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Feature | June 13, 2014

Aircrew Egress: The last lifeline

By Senior Airman Kayla Newman 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

As the canopy releases from the fighter jet and the seat detaches from a set of rails, a pilot's life is being saved. The mission of the U.S. Air Force is to "Fly, Fight and Win." However the men and women assigned to the 1st Maintenance Squadron Aircrew Egress shop do their part in ensuring the mission is accomplished by providing a pilot's last lifeline.

Egress Airmen maintain the capabilities to save a fighter pilot's life in the event the aircraft can't be recovered.

"The Air Force spends a lot of time and money to make sure pilots are trained properly and can protect the people on the ground," said Staff Sgt. Angelo Lowe, 1st MXS Aircrew Egress journeyman. "We are here to protect the pilots and make sure they see another day in the event their aircraft begins to go down."

There are three ejection possibilities, each dependent on the speed and altitude in which the aircraft is flying.

"Their drogue parachute will deploy depending on the speed and altitude at which the pilot is flying," Lowe explained. "The drogue parachute will slow down the pilot until it gets to a certain altitude, to allow the actual recovery parachute to separate from the seat."

According to Lowe, the biggest difference in ejection types is altitude. At high altitudes, the pilot's drogue parachute will deploy, and at low altitude it will not.

To achieve a successful ejection, egress Airmen work with up to 45 explosives components on a single aircraft, totaling 1,700 components between all the egress systems.

Each explosive is responsible for doing a separate job.

First, there are the thermal batteries, which start the ejection process for the pilots as soon as they pull the ejection handle. Once the pilot pulls the handle, a signal is sent to the recovery sequencer, or "the brains of the seat." The recovery sequencer will then tell every explosive what to do and when to do it.

Every 30 days Airmen conduct "egress finals," which is a required inspection of the total egress system. During this assessment, Airmen check everything from seat cushions to canopy rockets. The examination also checks the oxygen bottle, guaranteeing it is at the correct levels.

Anytime the egress system becomes disconnected, personnel conduct an inspection. If problems arise with the system, Airmen fix the issues on the spot.

Dealing with such sensitive material can be challenging, but the Airmen working on the egress system know the importance of their mission.

"The pilot's life is literally in our hands," said Lowe. "If anything goes wrong with our system - if we don't make sure a component is functioning properly - that could be the difference between life and death."