Inspection to perfection

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- At any given moment a pilot may need to eject from an aircraft. The Airmen of the 509th Operations Support Squadron (OSS) inspect and pack parachutes that could save a pilot’s life. These Airmen have an important job requiring them to look at every piece of the parachute before it is packed and ready to go.

“A lot of people wonder why it might take so long to pack a chute in the military compared to a civilian who could probably pack a chute in around half an hour,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Thomas Cadwell, an aircrew flight equipment technician assigned to the 509th OSS. “Packing this equipment has to do with two things, having high standards in the shop and the sophisticated components of the chutes.”

The Airmen of the 509th OSS are responsible for four different types of parachutes for the aircraft at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri. They spend many man hours extensively inspecting and packing the parachutes to ensure they are operational.

“We pack two types of recovery parachutes, the Advanced Concept Ejection Seat (ACES) II and the Back-style Automatic (BA)-22,” said Cadwell. “Both of these systems operate automatically once the ejection handle is pulled. The B-2 Spirit uses the ACES II ejection system, while the T-38 uses a unique ejection system that utilizes the BA-22 parachute.”

Along with the two recovery parachutes, the technicians also pack two types of drogue parachutes. The drogue parachutes are smaller than the recovery parachutes, but the two work together.

“The purpose of a drogue chute is to slow down and stabilize the ejection seat in the event of a very high-speed egress, and allow the recovery chute to operate correctly,” said Cadwell.

When each parachute is packed, the Airmen must inspect every aspect of the parachute which includes the stitching, suspension lines, canopy gores, connector links, risers and many more components.

“About 100 things could go wrong if we don’t do our job correctly,” said Airman 1st Class Jeremy Becker, an aircrew flight equipment technician assigned to the 509th OSS.

This job requires the technicians to have attention to detail and make no mistakes when they are repairing the parachutes.

“If we find anything short of perfection with a parachute then it must be repaired or replaced," said Cadwell. "It can take anywhere from one to three days to pack a parachute, depending on how many repairs and replacement parts are necessary.”

Most problems the Airmen might find with a parachute can be repaired by the technicians in the shop. Although, if a component cannot be repaired in the shop or its service life expires it will need to be replaced.

“These parachutes have numerous components that all require rigorous inspection and testing,” said Cadwell. “Just to name a few, the BA-22 parachute has an emergency oxygen bottle, minimal survival kit and a sidewinder flashlight. The ACES II is unique because it uses the Universal Water Activated Release System, which automatically releases the canopy if the pilot lands in water.”

With so many parts to these parachutes it’s important the Airman working with them have high standards and do their job correctly the first time, every time.

“Excellence in all we do is the name of the game in the parachute shop,” said Cadwell. “When the ejection handles are pulled and our chutes need to be used, everything needs to work perfectly. Saving lives is our job and in that endeavor we will not fail!”