Thorough inspections for a 'fraction of a second'

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Saphfire Cook
  • 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
A pilot ejecting from an aircraft involves a lot more than just a chair and a parachute. They have a great deal of equipment that ensures their safety on their way to the ground. And all of the equipment a pilot depends on after an emergency ejection is quality controlled through the 355th Operations Support Squadrons aircrew flight equipment unit.

"The 355th OSS aircrew flight equipment unit inspects, repairs and repacks parachutes, survival kits, one-man life rafts and personal flotation devices," said Staff Sgt. Patrick Conner, 355th OSS aircrew flight equipment supervisor.

The shop is made up of three sections: chute, kit and flotation. All in all, the inspections for each section in the aircrew flight equipment unit total approximately 13 hours.

"It takes a lot of time and work to ensure that the gear works properly," said Master Sgt. Charles Ruscetta, 355th OSS aircrew flight equipment superintendent. "But when a pilot ejects, the equipment performs its functions in a fraction of a second."

The chute section deals solely with parachute inspections, repairs and repacking.

"Every parachute must be inspected annually," said Senior Airman Andrew Niehoff, aircrew flight equipment journeyman. "We also inspect the chutes before an aircraft is deployed or sent on temporary duty to be sure that it is in compliance with all safety regulations."

The time it takes to repack a parachute can vary depending on the worker.

"An experienced packer can do two to three chutes in one day," said Airman 1st Class Charles Perez, aircrew flight equipment apprentice. "But someone new to the job, who hasn't yet developed a technique, can take several days to pack one chute."

The canopy of a parachute features four different colors.

"The colors are used for camouflage on land," Sergeant Ruscetta said. "There's white for arctic terrain, tan for the desert and green for forested areas. It also features orange as a signaling device."

Airmen in the unit rotate between the sections so that everyone is knowledgeable on all portions of the office. One week someone could be packing chutes and the next they are preparing the Advanced Concepts Ejection Seat II survival kits.

"The survival kit contains materials that the pilot can use to survive the elements and signal rescuers," Sergeant Conner said.

Among the items in the pack is the personal locator beacon, that activates upon ejection, hand and gun flares, and the one-man life raft, which is part of the flotation section.

"To inspect the one-man life rafts, we conduct a 15-minute check and a six-hour check," Sergeant Conner said. "During flotation inspection you inflate the rafts and, when the time is up, check for any leaks."

The one-man raft is designed to keep its inhabitant shielded from the elements. It includes an inflated floor, that keeps the occupant separate from the water.

"When you are in the water for an extended period of time your body temperature becomes the same as the water temperature," Sergeant Ruscetta said. "Keeping the body separate from the water allows the body to maintain its temperature longer."

The raft also comes with a dual-sided spray shield. The blue side can act as camouflage and the orange side can act as a signaling device.

In addition to serving multiple purposes, aircrew flight equipment is almost completely self-sufficient. If a pilot were to become incapacitated during ejection, all of the components would still do their jobs.

"Once the pilot ejects, the personal locator beacon automatically activates," Sergeant Ruscetta said. "Once they clear the aircraft, the ACES II kit will drop from the seat bottom and its weight will cause the one-man raft to self-inflate."

If a pilot lands outside of the raft after an ejection, both their life vest and the clips attaching the parachute to their harness have water sensors. Once they detect water, the vest self-inflates and the clips detach the chute from the pilot, preventing it from dragging them down.

"This equipment is not just something that can get you to the ground," Sergeant Ruscetta said. "It can help you survive the elements and potentially get you rescued."