Aircrew flight equipment: life support for aviators

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

Infrared light flashes like an invisible firefly – only seen through night vision goggles equipped with specialized sensors.


Those goggles have the potential to save lives and the 403rd Operations Support Squadron’s Aircrew Flight Equipment section is charged with their care.


In addition to night vision goggles, AFE is responsible for maintaining all the equipment aircrew members with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the 815th Airlift Squadron need to accomplish their missions. This includes helmets, oxygen masks, parachutes, life rafts and countless other items that could potentially be necessary to respond to an emergency situation – even emergency drinking water and face paint.


“We used to be called life support, and that’s what we do,” Master Sgt. Ray Reynolds, 403rd OSS AFE supervisor said.


Members of the AFE section inventory, inspect, repair and pre-position equipment on the aircraft before every flight. During post-flight inspections of the night vision goggles, AFE members check batteries, nobs and lenses. They also zero the lenses out to the lowest setting so each pilot can adjust them to their own vision. Another post-flight task is repacking parachutes when they are returned. This involves taking everything out, inspecting the fabric for tears and the metal pieces for rust. They then check the service date on the harnesses, canopy and cartridges to make sure the components haven’t expired. To keep track of all that equipment, AFE members use a computer system that records inventory and notifies them when items need to be inspected or replaced.


Each AFE member has to be an expert in every piece of equipment in their inventory because a mistake could cost the Air Force Reserve thousands of dollars. For example, if night vision goggles are left in bright light for extended periods of time an image can be permanently burned into the internal components. If that happens, an AFE member will have to completely break down the night vision goggles to replace the parts and rebuild them afterward.


“When you’re dealing with life-saving equipment, it’s cut and dry,” Reynolds said.


In addition to caring for the equipment, AFE members teach aircrew members how to use it by providing continuation training. This training is an annual requirement for aircrew members and involves several hours of land and water survival instruction.


“We teach basic survival skills they can use until rescued, including water and food procurement and how to create a shelter,” Reynolds said. “The pilots have to keep so many things on their minds, so we keep everything straight to the point and tell them exactly what they need to know.”


Working hand-in-hand with aircrew members is what Reynolds said is one of favorite parts of the job.


“We get a high level of respect because we give them what they need to survive,” he said.


“If they can’t use the night vision goggles at night they can’t fly,” Staff Sgt. Justin Necaise, 403rd OSS survival technician said. “People’s lives are at stake with all the equipment we work with.”