When a Luke F-16 fighter jet crashed in a field adjacent to base on June 26, the student and instructor pilot’s last chance for survival was something most pilots never have to do: eject. Fortunately, both men successfully did so and were recovered on the ground, unharmed.
An incident like this illustrates the importance of the work done behind the scenes by maintainers at Luke AFB.
Members of the 56th Component Maintenance Squadron egress section take pride in making sure the F-16 ejection systems are serviced and maintained properly, because they know that when they’re needed, someone’s life is at stake.
“Egress personnel are responsible for maintaining the whole ejection system,” said Master Sgt. Christopher Wells, 56th CMS egress section chief. “This includes the seats, cockpit and canopy, and all the explosive systems that allow for a successful ejection.”
Egress personnel perform maintenance on egress systems and train daily to ensure mechanical systems perform when needed.
“Scheduling is probably the most important thing,” Wells said. “After that, following technical orders and making sure personnel are trained to do the job. We are out constantly checking munitions to see when they are coming due and working with plans and scheduling to ensure we have the munitions on base. We get a lot of unscheduled jobs assisting other units. From removing seats to rails, it just depends on what’s needed. In egress there is always a lot going on.”
The 56th CMS egress section is comprised of approximately 32 Airmen and civilians. The shop is manned 24 hours a day and has standby crews ready on the weekends.
Egress personnel maintain and repair items associated with the escape and survival systems, such as warning lights, emergency oxygen systems and the recovery sequencer. The recovery sequencer is often the first thing examined after a pilot ejects.
“Normally after an incident, information is gathered from egress equipment on the aircraft,” Wells said. “The recovery sequencer is removed, which is the brain of the ejection system. It takes input from the environmental sensor, which monitors air speed and altitude, and based on that information it decides what ejection sequence needs to occur. We have different sequences, depending on the speed and altitude. The recovery sequencer compiles that information and then determines what munitions need to fire and when. It’s kind of like the black box in a civilian airline.”
In the break room of the egress building is painted a “Wall of Life,” a colorful hand-painted mural that depicts pilots who had to eject here at Luke AFB. Pilots are seen sitting in ejection seats descending behind a blue sky. For egress personnel the wall symbolizes the reason for all the hard work they do.
“The wall was created in 2001, by Master Sgt. Curt Cavazos, an egress technician, before he retired,” said Tech. Sgt. Joel Jones, 56th CMS egress production superintendent. “He wanted to recognize the work we do. We never get to test our systems, so we put faith in our Airmen to make sure our systems are always reliable. This wall captures our defining moment.”
All in all, egress personnel are proud of the work they do. When it’s time to eject, pilots count on them since they can be the difference between life and death. For egress personnel, failure is not an option.