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Keeping up with aircrew safety

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Kristine M. Gruwell
  • 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Pilots and loadmasters are some of the first Airmen who come to mind when thinking about the safe execution of agile combat airlift. The 19th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment Flight is responsible for maintaining all in-flight safety equipment, ensuring aircrew are properly trained in the event of an emergency.

The numerous pieces of equipment AFE Airmen work with include chemical flight equipment, deflated life rafts and parachutes. They stay up-to-date on equipment inspections relieving that responsibility from the aircrew so they can focus on the aircraft and the mission.  

“I’ve been told by a couple of aircrew members that they feel safer with our equipment there,” said Staff Sgt. Niall Spradley, 19th OSS AFE craftsman. “It’s one less thing they have to worry about maintaining themselves, and it’s there if needed.”

C-130J pilots and loadmasters do not require regular use of AFE while in-flight, however the gear is vital to staying safe during emergencies. The 19th OSS AFE Airmen verify aircrew are trained on how to use the equipment for the rare instance it will be necessary.

“On training days, we prepare equipment for aircrew and assist them with donning, stepping and recovery procedures in a simulated-contaminated environment,” said Airman 1st Class Stephanie Reamer, 19th OSS AFE journeyman. “Upon return to base from the exercise area, we’ll address any issues they faced and make the proper repairs.”

One of the newest type of chemical gear used by aircrew is the aircrew eye and respiratory protection system gear, which enable them to operate in contested environments. With readiness at the forefront for the 19th Airlift Wing, AFE Airmen verify aircrew are always prepared for exercises as well as real-world, high-risk events while operating with this new chemical equipment.

"What they do is vital to our mission,” said Capt. Bryan Maynard, 61st Airlift Squadron pilot. “They maintain essential equipment that enables the Herk to accomplish combat airlift wherever it’s needed. I just returned from a training mission to drop jumpers from greater than 10,000 feet in the mountains, and we needed our oxygen masks at those altitudes to complete the mission."

Spradley also mentioned a similar situation where completing his daily work tasks potentially saved an A-10 pilot’s life.

“An A-10 [Thunderbolt II] pilot ejected with a parachute I packed with a coworker of mine,” Spradley said. “After that, it sealed the deal that my job is important. Having his wife come up to me at the hospital and thank us was an eye-opener. I was only 18 or 19 years old and just doing a job.”

Safety is a high priority for all Airmen, but the AFE flight is regularly there to train and support the aircrew in the event they need to make a decision in an emergency situation while accomplishing the mission in any number of environments around the world.

“If we don’t maintain their oxygen masks properly, they won’t be able to breath,” Reamer said. “Without parachutes, they wouldn’t have something to fall back on in crises. We exist to maintain equipment in place for emergencies that leave aircrew confident making split-second decisions while helping them arrive safely at home station.”