SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
“The first moment I knew that everybody had my back was when I pulled the ejection handle,” said Capt. Stuart Wilson, 480th Fighter Squadron pilot, whose aircraft lost partial power during routine training in the fall of 2019.
Wilson went home that day to his wife and children because U.S Air Force Airmen from one particular squadron here are experts in ensuring pilots stay safe.
Airmen from the 52nd Operations Support Squadron proactively train every day to minimize inherent flying risks and prepare for any potential emergency scenario.
“We’re a very diverse group in the jobs that we do and our backgrounds,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Hoyt, 52nd OSS commander.
The squadron is comprised of Airfield Operations, Weapons and Tactics, Intelligence, Weather, Current Operations, and Aircrew Flight Equipment. AFE Airmen prepare, inspect, and fix all the gear 480th FS pilots require, such as survival kits, parachutes, anti-g suits, helmets, and night-vision goggles.
Hoyt said the 52nd OSS works closely with other units, such as the 52nd Maintenance Squadron Egress section. One of the main functions of Egress is making sure aircraft ejection seats work properly.
Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape is also part of the 52nd OSS. The SERE team teaches pilots how to react to a variety of emergency scenarios.
“It’s more than just how to stay away from bad guys,” Hoyt said. “It’s how to take care of yourself when you hit the ground, how to not get injured when you land from a parachute.”
Pilots go through different levels of SERE training throughout their career, and AFE regularly inspects their gear. Hoyt said Airmen won’t need to worry about safety during an emergency situation if they keep integrating safety when building procedures.
“You’ve mitigated all of the risks in training, leadership, and preparation, so you’re able to do the mission knowing whole heartedly that the outcome will be positive,” Hoyt said.
When Wilson’s F-16 Fighting Falcon crashed on Oct. 8, 2019, Airmen put their proactive training to the test.
“The seat motor firing to get me out of the jet, the parachute deploying correctly, the post-ejection training given to me, and the recovery team all worked to recover me quickly,” Wilson said. “I was safely back at Spangdahlem before many people on base knew anything out of the ordinary had even occurred.”
Hoyt said he was proud of how his squadron handled the scenario.
“Everyone did an incredible job making sure that when you’re given the one chance for the gear to work, you know it’s going to work,” Hoyt said, who was a mission director that day and initiated recovery actions. “As a pilot, that means the world to me.”
Wilson’s wife said her family is still complete because of Airmen’s dedication and excellence.
Hoyt added that it was not just the 52nd OSS who used their training to give that day a positive outcome.
“Talk about Saber Nation coming together,” Hoyt said. “We always talk about why it’s important to have relationships across base with your fellow Airman. It’s because when events like this happen, we know exactly who to call so they can get their resources and expertise to the right place at the right time.”
Wilson agreed that being proactive is the only way to make sure pilots stay safe.
“As with anything in the military or aviation, if you are purely reactive to everything that happens, you are too late,” Wilson said. “Being prepared for potential issues before they occur is the only way to mitigate some of the inherent risks involved with our operations.”
Wilson said the nature of the Suppression of Enemy Air Defense mission here has inherent risks, but the safety measures behind flying operations allow Airmen to tactically sharpen their skills and successfully make the mission happen.
“As we plan to fly safely, we work with teams such as the OSS to help accomplish that goal,” Wilson said. “With safety taken care of, we can focus the rest of our energy and training on improving.”