Egress explosives launch A-10 pilots to safety

Airmen from the 23d Component Maintenance Squadron and 476th Maintenance Squadron perform inspections on ejection seats Sept. 2, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The egress Airmen maintain the seats from Moody’s A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft to help ensure the pilot’s safety during an in-flight emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant/Released)

Airmen from the 23d Component Maintenance Squadron and 476th Maintenance Squadron perform inspections on ejection seats Sept. 2, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The egress Airmen maintain the seats from Moody’s A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft to help ensure the pilot’s safety during an in-flight emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Caleb Luna, 23d Component Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems journeyman, reinstalls a seat pan on an ejection seat Sept. 2, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. An A-10C Thunderbolt II seat contains 13 explosives in order to eject it out of the aircraft in case of an emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant/Released)

U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Caleb Luna, 23d Component Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems journeyman, reinstalls a seat pan on an ejection seat Sept. 2, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. An A-10C Thunderbolt II seat contains 13 explosives in order to eject it out of the aircraft in case of an emergency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Beck, 23d Component Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems journeyman, replaces a left-hand side cap on an ejection seat Sept. 2, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Airmen in the egress shop are required to perform inspections at a minimum of every 36 months on each seat of Moody’s A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft to check for efficiency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant/Released)

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Beck, 23d Component Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems journeyman, replaces a left-hand side cap on an ejection seat Sept. 2, 2015, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. Airmen in the egress shop are required to perform inspections at a minimum of every 36 months on each seat of Moody’s A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft to check for efficiency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathleen D. Bryant/Released)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- When pilots prepare to fly, they know if the unexpected happens there is a way out. If there is a system failure, levers located on each side of the seat will launch them to safety.

Airmen from the 23d Component Maintenance Squadron and the 476th Maintenance Squadron are responsible for ensuring the ejection system on the A-10C Thunderbolt II's seats are mission-ready by performing equipment maintenance and installing the explosives required to catapult the pilot from the aircraft.

To ensure pilot safety, egress Airmen working on the Advanced Concept Ejection Seat II manage and install 13 explosives located within the seat's structure and ten explosives in the cockpit that help eject the seat.

According to U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jacob Beck, 23d CMS aircrew egress systems journeyman, the explosives they work with must be handled with extreme care at all times and as a result, egress personnel have a structured way of doing things.

"We have a demand-response concept," said Tech. Sgt. Dennis Kennedy, 476th Maintenance Squadron aircrew egress systems craftsman. "That means no explosive maintenance gets done unless there are two people [present]. The demand is the person reading the [technical order] and the response is the person performing the maintenance. The components are so intricate and take a lot of attention-to-detail. If you mess up one thing, it could be the difference [between] life or death for the pilot."

To guarantee the seat is perfect before being put back on the aircraft, the egress shop has a goal to get as many people to check the seat as possible during any type of maintenance.  

"Everyone in the section usually gets a look through," said Beck. "Minimally, we always have at least one [journeyman] work on a seat and a [craftsman] always does an outgoing inspection [to ensure] everything looks right."

The egress shop can inspect, fix and re-inspect a seat anywhere from 12 to 48 hours depending on the maintenance required, but weather is one challenge they face that can slow them down from getting it back on the aircraft.

"Once there is lightning within five miles, we can't work," said Kennedy. "All maintenance ceases then, which makes it hard to get seats fixed and where they need to be."

This particular shop works on seats in the A-10, but egress Airmen can be assigned to any base and work on any aircraft with an ejection system in it.

"Once you are assigned to your first base, you are given a specialty based off what's at that base," said Kennedy. "But we can be stationed at any base as long as the aircraft there has an ejection system."

No matter what aircraft they are working on, egress personnel always have the responsibility of making sure pilots have a way out in any scenario.

"Our entire job is [to ensure] the safety of the pilot and making sure they can go back to their families at the end of the day," said Kennedy.

The system maintenance that egress Airmen perform around the clock gives pilots confidence when they enter their aircraft.

"As a pilot, I am placing my life in their hands," said Capt. Tom Ainscough, 74th Fighter Squadron pilot. "Knowing that we have great Airmen in the egress shop to make sure [the seat] works is the ultimate insurance policy. It enables me to focus completely on doing my job instead of worrying about the 'what if something goes wrong with the aircraft.' It provides great peace of mind to know that even if everything else goes wrong, I still have a way to get back on the ground safely."

As Moody A-10 pilots prepare to go anywhere at a moment's notice, they can find comfort knowing--when all else fails egress prevails.