Working the Line Between Life and Death

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hope Geiger
  • 180th Fighter Wing

Part of preparing a jet for flight is making sure the pilot is equipped with all the necessary supplies needed for any situation. From packing emergency items like parachutes and survival kits to maintaining regularly used items like flight helmets and oxygen masks, the attention to detail provided by aircrew flight equipment technicians could mean the difference between life and death for pilots.

Senior Airman Abbie McGuire, an aircrew flight equipment technician assigned to the 180th Fighter Wing, Ohio Air National Guard, has an important impact on the flying mission at the 180FW.

“My job consists of maintaining, inspecting, and building all of the equipment a pilot wears or needs while flying a jet,” said McGuire.

This equipment includes flight helmets, oxygen masks, parachutes, survival kits, floatation devices, aircrew night vision, flight suits and harnesses. A lot of work goes into preparing these items to ensure a pilot is safe and ready for any type of situation.

“To prepare the helmets and oxygen masks, I have to take them completely apart, and wash and inspect all the different parts to make sure there are no mistakes or items missing, before putting it all back together,” McGuire said. “I then put it in the pilot’s locker so it is ready to use.”

It is important to ensure pilots have the best equipment for the job.

“The harness, that buckles the pilot into the jet and attaches to the survival kit and parachute, is built from scratch,” explained McGuire. “I sew everything together, screw all of the different pieces on, and specifically fit it the correct measurements of each pilot, so in the case a pilot emergency ejects, they aren’t coming out of the harness.”

In an event a pilot ejects from their jet, they have essential gear needed to land safely and survive until they are rescued.

“Parachutes are packed a specific way to make sure it opens up correctly so a pilot is able to land,” McGuire said. “Attached to the harness are the life preserver units, which are equipped to automatically inflate if they land in water, and survival kits.”

McGuire packs survival kits with essential tools such as a one-man life raft, medical equipment, candles, snares to catch animals for food, flares, sea-dye markers, flashlights and a radio equipped with survival points so they are able to be found when rescued.

If equipment is not prepared properly it could be fatal to the pilot.

“Making a mistake prepping flight equipment could be fatal in any case,” said McGuire. “If I made a mistake packing a pilot’s parachute, and the pilot has to eject, the parachute would not open correctly and the pilot could die.”

With all the responsibility that comes with being an aircrew flight equipment technician, she still finds a lot of joy in what she does.

“I love all parts of my job,” McGuire said. “I love interacting with the people I work with, and just knowing I am a part of something that actually matters. I know when a pilot is flying in the jet, I have supplied them with the best equipment possible.”

McGuire has achieved many accomplishments in her career so far.

Last year, she oversaw $12 million worth of equipment, participated in three F-16 training deployments and supported 150 sorties, making 36 pilots fully mission-ready. She has also aided local survival instruction; processing 35 pilots through life saving scenarios, guaranteeing aircrew survivability.

Although McGuire has only been working full time at the 180FW for three years, she plans on making a career from it.

“I hope in my career I can become supervisor of the aircrew flight equipment shop one day and maybe even go on to become chief of operations,” McGuire said.

“Having an Airmen, like Abby McGuire, that has such passion and the technical expertise in such a young career has been absolutely refreshing,” said Master Sgt. Shawn Lagrange, the non-commissioned officer in charge of the Aircrew Flight Equipment shop. “She’s been great, and I hope to have her around for a really long time.” 

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