Staff Sgt. Josh Buckholtz, 493rd Fighter Squadron aircrew flight equipment
craftsman, cleans a helmet Oct. 27 on Campia Turzii Air Base, Romania. All
helmets must be checked every 30 days for damage and general wear to ensure their serviceability. Sergeant Buckholtz is in Romania as part of Operation Golden Lance, a NATO partnership-building exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman David Dobrydney)
Maj. Mark Wolfe (left), and Capt. Peter Lee, 493rd Fighter Squadron pilots, collect their gear prior to a mission Oct. 27 on Campia Turzii Air Base, Romania. They are in Romania for Operation Golden Lance, a NATO partnership-building exercise. With their equipment in serviceable condition, a pilot can be geared up and ready to 'step' to their aircraft in five minutes. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman David Dobrydney)
by Senior Airman David Dobrydney
48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
11/2/2010 - CAMPIA TURZII AIR BASE, Romania -- A pilot flying an F-15 has many things on his mind. One thing that shouldn't be is whether his gear is serviceable.
Keeping that gear fully functional is the responsibility of the Airmen and NCOs who maintain aircrew flight equipment.
"Anything the pilot needs personally to fly or, in the event of an ejection, to survive, is our responsibility to maintain," said Staff Sgt. Josh Buckholtz, 493rd Fighter Squadron aircrew flight equipment craftsman.
On a normal sortie, a pilot will fly with a helmet, oxygen mask, harness and G-suit.
A recent addition to the equipment a pilot must now wear on every flight is a combat survival vest. The vest allows the pilot to have GPS and voice communication capabilities so if he is forced to eject from his aircraft, he can signal rescuers, said Sergeant Buckholtz.
While the combat survival vest is an important piece of gear, Sergeant Buckholtz added that the helmet and mask are two of the most vital equipment items.
"That's oxygen; without it they can't fly," he said. During flight, a pilot can experience G-forces that can force his head back into the helmet. If that happens, an air bladder inside the helmet inflates to keep the oxygen mask from slipping off the pilot's face, while the G-suit prevents the G-forces from negatively impacting the pilot's blood circulation.
Since the helmet and mask, as well as the harness that keeps the pilot in the aircraft, are so important, they are all inspected every 30 days for cracks, general wear and cleanliness, while the G-suit is inspected every 120 days. Besides the constant cycle of upkeep, the equipment technicians do their best to accommodate how each pilot arranges their equipment, even down to the position of their microphone.
"We try to do things tailored to them as much as possible to enable them to be the most comfortable during flying," said Sergeant Buckholtz.
The pilots who must use the gear are grateful for the extra effort put forth by Sergeant Buckholtz and his co-workers.
"They are the guys who keep us alive and maintain the material that allows us to be more lethal," said 1st Lt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd FS pilot.
"You hope part of their work [such as the combat survival vest] we never have to use, but when we step out the door, we know it will be perfect," he added.
When everything is in working order, a pilot can be in ready to 'step' to their aircraft in five minutes or less. However, if a fault is discovered, a fix must be found quickly. This requires extensive planning, usually without direct knowledge of the types of missions the pilots might be tasked to accomplish.
"You always plan for more," said Sergeant Buckholtz, who brings enough spare pieces of equipment to be ready for any contingency. He could even build a new helmet if needed.
"We're like a hardware store, if you will," he said. "We always make it work."
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