News: Deployed technicians maintain life-saving equipment
Story by Senior Airman Bahja Jones
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION - Operating over dangerous territories, aircrews at the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing here accomplishing U.S. Air Forces Central Command air tasking orders have a lot on their plates. They depend on special equipment to not only perform missions, but to survive and facilitate recovery in the event their aircraft goes down.
Aircrews assigned to the 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron here are no different, and they trust the 379th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron B-1B Lancer aircrew flight equipment to deliver well-maintained gear for their operations.
“We provide all the aircrews with flight equipment for day-to-day missions and also life-saving equipment in case they have to eject,” said Staff Sgt. Erick Hall, the 379th EOSS B-1 AFE NCO in charge deployed from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, and a Fort Worth, Texas, native.
Six airmen maintain more than 600 pieces of routine and life-saving flight equipment for 9th EBS aircrews including masks, helmets, survival vests, laser eye equipment, night vision goggles and other necessary flight equipment.
Though there are many similarities between the different AFE shops, the biggest difference is they type of equipment maintained, Hall explained. Because the B-1 is configured with ejections seats, they have considerably different gear than other airframes.
“A lot of the equipment we have here, you wouldn’t necessarily see in an AFE for ‘heavies,’” he said.
The B-1 AFE technicians deploy with their own equipment. Upon arrival at the 379th AEW, they were responsible updating their aircrew’s survival vests. They merged the minimum requirements for Air Combat Command with AFCENT’s to ensure all the kits had the mandated items for operations in the area of responsibility.
“AFCENT has their own guidelines governing how many flares, the type of weapon and ammunition, how much water, etc., are in each kit,” Hall said, “Anything [aircrews] might need to survive.”
Each aircrew member is issued a set of flight equipment, and before each mission AFE provides them with additional items such as radios and night vision goggles they may need. AFE also works with the armory here to provide them with the required weapons.
“All combat sortie aircrews must be armed,” Hall said. “All AFE technicians are certified armory attendants.”
AFE also plays a role in launch and recovery of aircraft as they are responsible for inspecting prepositioned items on aircraft.
“We have to make sure everything is in perfect working condition,” said Airman 1st Class Amir Wallace, a 379th EOSS B-1 AFE technician also deployed from Dyess AFB and a Newark, N.J., native. “If something is wrong we try to fix it so it doesn’t affect the flying schedule or ATO.”
If aircrews are experiencing any issues including communication equipment failure, inability to lock their harnesses into their seats properly, or issues with their oxygen it’s AFE’s job to remedy it, Hall said.
Once the aircrews return from their missions, the AFE technicians perform post-flight procedures on each kit prior to storage.
“We clean and inspect their helmets and masks and ensure there is no damage to the harness after the flight,” Hall said. “We also inspect the survival vests and make sure all of the required items are still in place before returning the equipment to the crew member’s locker.”
In addition to the post flight inspections, certain pieces of equipment have to be regularly broken down and inspected in accordance with their technical orders.
“There are continuous inspections daily we have to do to maintain the equipment,” Hall said. “Between the inspections, pre-and post-flight checks and launch and recovery of aircraft, we are busy.”
AFE Airmen provide aircrews with the peace of mind as they go out and accomplish the ATO, providing them with well-maintained, life-saving equipment.
“We trust our AFE to provide us well-maintained equipment we use on a day-to-day basis,” said Capt. Anh-Vu Nguyen, a 9th EBS pilot also deployed from Dyess AFB and a Roswell, Ga., native. “In a life or death situation, we count on them to ensure our gear functions properly.”