AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy --
Imagine sitting comfortably in your car when suddenly a severe mechanical failure occurs and the safest course of action is to launch yourself into the air by nothing more than your driver’s seat. It may sound like a crazy thing to do, but for aircraft pilots this can be a very real situation.
The 31st Maintenance Squadron Egress specialists ensure the safety of pilots by maintaining their ejection equipment, making sure that even if an aircraft goes down the pilot remains safe.
In the instance that a pilot needs to eject, they must trust their equipment and the team members that care for the equipment to help them eject as safely and quickly as possible.
In the F-16 Fighting Falcon, the ejection seat will safely launch the pilot out of the aircraft and automatically select the safest operating mode depending on the jet’s altitude and speed. For instance, when the ejection handle is pulled, a 180-pound pilot will be ejected 380 feet into the air in 1.8 seconds.
“Since 1995 there have been six aircraft ejections from individuals operating out of or based at Aviano Air Base,” said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Boe, 31st MXS Egress NCOIC. “The number one cause of a failed ejection is the pilot delaying the decision to eject in an effort to save the aircraft.”
Egress specialists perform scheduled and unscheduled maintenance on Egress systems including the seat, canopy, cockpit and transparency (the glass that is part of the canopy). During inspections, a two-person team checks the system’s components for safety, security and serviceability.
“Every week we have at least one jet, whether that be the 18-month cycle along with the scheduled monthly inspections,” said Senior Airman Reece Kutzli 31st MXS Egress journeyman. “The 30-day Egress final inspection we'll have eleven to twelve a week. Each final takes an hour and we inspect the entire cockpit, seat and the canopy on the flightline.”
31st MXS Egress specialists also perform 18-and-36 months maintenance cycles. Aviano AB was one of the first ones to set up the 18-month and 36-month maintenance cycles, which decreased the annual maintenance downtime by 30% per jet, said Boe.
“The 18-month cycle is primarily focused around time changes (any explosive component), where we pull all the time changes from nine months previous and nine months ahead of time, and combine it all into one maintenance cycle,” said Boe. “The 36-month cycle includes all the special inspection pull checks. It's that plus all the time changes that would come in that next 18 months cycle compressed into one.”
The Egress team also collaborated with the 31st Munitions Squadron and 31st Fighter Wing Safety office and implemented a munitions storage area.
“It's a sub storage area inside the Egress shop,” said Boe. “The munitions team now performs an explosive crossing to the munitions area once a quarter versus twice a week. The locals now have less exposure to explosive transport.”
The relocated munitions storage means 31st MUNS needs to transport their munitions less often, freeing up the vehicles for use by Egress. This has resulted in doubled maintenance and response capabilities because there are now two trucks available twice a week, said Boe
The newly implemented 18-and-36 months maintenance cycle and the munitions storage area save time and money, while also maintaining the number one priority: ensuring the Egress team pushes out the safest product possible for the pilots.
Each of Aviano’s 53 seats and 51 canopies have tightly controlled explosive items and Egress has to make sure that they are all precisely tracked. The Egress team tracks a total of 69 items on the F-16 C models and 128 items on the D models, including items on the parachute, survival kits, cockpit, seat, transparency and canopy.
On top of maintaining current ejection systems, Egress also tests new materials designed to keep pilots safer. Aviano was chosen as one of six bases across multiple major commands that have different environmental factors to test a new Luna transparency for the F-16 canopy.
“The coating on the outside of the transparency is different,” said Boe. “It's supposed to reduce the amount of water that sticks to the glass at certain angles. For example, when the pilot lands there's an empty pocket of air so the water doesn't disperse and it obscures their vision. Hopefully with this new one the pilot will increase their vision.”
The Luna transparency is the first of its kind at Aviano. There is a one-year trial period for the transparency where pilots will record their results during the flight. If the transparency is successful, it could be used across the whole Air Force.
The 31st MXS Egress team is continuously finding ways to improve their processes and equipment to ensure pilots will always be as safe as possible when they fly.