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Aircrew flight equipment team provides essential safety for flyers

Master Sgt. David Clark, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., performs routine inspection and maintenance of pilot headgear to ensure its integrity June 9, 2017. Every helmet and attachments are carefully cleaned, repaired, and tested by members of the aircrew flight equipment shop.

Master Sgt. David Clark, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., performs routine inspection and maintenance of pilot headgear to ensure its integrity June 9, 2017. Every helmet and attachments are carefully cleaned, repaired, and tested by members of the aircrew flight equipment shop. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

After identifying a weak area on an aircraft seat harness, Tech. Sgt. Lawrence Lawfer, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., uses an industrial sewing machine to repair it June 9, 2017. Members of the aircrew flight equipment shop here are skilled in many different repair techniques

After identifying a weak area on an aircraft seat harness, Tech. Sgt. Lawrence Lawfer, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., uses an industrial sewing machine to repair it June 9, 2017. Members of the aircrew flight equipment shop here are skilled in many different repair techniques. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Master Sgt. David Clark (left), an aircrew flight equipment journeyman, and Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Underwood, an aircrew flight equipment apprentice, both with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., pack a rubber raft after a routine inspection of its integrity June 9, 2017. Each piece of life-saving equipment that goes on an aircraft has a specific maintenance schedule, which is the responsibility of the aircrew flight equipment shop.

Master Sgt. David Clark (left), an aircrew flight equipment journeyman, and Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Underwood, an aircrew flight equipment apprentice, both with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., pack a rubber raft after a routine inspection of its integrity June 9, 2017. Each piece of life-saving equipment that goes on an aircraft has a specific maintenance schedule, which is the responsibility of the aircrew flight equipment shop. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Master Sgt. Delbert Brumbaugh, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., cleans the lenses of night-vision goggles in preparation for aircrew use June 9, 2017. Regular maintenance and inspection of life-saving equipment is the mission of the aircrew flight equipment shop.

Master Sgt. Delbert Brumbaugh, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., cleans the lenses of night-vision goggles in preparation for aircrew use June 9, 2017. Regular maintenance and inspection of life-saving equipment is the mission of the aircrew flight equipment shop. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

All aircrew flight equipment specialists with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., have to be specially skilled to perform repairs using large equipment, from patching a rubber raft to hand-stitching straps on a pilot’s helmet.

All aircrew flight equipment specialists with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., have to be specially skilled to perform repairs using large equipment, from patching a rubber raft to hand-stitching straps on a pilot’s helmet. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Tech. Sgt. Lawrence Lawfer, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., inspects and identifies tears and other deficiencies on an aircraft seat harness June 9, 2017. The repair of life-saving equipment is the responsibility of the aircrew flight equipment shop here.

Tech. Sgt. Lawrence Lawfer, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., inspects and identifies tears and other deficiencies on an aircraft seat harness June 9, 2017. The repair of life-saving equipment is the responsibility of the aircrew flight equipment shop here. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Brawner, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., repacks a parachute after performing routine maintenance June 9, 2017. The parachute is just one of the many life-saving devices that are put aboard aircraft by members of the aircrew flight equipment shop after careful inspection

Tech. Sgt. Christopher Brawner, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron in Louisville, Ky., repacks a parachute after performing routine maintenance June 9, 2017. The parachute is just one of the many life-saving devices that are put aboard aircraft by members of the aircrew flight equipment shop after careful inspection. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Vicky Spesard)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- From the bottom of the pack to the top of the canopy, line by line, inch by inch, touching every seem, stitch and grommet, Tech. Sgt. Christopher Brawner, painstakingly examines a parachute for anything that might make the life-saving equipment not function properly.

Brawner, an aircrew flight equipment journeyman with the Kentucky Air Guard’s 123rd Operations Support Squadron here, knows what is at stake if the parachute doesn’t work — the life of a pilot.

That pilot — and all the other aircrew members in the Kentucky Air Guard — depend on Brawner and the aircrew flight equipment team to support them from behind the scenes. Their mission is to inspect and repair on-board equipment to be used in the event of a bailout or crash landing.

“Our job in this shop is to maintain the integrity of every piece of safety and survival equipment that goes on the aircraft here,” explained Brawner, who has worked on parachutes and other related survival gear for many years. “All of us here understand that if an aircrew member has to use our equipment, they are already having a bad day; we don’t want to add to that by giving them equipment that doesn’t deploy properly.”

The equipment that the team manages is extensive. From rubber rafts, life preservers and helmets, all the way down to the band-aids in the survival kit and the glint tape applied to aircrew uniforms, there are more than 22,000 items that the 15 aircrew flight equipment personnel must be knowledgeable about and adept at repairing.

This includes the ability to sew with a machine, darn by hand, patch various materials using specialized adhesives, clean and maintain optical equipment, clean and repair chemical suits, test locater beacons, radios and batteries, and even wash each aircrew members’ oxygen equipment by hand.

“Every single item that we are responsible for has a mandated life-cycle, inspection and maintenance schedule,” said Senior Master Sgt. Michael Hilbert, superintendent of the aircrew flight equipment team. “But in our shop, we go beyond what is required by the Air Force, and we inspect equipment that we place on the aircraft much more often.

“Our job is to provide the aircrew with the equipment that will get them out of the aircraft safely, survive in whatever the environment on the ground is and return home,” he continued. “We know these guys — all of the aircrew members here. Everything we do, down to the smallest detail, is with the mindset to have our equipment ready when they need it the most.”

This attention to detail and the team’s dedication to the mission is what instills trust within the aircrews, according to Lt. Col. David Flynn, commander of the 165th Airlift Squadron here.

“If we have an in-flight emergency, our aircrews’ lives depend on the proper functionality of all emergency equipment on board the aircraft,” Flynn said.

“The personnel from aircrew flight equipment are our lifeline in an emergency situation in the aircraft. They are an extremely dedicated group of people and we, as aircrew, know we can trust them with our lives. They do an incredible job."