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Parachute and Life Support Shop: 'The last line in safety defense'

Technician with life raft

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA – Aircrew Flight Equipment Technician Chris Altham, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group, checks the survival kit on a 20-man life raft from inside the Parachute and Life Support Shop at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, August 6, 2020. This team’s mission is to inspect, repair or replace survival equipment used on F-15s, KC-135s and C-130s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson)

Parachute technician in front of case

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA – Aircrew Flight Equipment Technician Chris Altham, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group, shows the holding case for parachutes waiting to be inspected inside the Parachute and Life Support Shop at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, August 6, 2020. This team’s mission is to inspect, repair or replace survival equipment used on F-15s, KC-135s and C-130s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson)

A Brief video about inspecting the ejection parachutes from F-15s.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Protecting the defenders. That is mission for the men and women working in the Parachute and Life Support Shop at Robins Air Force Base.

“We play a vital key role," said Bobby Jones, supervisor in the 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group. "For example, if a pilot has to eject and then pull that rip cord, we want that parachute to work. Then we want them to get out of that parachute and have the supplies needed to stay alive until help arrives.”

To accomplish the goal of having ever-ready lifesaving equipment is no small feat.

“We take our job very seriously,” said Chris Altham, aircrew flight equipment technician, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group. “You have to be certified by a technical school or hold certification from the Federal Aviation Administration and there is continuous ongoing training.”

Technician inspecting parachute
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA – Aircrew Flight Equipment Technician Chris Altham, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group, inspects an F-15 parachute canopy from inside the Parachute and Life Support Shop at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, August 7, 2020. According to Altham, it takes 12 hours to thoroughly inspect a parachute. Workers in this shop also repair, replace and re-pack survival equipment used on F-15s, KC-135s and C-130s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson)
Technician inspecting parachute
Parachute and Life Support Shop: The last line for safety defense
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, GA – Aircrew Flight Equipment Technician Chris Altham, 402nd Commodities Maintenance Group, inspects an F-15 parachute canopy from inside the Parachute and Life Support Shop at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, August 7, 2020. According to Altham, it takes 12 hours to thoroughly inspect a parachute. Workers in this shop also repair, replace and re-pack survival equipment used on F-15s, KC-135s and C-130s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kisha Johnson)
Photo By: Kisha Johnson
VIRIN: 200807-F-MW167-0004
Altham, a civilian worker, honed his skills while serving in the same role in the Air Force for 24 years.

He said workers in this shop thoroughly examine, repair, re-pack or replace a variety of survival equipment from parachutes to life rafts used on F-15s, KC-135s and C-130s.

Next year, work will expand to include KC-46s.

“It is a lot of weight on your shoulders," said Altham. "If we do not do our jobs right, then someone could die.  A husband loses a wife or kids are without dad. The parachute inspection is a really tedious task and we have to be focused.”

To get an idea of just how painstaking the process is, think about trying to find a needle in a haystack using only your naked eyes. 

Altham said paying attention to detail is very important.

Technicians slowly scan the nylon material which makes up the 28-foot canopy of an F-15 parachute.

Every inch of the material is inspected from top to bottom, to look for tears or flaws that could cause the parachute to malfunction.  

From start to finish, the inspection process takes about 12 hours to complete.  

“If a pilot has to use a parachute that means they’re having a bad day," said Altham. "So, I have to be on my game every day to give them the best possible outcome."

Survival kits are also checked for expired materials and items are replaced as needed.

Basic components of a survival kit include: a radio beacon, flares, a compass, sea guide markers, strobe lights, water packets, gloves, hats, sun screen, first aid kit and bug repellant.

Each life raft is released and will undergo a six-hour leak test to make sure it is up to par and then re-packed.

“If we did everything right, that raft should automatically inflate when it hits the water," said Jones. "We are that last line of safety defense to save the lives of a flight crew."

 

Bobby Jones, a Marine Corp veteran, will be retiring this December with 32 years of service at Robins Air Force Base.