LOUISVILLE, Ky., Jan. 2, 2018 — From the bottom of the pack to the top of the canopy, line by line, inch by inch, touching every seam, stitch and grommet, Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher Brawner painstakingly examines a parachute for anything that might make the lifesaving equipment not function properly.
Brawner, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air National Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron here, knows what is at stake if the parachute doesn’t work — the life of a fellow airman.
Aircrew members depend on Brawner and the aircrew flight equipment team to support them from behind the scenes. The team’s mission is to inspect and repair the equipment carried aboard aircraft to be used in the event of a bailout or crash landing.
“Our job in this shop is to maintain the integrity of every piece of safety and survival equipment that goes on the aircraft here,” explained Brawner, who has worked on parachutes and other related survival gear for many years. “All of us here understand that if an aircrew member has to use our equipment, they are already having a bad day; we don’t want to add to that by giving them equipment that doesn’t deploy properly.”
The equipment that the team manages is extensive. From rubber rafts, life preservers and helmets, all the way down to the bandages in the survival kit and the glint tape applied to aircrew uniforms, there are more than 22,000 items that the 15 aircrew flight equipment personnel must be knowledgeable about and adept at repairing.
Their skills include the ability to sew with a machine; darn by hand; patch various materials using specialized adhesives; clean and maintain optical equipment; clean and repair chemical suits; test locater beacons, radios and batteries; and even wash each aircrew member’s oxygen equipment by hand.
“Every single item that we are responsible for has a mandated lifecycle, inspection and maintenance schedule,” said Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Michael Hilbert, the superintendent of the aircrew flight equipment team. “But in our shop, we go beyond what is required by the Air Force and we inspect equipment that we place on the aircraft much more often.
“Our job is to provide the aircrew with the equipment that will get them out of the aircraft safely, survive in whatever the environment on the ground is and return home,” he continued. “We know these guys — all of the aircrew members here. Everything we do, down to the smallest detail, is with the mindset to have our equipment ready when they need it the most.”
This attention to detail and the team’s dedication to the mission is what instills trust within the aircrews, according to Air Force Lt. Col. David Flynn, the 165th Airlift Squadron commander.
“If we have an in-flight emergency, our aircrews’ lives depend on the proper functionality of all emergency equipment on board the aircraft,” Flynn said.
“The personnel from aircrew flight equipment are our lifeline in an emergency situation in the aircraft. They are an extremely dedicated group of people and we, as aircrew, know we can trust them with our lives. They do an incredible job.”