A banner that reads “Last to let you down,” hangs on the wall of aircrew flight equipment shops as a reminder to pilots and aircrew that when everything else fails, AFE’s gear will work to save their lives.
“If a pilot needs to eject from their aircraft, at 20,000 feet, they expect that parachute to work 100% of the time,” said Tech. Sgt. David Smallidge, 51st Operations Support Squadron NCO in charge of AFE’s main shop at Osan Air Base. “‘Last to let you down’ is a daily reminder that the work we do can be the difference between someone living and dying.”
AFE Airmen maintain, inspect and repair all flight equipment for the 25th and 36th Fighter Squadrons, enabling pilots to successfully complete their missions and return home safely.
Every morning, AFE Airmen perform pre-flight inspections, checking helmets, G-suits and flight gear before pilots step to their aircraft. They pack GPS systems, mobile recovery devices and even arm pilots with weapons when missions dictate.
“We work closely with our pilots to provide all the equipment they need for their missions,” said Senior Airman Dorien Hamilton, 51st OSS AFE journeyman. “We like to think of ourselves as their customer service provider.”
To support Osan AB’s 24-hour flying operations tempo, AFE Airmen work around the clock, always on call to provide safe and functional equipment.
“Operating on the Korean peninsula means our pilots can be called upon anytime, so we have to be ready every time,” said Senior Airman Joseph Asante, 51st OSS AFE journeyman.
In addition to supporting daily flying operations, AFE has a main shop dedicated to inspecting, packing and repairing parachutes. They make sure that F-16 Fighting Falcon and A-10C Thunderbolt II ejection seats are up to standards and equipped with the tools necessary for pilots to survive.
Ejection seats contain additional survival components like a life raft and oxygen to sustain aircrew members long enough to be rescued.
To maintain their strict equipment standards and to comply with Air Force regulations, AFE conducts regular inspections coordinating with fighter squadrons, the maintenance group, and other base agencies to maintain inspection cycles to sustain Osan’s mission.
“Our flight equipment is scheduled and inspected on different cycles to make sure it is always serviceable and ready to go,” Smallidge said. “This equipment is rarely used, but always needs to be ready in case of an emergency.”
Combat aviation is extremely technical with thin margins that separate success from failure. Even when everything is planned and executed perfectly, something can still go wrong, and that’s what AFE prepares for.
“We understand that our job matters the most on a pilot’s worst day,” said Tech. Sgt. Humberto Morales, 51st OSS NCO in charge of AFE. “So, if the day comes when a pilot’s thousands of feet in the air in the middle of a crisis, we want them to pull that ejection seat knowing it will work.”