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Equipping the crew

By Staff Sgt. Chad Warren 2nd Bomb Wing Public Affairs

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When aircrew members take to the skies, they need much more than a working aircraft and the clothes on their back.

Airmen from the 2nd Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment helmet shop make sure B-52H Stratofortress crew members have all the equipment necessary to deal with the rigors and risks of flying a long range bomber.

"We maintain all of the aircrew's equipment, as far as the helmets, oxygen masks and regulators, survival vests, life preserver units and chemical warfare gear," said Senior Airman Porshae McMillan, 2 OSS aircrew flight equipment journeyman. "Our shop maintains all the equipment listed above for over 400 aircrew members, including the 20th Bomb Squadron, 96th Bomb Squadron, 49th Test and Evaluation Squadron, 343rd Bomb Squadron and weapons school."

In addition to crew members, life support also equips those who fly as part of the incentive flyer program. This program allows non aircrew Airmen to ride along during a B-52 flight.

Whether aircrew or incentive flyer, the shop's customers rely on the skills of the flight's Airmen.

Attention to detail while maintaining the equipment is vital, according to Airman Delonte Vance, 2 OSS aircrew flight equipment journeyman.

"For example, sometimes the exhalation valve on the mask can get stuck if it isn't cleaned properly," said Vance. "If they are inhaling air but can't exhale, they can pass out during a flight."

The inspection requirements for each piece of equipment vary, according to McMillan, from masks and regulators which are inspected each month to survival vests and LPUs which only require a yearly inspection.

"Everything has its own inspection schedule so everything is up to date and ready to go," she added.

In addition to maintaining the equipment, the Airmen perform the fitting and initial issue of the mask and helmet for all new aircrew members on Barksdale.

Perhaps the most versatile piece of equipment these Airmen maintain is the helmet, said Vance. Although simple in itself, a wide variety of eye attachments can be fitted to the front giving aircrew members  myriad  additional capabilities. All of the attachments are maintained by Airmen in the flight, and issued to aircrew as needed.

These accessories include night vision goggles to give the crew increased visibility in low light, goggles used to protect against temporary flash blindness and eye damage, such as retinal burns, and aircrew laser eye protection.

"Our Airmen are extremely knowledgeable on the equipment which ensures the safety of the aircrew," said McMillan.

Life support Airmen must be flexible and willing to support the fight no matter what hour of the day. If planes are flying, they are on hand to equip the crew.

The mission of the Mighty Deuce never sleeps. Neither do the Airmen who keep the aircrew safe.