AFE keeps crews alive

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
An aircrew member is stranded after his helicopter crashed. He doesn't know exactly where he is or where friendly units are located.

All he has on him is his survival vest, which contains flares, maps, a compass and water purification tablets. His chances of survival depend on that survival vest containing everything it should.

The aircrew member is relying on that vest - just one of many pieces of gear that aircrew flight equipment (AFE) technicians are responsible for supplying, inspecting and maintaining.

"It would be difficult for them to do their flying missions without all their gear," said U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Chelsey DeLaFuente, 41st Rescue Squadron NCO in charge of the AFE section. "We ensure that whenever they fly, they have communication between aircrew members, safety gear onboard and the necessary survival equipment in case they have to ditch."

The Airmen who work in the AFE section do not take their job lightly. They understand their job can save lives.

"The equipment we maintain is vital for their survival and the mission," said DeLaFuente. "If we do not do our job properly, check what we are supposed to or repair what is broken, that could be the difference between life and death."

Another Airman who works in the 41st RQS AFE section agreed with DeLaFuente on the importance of the job. He said there is a small margin for error and there are significant consequences for aircrew if they do not accomplish the job correctly.

"In this job we directly serve the aircrew," said Airman 1st Class Mitchel Black, 347th Operations Support Squadron AFE technician. "Without us, they would have to maintain their own equipment, and they already have enough on their plate with mission planning and all.... We are here to make sure they can focus on what they need to do."

Although Black is assigned to the 347th OSS, he and his co-workers are tasked with maintaining equipment for the 41st Rescue Squadron. Depending on what unit they're assigned, AFE Airmen work on different equipment.

In squadrons with fighter or transport aircraft, AFE works with parachutes and ejection seats. But Airmen who work in the 41st work primarily on aircrew helmets, night vision goggles, survival vests, communications equipment and life preservers.

Another aspect of the job for AFE technicians is customer service to the aircrew. While a lot of their gear is issued to them, such as fitted helmets, aircrew members have to check out other pieces of equipment from AFE.

"Whenever they need anything, they find one of us, and we try to help them," said Black. "They come to us if they have any trouble with their equipment, if they need anything extra, or if they just have general questions about their equipment. We are here to help them out.

"We deal with things like their helmets and their survival vest to make sure they can survive if they ever get stranded somewhere or have to egress," he added. "If their gear isn't working properly, it can cost lives."

Every piece of equipment used by aircrew members has requirements on how often it needs to be inspected. The inspections are carried out on a cycle to ensure no piece of equipment is ever overdue.

"There are a lot of technical orders and Air Force instructions we have to follow," said DeLaFuente. "We make sure they have the right equipment, it's maintained, inspected and prepared so they can fly their mission without any hiccups."

These AFE technicians work in the back of the 41st RQS building to ensure equipment for every flight is ready. Their job ensures that in the worst possible scenario aircrew members have the best chance of survival.