Robert Culpepper removes squibs, miniature explosive devices, from a KC-135’s No. 3 strut before the aircraft is moved into a hangar for depot work. The aircraft has 10 squibs that during an engine fire would instigate releasing fire retardant.(Air Force photo by Margo Wright)
Jeff Hand, left, and Stan Jackson put an ACES II B-1 seat back together after preventive maintenance. Each seat holds 14 miniature explosive devices that synchronize in an emergency to help propel a strapped-in crew member from a doomed aircraft at zero to 80 miles per hour in approximately two seconds.(Air Force photo by Margo Wright)
by Brandice J. Armstrong
72nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
3/6/2009 - TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla., -- Ask John Cordon about the mission of the 565th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron's Bomber Egress shop. Without hesitation, the shop's ordinance system supervisor will say, "We save lives" and "When all else fails, egress prevails," the unit's motto.
Day after day, the unit maintains, replaces and repairs the egress systems for the B-52H Stratofortress and B-1B Lancer. Situated in a recently refurbished shop, personnel also update the B-52 and B-1's explosive items, which trigger the egress systems. They update engine squibs for the KC-135 Stratotanker and E-3A Sentry. But, unlike other Tinker organizations, the Bomber Egress shop has to make sure the egress system does the right job on the first and only try. There are no "second chances" when it comes to egress work.
"Every person in the Bomber Egress shop knows their margin for error is zero," said Frank Dolcater, 565th AMXS director. "These professional men and women provide the means for crew members to escape from damaged or disabled aircraft in the event of an emergency."
If an emergency exit proves necessary, an aircrew member pulls an ejection handle. Within seconds, the 150-pound seat with the crew member thrusts back and the individual is ejected from the aircraft and guided to the ground by parachute.
"The start of ejection happens within the blink of an eye, in about a quarter of a second," Mr. Cordon said. "It's just that quick."
The force that makes an ejection possible is the rocket motor under the seat. An electrical impulse ignites the rockets below the ejection seat, and ultimately thrusts the seat from the aircraft.
The Bomber Egress shop inspects and repairs B-1 egress systems every four to five years and B-52 egress systems approximately every four-and-a-half years in conjunction with each aircraft's programmed depot maintenance cycle. Aircraft seats are removed and inspected for structural damage and then refurbished. A B-52 has six seats and a B-1 has four seats.
Seats are inspected, cleaned, explosives are changed and repairs are made when needed. After all that, seats are inspected again and reinstalled in the respective aircraft. The process takes approximately three weeks. As a result, the shop services roughly 14 B-1s and 17 B-52s each year.
"We produce a quality product for the flight crew," Mr. Cordon said. "The air crew depends on us to make sure their ejection systems are safe and reliable for a clean ejection."
Mr. Cordon said the most challenging aspect of the job is keeping shop personnel familiar with the four different systems, including all the different explosive items -- initiators, thrusters, rocket motors and catapults -- and also their training requirements.
But, in the past couple of years, the shop has been refurbished, making a better work environment for the employees. As the result of a Lean initiative, the office area has new furniture and more organized storage areas. The actual shop has new floors, more lighting and recently painted walls, all creating a highly-lighted maintenance area.