When all else fails, egress prevails

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Stephenie Wade
  • 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
The ejection seat is the pilot's last option if something doesn't go according to plan. If it wasn't for a small group of specially-trained Airmen, pilots wouldn't be able to resort to this life-saving option.

Deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., Staff Sgt. Keith Billings, Senior Airman Garron Theriault and Airman 1st Class Mark Armstrong work as egress technicians assigned to the 455th Expeditionary Maintenance Squadron here. These Airmen maintain all the A-10 Thunderbolt II's Advanced Concept Ejection Systems, ensuring all the mechanical components, to include the pilot's seat and cockpit explosives, function properly.

"All aircraft seats are basically the same, but some components differ depending on the airframe including the explosives used to launch the seat out of the aircraft," Armstrong said.

The explosives in the ACESII have the capability to launch the seat out of the aircraft at a force of 14Gs. According to Armstrong, the explosives fire in a sequence planned up to a hundredth of a second, to ensure a pilot can eject in the quickest and safest way.

"We time change explosives depending on their individual service life which could range anywhere from 7 to 19 years depending on the explosive," Billings said.

"We have an inspection called an Egress Final that is due every 30 days that we track in the Integrated Data Maintenance System for every A-10."

While conducting the Egress Final inspection, the Airmen perform a full visual inspection of the ejection system, which includes the seat, cockpit components and explosives. If anything is found broken or out of technical data specifications, it's the egress technician's job to ground the jet and pull the seat to repair the defect prior to returning the aircraft to flying status.

"Our major inspection is the 36-month inspection, which requires the seat to be removed, and a full break down and rebuild of seat," Theriault said.

During an inspection, the egress technicians use a sling and a crane to lift the ejection seat from the aircraft, placing it gently onto a platform for transfer to a work area. All the components of the seat are removed including the chute, kit and seat explosive to verify service life. Next, they conduct pull checks on the ejection handles to make sure they have the correct amount of pull force for the pilot to actuate the ejection sequence and repair any discrepancies found during the visual inspection. Finally, the Airmen paint the seat and ejection handles for corrosion control and the parts are inspected by quality assurance team members.

"The difference between egress and the rest of the maintenance squadron career fields is egress can't conduct ops checks on the ejection seats," Armstrong said. "But we have to do our job, making no mistakes, and know that our system will always work every time without even testing it."

Whether conducting a 36-month inspection or doing a number of explosive time changes, egress technicians take pride in their work.

"Our system is the pilot's last option if something doesn't go according to plan and we take great pride in that," Billings said. "When all else fails, egress prevails."