification training on the equipment they are responsible for.

Although the technical training is six weeks, Airmen are required to complete six months of training upon arrival to Whiteman so they can meet the demands of the 509th OSS' AFE flight.

"There are 293 tasks an Airman needs to complete before reaching their five-level or journeyman status and five volumes of career development courses," DeLong said. "Airmen need to learn how to maintain, inspect and pack life preservers, parachutes, life rafts, survival radios, drogue suits, helmets, masks, harnesses and anti-G-suits. It is critical for them to know how to follow the procedures correctly. If there is an in-flight emergency, someone will die if their equipment isn't properly assembled."

Whether it's an air show, deployment or training sortie, the tempo and mission for AFE Airmen remains the same.

"If they have to use our equipment, they're having a really bad day already," DeLong said. "We need to make sure everything works properly so they can make it home."