AFE Team Ensures Aircrew Safety
By Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson, 120th
/ Published September 15, 2011
Great Falls, Mont. -- It takes a group of skilled and highly trained 120th Fighter Wing airmen to ensure the safe operation of a Montana Air National Guard F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft. While most jobs are dedicated to maintaining the airframe, the main responsibility entrusted to the nine members of the Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) section concerns the safety of the aircraft's pilot.
The AFE specialists fit, inspect, maintain and repair the gear that pilots use every day, such as oxygen masks, flight helmets, night vision devices and anti-G garments, but they are also responsible for the emergency equipment carried on each mission. Members of the AFE section are confident that if parachutes, flotation devices or survival kits are ever needed the pilot can be rest assured this vital life-saving equipment will work as designed. The AFE career field motto, "Your Life is Our Business, Last to Let You Down," is a standard that the members live by.
"They know the perfectionists that we are, they know that they are getting the absolute best gear," said Master Sgt. Raegen Robertson, an aircrew flight equipment technician. "They have 100 percent confidence in everything we do, and that is probably the biggest reward we receive, " he said.
The AFE members interpret blueprints and specifications used for fabricating covers for F-15 wheels and engine intakes using industrial-quality sewing machines. They also maintain and repair the specialized flight clothing that pilots wear while flying the F-15.
An additional responsibility is to provide aircrew continuation training to the pilots. Two personnel are currently qualified to teach emergency procedures for ejection situations and ground survival skills. To be certified to teach these classes, section members need to attend combat and water survival schools, the physiological chamber and also complete the Air Force principles of instruction course. The training is tough and demanding, but the subject matter deals with issues that can mean the difference between life and death.
Sergeant Robertson, a qualified aircrew continuation trainer, attended combat survival training at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. He says the school consisted of classroom and field training that included a simulation where he was treated as a captured airman in a POW camp.
"That was a whole different experience. You definitely learn a few things about yourself," he said.
There's a wide variety of equipment that must be periodically inspected with detailed technical data to be followed. Inspecting a parachute is a two-person activity and can sometimes take an entire day to complete based on its condition.
"The work that I do-knowing that I could potentially save someone's life that makes a big difference in what you do. It makes your job fulfilling," said Staff Sgt. Naomy Bottomley, an aircrew flight equipment technician. Master Sgt. Bob Osier, the superintendent of the aircrew flight equipment section, has over 11 years experience in the career field and considers the high-caliber quality of his personnel to be the reason for any success his section has experienced.
"I think what makes us stand out are the people. As superintendent, I'm blessed to have the personnel that I do in this section who possess such a dedicated work ethic, attention to detail and pride in ownership. The combination of these three things is what gives our shop the success it has on a daily basis," he said.