January 4, 2010 (by A1C Allison M. Boehm) - Four small teams on base work behind the scenes to ensure pilots have flawless flights and survival equipment for their missions.
Maj. Saul 'Stain' Hage, 332nd EFS F-16 pilot, conducts an aircraft inspection before his flight on December 29th, 2009. The 332nd EFS is made up of ANG members from the 175th FS.
The 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron aircrew flight equipment shop takes on the responsibility of personally inspecting, issuing, fitting, repairing, and maintaining flight equipment that is essential to each pilot.
Technicians scrutinize anti-gravity suits, oxygen equipment, helmets, parachutes, survival kits and other critical components -- equipment that, when it's needed, has to function properly.
"Our job requires us to be 100 percent focused at all times," said Senior Airman Bo Martz, 332nd EFS aircrew flight equipment technician. "We take our job seriously. There cannot be room for error when it can put someone's life in danger. Each time I initial off a piece of equipment that I inspect, I am held accountable."
Since pilots must depend on the members of the AFE shop to perform their duties correctly, a unique relationship forms between the two career fields.
"To successfully fly our mission in the jet, we need aircrew flight equipment for nearly everything," said Capt. Steve Schultz, F-16 pilot with the 332nd EFS. "We depend on them to ensure our equipment is working and fitting properly so that we can focus on completing the mission at hand.
"They give us a great peace of mind knowing if worse comes to worse and we have to use the survival equipment, it is going to work and it is going to keep us alive."
Not only does AFE help ensure safety among the pilots in flight, they also provide pilots with training in emergency ground egress, ejection and post-ejection procedures, plus both land and water survival training.
"It is imperative that the aircrew is given refresher training for all possible events," said Chief Master Sgt. James Bradshaw, superintendent of the AFE shop. "The training we give the pilots reinforces their actions and reactions to be instinctual -- there isn't always time to reference a checklist when your life depends on quick action."
The AFE Airmen have another important role -- if an aircraft accident occurs, a team is assembled to inspect the site and find the cause of the mishap.
"If an accident occurs we are responsible to find the cause and to make policy and equipment changes to prevent it from happening again," said Chief Bradshaw.
The chief said he considers working in the AFE shop both a weighty responsibility and a significant honor.
"Knowing that if a pilot ejects, they can count on their survival equipment working and being a major part of their recovery keeps us doing our best," said Chief Bradshaw. "We are the link between the pilot in the aircraft and his survival and recovery."