ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --
Protecting the defenders. That is the 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.”
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.