Last Chance for Life: Egress Flight

The Advanced Concept Ejection Seat, or ACES II, is a system designed to save an aircrew at a moment’s notice. Otherwise known as the “last chance for life,” the seat is the last hope an aircrew has when it comes to surviving an unexpected failure. When the time comes, they must have complete faith in the system and the well-trained group of airmen who maintain it.

“It’s all about preventative maintenance,” said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Keith Percy, an egress systems craftsman with the 28th Maintenance Squadron here. “We have to be on top of it because we can’t test the system. Everything that we do has to be perfect — everything.”

The team of airmen ensure this during an egress final inspection, which is required every 30 days. During the inspection, the technicians perform a full diagnostic of the system, check for any broken components and swap out expired time-changeable items to ensure the aircraft is good to go.

“On each seat, we have a number of time-changeable items that will expire if not swapped out, such as explosives, bad actuators, load resters, survival kits, etc.,” said Tech. Sgt. Mathew Wagner, an egress systems craftsman with the 28th Maintenance Squadron.

When multiplied by a fleet of approximately 25 B-1Lancer bomber aircraft, the workload gets pretty large. Aside from the explosive lines throughout the cockpit, the team of airmen must inspect for any and all things that could cause a system failure, such as frayed parachutes, old or nonresponsive equipment and corrosion. Then, after replacing the defective equipment, the airmen need to ensure the ejection equipment is properly seated into the aircraft.

Wagner said egress is a massively important part of an aircraft’s operability. With no room for error, the team must be on their toes and hyperaware of their repairs at all times.

“We can’t afford to make mistakes,” he said. “I’m not saying our maintenance is more important than everyone else’s, but where they can test their systems to ensure they did it correctly, we cannot.”

Because the ACES II is a one-and-done mechanism, egress technicians must put their heart and soul into maintaining it.

“I’ve experienced ejections in the past, and the first thing that goes through your head — the first thing you ask — is, ‘Did they make it through,” Percy said. “Job satisfaction comes from ensuring the pilots are safe and we did our jobs well, but I could go my whole career without another ejection happening.”

Although ejections are rarely seen, aircrews can rest easy knowing the egress teams’ skill and dedication help ensure their safe return when met with a worst-case scenario.

“That’s why this section is always under the squadron’s microscope,” Wagner stated. “We are the last system in the aircraft that needs to work – the last line between life and death for the aircrew. It’s important the seat works properly so these aviators can come home to their families and fly another day.”