EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Bailout! Bailout! Bailout!” is a fighter pilots last words before pulling the escape lever and putting their life in the hands of an egress Airmen.
Each day the 354th Maintenance Squadron egress section maintains and repairs the F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft escape system made up of the ejection seat and canopy. Ejection seats have saved over 7,000 lives since the first models were introduced on fighter aircraft.
The egress section directly supports the 18th Aggressor Squadron and ultimately assists joint and international exercises such as RED FLAG-Alaska, COPE North and Diamond Shield.
“Egress maintenance includes time changes on explosives in the ejection seat, cockpit, and canopy,” said Senior Airman Tyler Nicholson, 354th MXS egress section journeyman. “We also have to train all those who work on the aircraft every year to ensure they know what not to touch and where not to step when working in or around the cockpit.”
While working with explosives and conducting annual training for all operators and maintainers can be stressful, egress Airmen here at Eielson have other challenges to work through.
“Most of our challenges here come from having to work while it’s -50 degrees outside,” said Senior Airman Kalvyn Gaona, 354 MXS egress section technician.
Maintenance and training comes with its hardships, but no Airman works alone in the egress career field.
“Something unique to egress is the two-man concept,” said Nicholson. “There isn’t any maintenance on an ejection seat, in the cockpit, or on the canopy that can be done alone. Every job requires the two-man concept.”
Not many Airmen can say their job could mean the difference between life and death, but for Airmen like Gaona, serving in such a critical role in the mission is the highlight of the job.
“My favorite part of egress is knowing we save lives,” said Gaona. “I’ve never been part of an ejection, but it makes me proud to know that Airmen like me have had a direct impact on another and knowing they helped bring loved ones back to their family safely.”