Ejecto seato cuz
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Let’s be honest, when people think about the mission of the Air Force, they generally think of the aircraft and the pilots, then the individuals working out on the flightline keeping said aircraft flying. But what about the Airmen that make sure the pilots are good to go? What about the small behind-the-scenes shops that have a major impact on the safety of those pilots?
The 18th Component Maintenance Squadron egress shop does just that. From maintaining ejection systems, swapping out and changing survival kits and removing and installing seats out on the flightline, egress performs a very specific set of tasks to ensure the safety of the pilots during missions.
For Airman First Class Shu Hsu, 18th CMS egress systems journeyman, the specialization is his favorite part of the job.
“We only work on one system as opposed to knowing about a whole lot of other stuff that may or may not conflict in your mind,” he explained. “Once you know too much, you start mixing things in your head, but for us it’s just that one system and one system only.”
Although it is in fact a small and specialized career field – focused mainly on the ejection of the pilot and their seat – doesn’t mean it’s a simple job. Egress is responsible for the ejection system on fighters, bombers and U-2s Air Force wide.
“Egress is a very interesting job,” Hsu said. “People think it’s a really simple system, but once you go to tech school you realize that there’s a lot more importance stressed on the safety of the pilots, safety of the aircraft and safety of the crew working on the system itself.”
The job can include tasks of corrosion control – which can lead to deterioration of the metal on the seat if left unmanaged – inspections and time changes of the seats and cockpit systems and visual inspections of the seat to check for damage to explosives, visible cracks, safety wiring or anything that could weaken the integrity of the system.
Egress performs two routine inspections on all of the seats – one scheduled every 30 days while the seat is in the aircraft and one scheduled every three years where the seats are removed and brought back to the shop, completely disassembled, repainted, thoroughly inspected and repaired if necessary and then rebuilt and placed back in the aircraft.
To ensure safety and avoid complacency, the egress members follow technical data to a T, take their time and practice attention to detail.
“To avoid complacency, we always work in pairs – since it’s explosives we have to work in pairs – but anytime a seat comes in here it’s always looked at a minimum of 3 times,” said Tech. Sgt. Ernest Franks, 18th CMS aircrew egress systems section chief. “As soon as it comes into the shop we look at it and see what’s wrong with it. Once we’re done working it, somebody looks at it and then once that persons looks at it a third person comes in behind them and double checks that – the last person to look at it has to be a 7-level NCO.”
The ejection system can’t be tested for reliability – it’s a one-time pull system, which means a lot of pressure for those working on it.
“The egress system only goes off once, and that’s only when it’s needed, so in the event where an accident happens and it doesn’t go off, it can cost someone their life,” Hsu said. “This entire position is a bit stressful because you don’t ever want to put someone’s life at risk – but at the same time it’s kind of a unique experience – the first time is the last time you can do it.”
Egress members take pride in what they do and have one main goal, Franks explained, making sure the system is reliable and that aircrew can safely depend on their seat if the need arises.
“Worst case scenario would be a pilot pulls the handles to get out of the aircraft and nothing happens – loss of life is extremely high, there’s no margin for error,” he said. “Unlike other systems with the aircraft, we don’t get to test if we’ve done our jobs correctly – you can only pull the handles once, so if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.”
When a seat leaves the shop, the team has the utmost confidence that it’s going to perform how it should if need be.
“I feel like our job is important because the aircrews go out there and they risk their lives flying the mission—both deployed and at home station getting their training done – and in the very unfortunate event that something disastrous does happen and an airplane goes down, we are literally a fighter pilots last chance to get out of the aircraft,” Franks said.
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