Precision critical for survival equipment specialists

  • Published
  • By Dan Galindo
  • 482nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Something as small as a single stitch in fabric can determine whether a pilot flies and fights another day. 

For the specialists at the 482nd Maintenance Group's Survival Equipment Shop here that's why paying attention to every minute detail is so very important.

"We have pilots' lives in our hands here," said Frank Saldarriaga, an Air Reserve Technician and NCO in charge of the Survival Equipment Shop as a Master Sergeant in the Air Force Reserve.

"Whether it's here or any other shop in the Air Force, you have to pay great attention to detail," he said.

"You really have to have your eyes on what you're doing," said Khalid Bensitel, an Air Reserve Technician and Senior Airman in the Air Force Reserve. "This is the last resort for a pilot. It's critical to get it right."

Saldarriaga and his team have much on which to concentrate. It's their job to inspect, test and repair parachutes, G-suits, survival vests, flight suits, anti-exposure suits, one-person life rafts, and life preservers.

Each piece of equipment has its own demands for care. For example, parachutes have special stitching and even small explosives that require close attention, all of which the specialists can handle on their own.

"We do 100 percent of the inspections, packing and repairs here," said Bensitel. "We don't send anything out (for servicing)."

The team also puts their skills in stitching to work fabricating custom covers to protect sensitive cockpit equipment, seats and air-intakes of the F-16's.

The intense focus on so many intricate pieces of gear is aimed at a specific outcome - precision.

"If a pilot needs to eject, everything must work when and how it's needed," said Saldarriaga. "Things happen in fractions of a second in those situations."

Since many of the fighter jets in the Air Force inventory have the same ejection systems, many survival equipment specialists can easily assist other units.

It's an aspect of the job that came in handy for the pilots and support crews of A-10 Warthogs of the 926th Fighter Wing at New Orleans Naval Air Station, La. after Hurricane Katrina last year. Both Sergeant Saldarriaga and Airman Bensitel volunteered to help, allowing 926th reservists to focus on the needs of their families and homes.

"Before all the jets could depart permanently, we had to inspect every piece of equipment so they could fly out of there," said Sergeant Saldarriaga. "It feels good to help out our fellow reservists like that."

But the rewards of the job are evident regardless of a big event.

"It makes me feel good that someday my work may save the life of a pilot," said Bensitel. "Things do happen, and it's my job to help make sure the pilot comes home."