COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Aircrew flight equipment specialists, responsible for maintaining flight equipment, keep aircrew members safe so that Columbus Air Force Base can complete its mission of creating pilots.
Staff Sgt. Nathan Fancher, 37th Flying Training Squadron AFE NCOIC, says AFE’s daily operations consist of maintaining, fitting, inspecting and repairing flight equipment. He also mentioned some of their goals as a team.
“First and foremost, we’re here to cover the flying, whenever and wherever that may be,” Fancher said. “Our secondary goal is to make sure that our inspections for the day are completed.”
Fancher said that the 37th FTS inspects more than 24 sets of equipment daily. The number of sets have been closer to 30 in the past, but aircrew manning has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in fewer sets, he said. A set of flight equipment includes a helmet, harness and G-suit.
Also, he said the inspections can be time consuming and it is essential for an ample amount of Airmen to be working every shift.
“A full inspection, at least for the helmet and harness can take up to an hour, if not longer,” Fancher said. “Each Airman can expect to get about 5 sets of equipment daily, equaling up to five hours of work and that is not including the customer service.”
Inspections must be conducted every day to ensure all of the flight equipment a pilot is using for the day is up to date, Fancher said.
A pilot or aircrew member cannot fly with their equipment, if any of it is overdue for inspection, he said.
When asked about combatting COVID-19 and how it affects AFE, Senior Airman Wallace Moore, 50th Flying Training Squadron AFE specialist, said it does not affect AFE as much as it has other fields of work.
“Our daily operations haven’t really changed,” Moore said. “It has been more or less just moving people around and adjusting to the new flight schedule. Some days are now longer than others, but not much has really changed.”
Moore said as other places are using gloves and sanitation more often, AFE specialists were already using gloves and sanitizing as a part of their daily routine, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Moore and Fancher both agree that even though COVID-19 has and may bring more challenges, it is important for AFE specialists to continue their duties.
“I feel like it’s important for us to go on because, mainly we are the ones in direct contact with pilots every day,” Moore said. “If the gear is not ok then they can’t fly and the mission can’t go on. Without us I feel it would impede the mission big time.”
Fancher had some of the same words to say.
“As long as we’re here we can keep the gear functioning,” he said. “If we’re here to meet their needs, if some of the gear becomes faulty, we’re able to swap it out so they can fly. As long as they’re available to fly we will keep them flying.”