Aircrew flight equipment checked, rechecked

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Danielle Grannan
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs
Have you ever wondered, while sitting through a pre-flight safety briefing on a commercial aircraft, what would happen if that little oxygen mask actually fell in front of your face? Would it work? When was the last time anyone actually looked at those things?

The aircrew flight equipment office here, formerly known as life support, has the seemingly overwhelming task of making sure any time someone needs life-sustaining equipment on an aircraft leaving Offutt, it's there and working properly.

"We conduct pre- and post-flight checks on all aircraft coming into or leaving the base," said Airman 1st Class Rebecca Wheeler, an AFE technician here. "We also inspect the aircrew chemical defense ensemble for any aircrew members who are deploying, as well as aircrew helmets, which are on 90 day inspection cycles and we also perform periodic inspections on other life-sustaining equipment such as survival kits and oxygen masks."

In addition to those tasks the AFE office, which consists of 42 enlisted members, one officer and three civilians, also prepares aircrew members to survive and effect their rescue if they're forced to abandon their aircraft during an emergency, said Master Sgt. Stephanie Block, assistant superintendent of the AFE office.

Attention to detail is the name of the game here, tracking both long- and short-term inspection cycles on thousands of pieces of equipment, in addition to actually inspecting each of those pieces for breakage, wear and tear and other abnormalities.

"We take extreme pride in the affect we and our equipment have in the overall survivability of the more than 1,600 aircrew members we support here," explained Sergeant Block. "If put into a survival situation, we know our equipment directly affects an aircrew's ability to be rescued and return home safe and sound."

In addition to their home-station duties, AFE members are also responsible for multiple deployment commitments across the globe.

"We deploy constantly," said Sergeant Block. "We always have AFE personnel deployed in support of missions in Southeast Asia and we also support the Cobra Ball mission, Red Flag exercises and weapons school, as well as various other taskings to forward operating bases."

"I really enjoy the deployed aspect of my job because it's different from the day-to-day routine at home station and I get a lot more exposure to exciting missions and people while deployed," said Airman Wheeler who recently returned from a deployment to Southeast Asia.

The AFE office's deployed responsibilities mirror the support they provide at home, explained Sergeant Block. The biggest difference while deployed is that they have the added tasks of aircrew weapons support, as well as programming and loading Global Positioning Systems and survival radios.

While AFE members are at Offutt, there is plenty of work to keep them busy in between deployment rotations.

"Our AFE flight was recently involved in a Department of Defense study for the testing of the next generation of the Aircrew Chemical Defense Ensemble," said Sergeant Block. "This ensemble was worn by several of our Airmen and NCOs for more than 600 hours over the course of three months. Our efforts laid the pathway for implementation of this system and saved the DoD more than $7.7 million in future repair costs."

Between inspections, deployments and testing new state-of-the-art equipment, all the hard work comes with a great amount of satisfaction.

"Thankfully, our equipment isn't used very often," said Airman Wheeler, "but we give aircrew members peace of mind that on the occasion life-sustaining equipment is needed, we protect our fellow Airmen, which feels pretty good. We enable them to stay safe so they can keep doing their jobs effectively."