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Keeping pilots safe: Aircrew Flight Equipment

Staff Sgt. Kody Crider and Airman 1st Class Cortney Oehlbeck, 325th Operations Support Squadron/43rd Fighter Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment technicians, repair a pilot’s helmet April 7, at the 43rd FS. The AFE shop is much like a detachment, comprised of a rotation of 325th OSS Airmen who spend a year at the shop inspecting and maintaining all of the 43rd FS F-22 Raptor pilots’ life support equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex Fox Echols III/Released)

Staff Sgt. Kody Crider and Airman 1st Class Cortney Oehlbeck, 325th Operations Support Squadron/43rd Fighter Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment technicians, repair a pilot’s helmet April 7, at the 43rd FS. The AFE shop is much like a detachment, comprised of a rotation of 325th OSS Airmen who spend a year at the shop inspecting and maintaining all of the 43rd FS F-22 Raptor pilots’ life support equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex Fox Echols III/Released)

Staff Sgt. Michael Stanforth and Staff Sgt. Kody Crider, 325th Operations Support Squadron/43rd Fighter Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment floor chief and technician, inspect harnesses at their work stations April 7, at the 43rd FS. The Airmen of the 43rd FS AFE shop ensure the squadron’s F-22 Raptor pilots have all of their necessary lifesaving gear and that it is in good working order at all times. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex Fox Echols III/Released)

Staff Sgt. Michael Stanforth and Staff Sgt. Kody Crider, 325th Operations Support Squadron/43rd Fighter Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment floor chief and technician, inspect harnesses at their work stations April 7, at the 43rd FS. The Airmen of the 43rd FS AFE shop ensure the squadron’s F-22 Raptor pilots have all of their necessary lifesaving gear and that it is in good working order at all times. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alex Fox Echols III/Released)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

The 43rd Fighter Squadron’s mission is to provide air dominance training to the Air Force’s newest F-22 Raptor pilots, but to do this safely, the pilots’ flight equipment must work properly at all times.

That is where the Aircrew Flight Equipment shop comes in. They are charged with housing, inspecting and maintaining all of the 43rd FS pilots’ life sustaining gear, including their helmet, oxygen mask, harness and G-suit components.

Much like a detachment, the AFE flight is comprised of a rotation of 325th Operations Support Squadron Airmen who each spend a year working in the shop. This six person shop inspects the flight equipment every 30 days for rips, cuts and tears. Due to the high frequency of flying, something usually needs to be fixed.

“I love my shop,” said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Battle, 325th OSS/43rd FS AFE NCO in charge. “My Airmen are some of the greatest Airmen at Tyndall. They handle everything I ask of them and more. We have a good working relationship and an overall family presence. We get the job done, we have a good time doing it and we also maintain our professionalism.”

Twice a year, the 43rd FS receives 14 new B-Course students, pilots new to the F-22. The AFE Airmen are some of the first people they come in contact with and often some of the last people the pilots see before they go into the air for training.

“We start off by bringing the pilots in and giving them an initial fit with their anti-G garments and harness,” Battle said.We also tell them the importance of their gear and not to be lackadaisical regarding the fitting of their equipment.”

Though their training and Technical Data helps them identify what to look for when inspecting gear, the shop also relies on their relationship with the pilots. Pilot feedback to helps AFE Airmen find and fix problems before they become a danger.

“The flight equipment that we use airborne is what keeps us alive in the F-22,” said Maj. Daniel Tompkins, Florida Air National Guard and 43rd Fighter Squadron Safety chief of training. “All that equipment helps bring us back safely. The AFE shop Airmen are very efficient and proficient with their maintenance.”

The pilots wear their gear every day, so they know when something is not quite right, said Staff Sgt. Michael Stanforth, 325th OSS/43rd FS AFE floor chief.

“Working in the 43rd FS AFE shop is amazing,” Stanforth said. “You get to see a lot of what you’re equipment does because the pilots who wear it every day give you feedback on how it performs. They say, ‘I had an issue with this’ or ‘you guys are awesome! Thank you for your work.’ That gratitude and feedback really make you appreciate your job more.”

There is a lot on the line when pilots are in the air. The reliability of the AEF shop ensures the pilots are focused on flying instead of worrying about their equipment.