Aircrew Flight Equipment Flight
Yokota Air Base, Japan -- Before the pilot hears voices crackle over the headsets speakers and the engines start; the Aircrew Flight Equipment flight ensured that the aircraft had all the necessary life-support and survival gear needed to complete the mission.
The AFE flight is responsible for all the flight crews and passengers’ survival and life-support equipment on an aircraft. From oxygen masks, helmets to life-rafts and parachutes the AFE flight ensures that all the equipment functions properly so the aircrew can accomplish their mission; and if the worst should happen, the aircrew will have the necessary equipment to get them through it.
“We can’t operate without the AFE,” said Airman 1st Class Christian Williams, 36th Airlift Squadron C-130H Hercules loadmaster. “Because of them I feel comfortable knowing that I will be safe each time I get on the aircraft.”
The 21 Airmen in the flight are responsible for the equipment of 220 Aircrew members over three airframes; C-130 Hercules, C-12 Huron and the UH-1.
According to Master Sgt. Brock A. Atchley, 374 Operations Support Squadron AFE flight NCO in charge, one of the largest challenges the team overcomes is that Yokota’s operations tempo is high; for the AFE flight, this means all of the Airmen must be qualified on all the equipment on all the aircraft.
“Normally an AFE technician is supporting one airframe,” said Atchley. “Our Airmen are qualified on three different airframes.”
The AFE flight has approximately 465 different types of life-support and survival equipment, equaling thousands of items in total. Each Airman must be trained how to inspect, dismantle, repair, rebuild and test the operation of each piece of equipment.
Some of the equipment that the AFE flight is responsible falls under a category called aircrew enhancements, which includes gear such as night-vision goggles.
In a room with black painted walls, only lit by a few scattered green glow sticks, sits many small machines used to test and calibrate the NVGs.
“Each set of NVGs has to be vacuum tight and filled with nitrogen every 180 days,” said Staff Sgt. William H. Chapmon, 374 OSS AFE Flight NCO in charge of chemical defense. “This is to make sure that no moisture is in the goggles, which can cause damage to the core components and cause fogging.”
Each NVG must be specially sighted in and calibrated for each individual before every use. Proper fitting of gear is another important responsibility of the AFE flight.
When an aircrew member first arrives at Yokota one of the first things they do is go to the AFE flight to be fitted and issued the needed gear. Each aircrew member has a chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear defense flight suit specifically fitted to them by the AFE flight.
If the worst should happen and the aircrew has to fly through a toxic cloud and had to use their CBRN gear, the AFE flight would be responsible for decontaminating the crew once they land at Yokota.
“We have a mobile aircrew contaminations control area ready to go anywhere anytime,” said Atchley. “They are our aircrew using our equipment and we have to systematically decontaminate them and get them safely out of the equipment.”
To ensure that the AFE flight is ready at any time for a decontamination event, they regularly conduct Aircrew Chemical Defense Training with aircrew members.
According to Atchley training on correct safety procedures for all equipment is a must in the military and is the day to day life for the AFE flight.
The AFE flight recently qualified 15 airmen during weapons training on aircrew armory, clearing barrel supervisor and armory attendant.
If the aircrew should be sent on a mission over hostile territory it is the AFE flight in charge of the aircrew’s armory and issuing weapons. To do this the AFE flight must be qualified on how to fix, maintain and use any weapons they handle.
With all the responsibility, comes a lot of opportunity for members in the AFE flight. Any air base that has an airframe needs an AFE shop in order to accomplish the mission; this allows AFE members to be stationed at nearly any U.S. Air Force base around the world.
“I like to call our career field, “the best kept secret in the Air Force,”” said Atchley. “Because we have so many opportunities in AFE.”
Because the Airmen in the AFE flight have to know every detail about a piece of equipment they also have the chance to become instructors in various fields.
According to Atchley AFE Airmen can get jump qualified and teach para-rescue men how to jump, train combat controllers on how to use survival gear or teaching survival, evasion, resistant and escape specialists how to have the best chance of survival floating on a raft in the middle of the pacific.
The Airmen also have the chance to get certified in MIA life science equipment investigation. This certification enables them to access plane crashes to aid in accident investigations. The certification also allows them to participate with Missing in Action Accounting Agency missions to aid in finding MIA veteran remains around the world to bring back to the US.
For Yokota’s AFE Airmen, they have the opportunity to participate in Operation Christmas Drop, the world’s longest-running airdrop mission. During OCD they accompany the flight crew to ensure that all the life-support and survival gear is ready each day.
The AFE flight is responsible for critical mission essentials; and wither its parachutes, oxygen masks or NVG’s the aircrew knows when they take off they are prepared for almost any situation thanks to the continuous efforts of the AFE flight.