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Hanging out with AFE

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joel Pfiester
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Pilots, as well as Airmen, must be knowledgeable about safety equipment and survival procedures in the event that a mission goes awry and their aircraft goes down.

The Airmen from the 509th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment shop are experts when it comes to reacting to emergency situations, and the proper use of emergency safety equipment. The Airmen do pre-flight and post-flight inspections on safety equipment including parachutes, helmets, floatation devices, and survival kits.

"Here we inspect the harnesses, helmets and oxygen masks for the pilots to ensure that they are fit properly," said Airman 1st Class Anthony Patterson, 509th OSS AFE technician. "We are basically a customer service shop for the pilots. Anything they need regarding their equipment, we are here to fix it."

Even after three months of technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, there is still much to learn within the AFE career field. Follow-on training courses such as water survival, land survival, and crash investigation courses are available to AFE technicians.

"There's a lot to learn and there are still aspects that I need to perfect," Patterson said. "We are always getting better and we are always learning."

In the unfortunate event an aircrew member has to make use of emergency equipment, the efforts of these Airmen could mean the difference between life and death.

"If the pilot hits the water with that parachute on, and they don't release properly, the equipment that's meant to save their life could actually kill them," said Senior Airman Steven Honkala, 509th OSS AFE technician.

"They don't want to have to use our equipment but if they do, it's going to have to be 100 percent perfect," said Airman 1st Class Brandon Perry, 509th OSS AFE technician.

According to Perry, the AFE career field requires strict attention to detail.

"We put a lot of time in and we bust our butts," Perry said. "Our job is basically life support so they are always on top of every little detail and they are always making us better at doing our job."

The AFE shop has B-2 and T-38 ground egress simulators with simulated smoke and cabin pressure.

"We basically run them through the training aspects of how to get out of the aircraft in an emergency situation on the runway," said Staff Sgt Joshua Riffe, 509th OSS AFE NCO in charge. "We train with that once a week."

They also perform hanging harness training to simulate a situation when a pilot or aircrew member's parachute gets caught on telephone wires or trees.

The Air Force Specialty code 1P0X1 was created by combining the 1T0X1 Life Support, and 2A7X4 Survival Equipment.

Now that the career fields have merged it's a one-stop shop when it comes to emergency equipment, according to Riffe.

"If we noticed something with our inspections on the life support side of the house we would have to take it over to survival and let them know what was wrong with it," Riffe said. "Then we'd wait until they were done repairing it before we'd get it back and now we are a one-stop shop."

Working with the pilots and ensuring their safety brings a sense of camaraderie to the Airmen working in the AFE shop.

"The communication with the aircrew members and hearing what they're doing and why we're here. To see the global mission," Riffe said. "That's the best part, hands down."

"You hear stories about a pilot they knew, or a pilot that happened to be their father or grandfather that had to eject from and aircraft and they realize the importance of our job," Honkala said. "And if we weren't doing our job then that person would be down a friend, father, sibling or something like that. They come in here and tell us 'Hey, you guys do a great job, and we know how important you are to this base.' It's fun to hear them say that."