AFE ensures safe flight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Alan Ricker
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Resting in a 60-year old aircraft while soaring at 35,000 feet and about an hour out from the coast, a hole appeared at the bottom of a KC-135 Stratotanker.

“We heard the alarm go off,” said Senior Master Sgt. Danny Smith, 22nd Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment superintendent. “The [passenger] monitor pulled my jacket back and he had already had his EPOS on his head.”

Smith, just waking up, quickly donned his emergency passenger oxygen system. With regulated oxygen levels, he noticed across from him a large Airmen, weighing 280 pounds and standing at 6 feet 5 inches, was not following suit.

“He’d already started to go hypoxic,” Smith described. “He had loss of oxygen to the brain, so he couldn’t comprehend what they were doing, so they had to jump on him, hold him down, rip the mask open and put it over his head.”

After a rapid descent to 10,000 feet and turning around to land at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, the Airmen on board the aircraft were quickly provided care.

“The place looked like a Christmas tree,” Smith described. “There were firetrucks and ambulances everywhere.”

“Some of us had busted ear drums, [and] some went hypoxic and stayed overnight,” Smith continued. “It was unfortunate, but it was neat to don the gear that [I’ve] work[ed] on.”

All 55 Airmen assigned to the 22nd OSS AFE flight are continuously maintaining, replacing and inspecting the installation’s aircraft emergency and survival equipment so that Airmen, like Smith, are able to return home safely.

“AFE is one of the most diverse mission sets in the operations group,” said Capt. Michael Sare, 22nd OSS AFE flight commander. “We have multiple sections that are responsible for different equipment, training, inspections, etc.”

The flight is broken down into three main sections: training, One Stop and flightline. Each play an important role in the safety of the Airmen aboard any flight, whether they realize it or not.

Smith has encouraged instructors to use any personal experiences during training to express the importance of the survival gear. Several classes are provided for aircrew to be sure they are familiarized with the equipment needed to react in an emergency situation. Hands-on training with the AFE equipment, and experiencing Aircrew Contamination Control Area training first-hand can help ready aircrew to handle any situation they might face during an in-flight emergency or during a chemical attack.

Being aircrew centric, the One Stop section cares for the crew’s helmets, night vision goggles, aircrew laser eye protection, c-cell radios and chemical defense equipment. One Stop acts as the first location for aircrew to grab the majority of their equipment needed for any flight.

Flying is critical to McConnell’s refueling mission, which plays a pivotal role with the AFE flight line section’s focus.

“We deal with all the aircraft on the flight line,” said Tech. Sgt. Cody Graves, 22nd OSS AFE aircraft operations section chief. “We make sure every aircraft is properly configured for each mission, and we also do MTI’s – mission termination inspections.”

“So after an aircraft flies, we have an [AFE] crew that goes out every morning and post-flight [checks] that jet and makes sure that it’s good for the next mission,” described Graves.

The flightline section is in charge of ensuring that the flotation, survival and oxygen devices are serviceable. Some of the equipment involved are quick-don masks, EPOS and life vests. EPOS, being one of the pieces of equipment that was used during Smith’s exhilarating experience.

“We have to be very meticulous when we inspect [the] equipment,” said Graves. “Just the one small tacking could be a life or death situation.”

AFE works tirelessly to ensure the safety and well-being of every Airman that steps foot on McConnell’s aircraft.