Maintaining the last line of safety

  • Published
  • 47th Flying Training Wing

U.S. Air Force pilots put their lives on the line everyday as they take their seats in the cockpit of any aircraft.


As with all missions, there is always potential for the unexpected. That’s why having that last lifeline: the ejection seat, is absolutely crucial.


The 47th Maintenance Directorate’s egress shop is responsible for keeping that lifeline available and functional for pilots training at Laughlin.


The egress shop is responsible for maintaining ejection systems on Laughlin’s T-38C Talons and T-6A Texans IIs.


“We assist the hangars with seat removals, inspections and maintenance,” said Stephen Bridges, 47th Maintenance Directorate egress ordnance technician. “We inspect T-38 and T-6 ejection seats every week.”


Ejection seats are given routine checks to ensure the safety features of each seat are maintained and follow regulation.


“One of the most common problems we fix is when the PIRD [Powered Inertia Retraction Device] straps jam,” said Stephen Marshall, 47th Maintenance Directorate egress shop day shift work leader. “Those are important to keep the pilot in the seat.”


Each ejection seat has hundreds of parts to inspect, including handles, firing pins, explosives and other mechanics. While maintaining each seat can be labor-intensive, safety is of the utmost importance.


“Each part contained within the seat is set up securely, however, when we are removing or inserting things like explosives, we make sure to follow each step very specifically,” said Marshall. “We always have someone supervising and someone actually doing the removing or installing to make sure everything is done correctly and safely.”


During inspections, every part of the ejection seat is removed, tested to make sure that it will work once initiated, then safely reinstalled.


“My favorite part of the job is taking the seat completely apart and making sure that all firing mechanisms are working correctly,” said Bridges. “We use a machine that simulates as if the seat was in a flying aircraft, and we use this to test each firing mechanism in the ejection seat without it actually going off.”


Countless pilots may have to rely on the work of each egress shop member at any time in the future. This means keeping each ejection seat up-to-date and working correctly is critical.


“It feels amazing to help save a pilot’s life and know that you helped them survive,” said Marshall. “Obviously we don’t want these pilots to have to use the ejection seat in the first place, but knowing that we were able to successfully be that last lifeline, that last fail-safe system, it is really rewarding.”