COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Arguably, the most important thing to a pilot, besides the aircraft itself, is their gear. Without this gear, the Columbus Air Force Base mission to Produce Pilots, Advance Airmen and Feed the Fight would be affected.
The 14th Flying Training Wing’s Aircrew Flight Equipment Flight is responsible for fitting, inspecting, maintaining and repairing 100 percent of the 14th Flying Training Wing’s flight gear. Every sortie incorporates numerous pieces of equipment AFE is directly responsible for.
“The first place pilots go is here, to the T-6 shop for initial fitting,” said Senior Airman Nathan Fancher, 14th Operation Support Squadron AFE Technician. “When they actually start flying, they spend a lot of time here checking out and turning in gear for maintenance.”
A pilot cannot step to their aircraft for a sortie without every piece of gear they take with them having been inspected and cleared for use by AFE.
“When they come here for fitting, we also teach them about their gear and how to use it,” Fancher said. “They learn to recognize signs of wear, when gear needs replacing and to have it further adjusted to fit their specific body.”
AFE plays an integral part not only to the wing mission, but also to the safety of the base’s aviators.
“Our job is vital to the survival of anyone who takes off,” said Senior Airman Darren Hussey, 14th OSS AFE Technician. “An improperly fitted mask or a leaky hose means the pilot may not be getting enough oxygen. Without the required oxygen, the pilot may become hypoxic and potentially crash the aircraft.”
Instructor pilots and students in Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training become familiar with AFE Airmen throughout their career, learning about several situations such as egress.
“Between AFE and Aerospace Physiology, they learn all they need to know about a situation where they need to egress,” Hussey said. “There, they learn the proper procedures for egress, and here we show them the equipment provided for an egress.”
Equipment that does not perform up to par, or simply does not fit, poses a threat to anyone who takes to the air.
“On a g-suit, there are bladders around your calves, thighs and abdomen that inflate whenever you g-strain in the air,” Hussey said. “This keeps blood from pooling down in your feet, when it should remain in your brain. A loose g-suit or one with leaks will not inflate properly and again, may cause pilots to experience a loss of conciousness.”
AFE is divided into shops based on each type aircraft and fabrication (parachute shop). The aircraft shops prepare pilots' helmets, g-suits, radios and harnesses. The other shop packs parachutes, life preservers and survival kits, and is operated by our civilian Airmen.
“Fab (parachute shop) takes care of modifications we are not equipped to handle and they pack our parachutes and other survival and safety equipment,” Fancher said.
Pilots rely on the many moving parts that go in both on the front line and behind the scenes of the AFE shop. Without their equipment operating at peak capacity, the mission would not succeed smoothly, making AFE an absolutely vital organization to Columbus AFB’s mission.