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Leaders in air, space and parachutes

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Benjamin N. Valmoja
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Airmen from the 47th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment flight have gone geospatial. Well – kind of.

On March 26, 2019, Tommy Sondag and Staff Sgt. Jake Strait, 47th OSS aircrew flight equipment parachute technicians, made their way east to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, America’s hub for human spaceflight training, to share what they know about packing T-38 Talon parachutes.

“It’s such an amazing opportunity for us,” said Strait. “It's crazy how our job enables us to help NASA's mission, and put people in space. It puts into perspective what our job actually means.”

Recently NASA’s T-38 Aircraft Operations have undergone a revamp of their parachute packing procedures, moving towards the same method that Laughlin has been using since the genesis of this style of parachute in 2008.

While Sondag and Strait have experience with the T-38’s parachute system, they were blown away with the experience NASA’s flight operations team brought to the table. Collectively the life support crew has more than 150 years in the field, all stemming from their own specialties they honed over the course of their careers.

Although this meeting of the minds is the first time Laughlin and NASA life support have worked together, it’s actually fairly common for Laughlin Airmen to work hand-in-hand with one of the world’s space-exploration superpowers.

“We work together pretty frequently,” said Travis Johnson, a NASA aviation maintenance life support technician. “We’ve come to visit the AFE shop down at Laughlin to look at the parachute press before, and our T-38 maintenance teams work together a couple of times a year.”

During their visit, the Laughlin crew managed to squeeze in time to tour NASA’s facilities in the area; the neutral buoyancy lab, mission control center and in-depth look at NASA's aircraft operations gave Sondag and Strait insight on just how impressive the mission is here.

"It was unbelievable," Sondag said. "It was an incredible opportunity. I got to shake an astronaut's hand. To shake hands with someone who's been in space, it's hard to put into words what that experience is like."

Laughter echoes through the halls regularly here, seemingly on a timer. There is never a dull moment in the meticulous business of life support, something the Laughlin crew is accustomed to as well.

As the week draws to an end, the two teams developed a connection, talking and joking like old friends -- Laughlin’s team just as big a target for banter as one of the 30-year veterans with NASA. This week they were one big family keeping their teams safe.