Chutes for aircrews & B-52s

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE Airmen at the parachute shop at Minot Air Force Base make sure the parachutes are in perfect working order for the aircrews and the planes.

“We pack three different types of parachutes for the B-52, said Staff Sgt. Eric Gibson, quality assurance inspector with the Aircrew Flight Equipment’s Aircraft Support shop.

In the chute section, Gibson said they pack three different types of packs for the B-52 bomber the BA series personal backstyle automatic parachutes for personnel, and also B-52 drogue chutes and B-52 deceleration or drag chutes.

There are 290 personal parachutes, 70 deceleration chutes and 168 drogue chutes.

Gibson, from Chicago, has been at the Minot base for five years. He said all the parts and pieces for the chutes are manufactured in other areas. “When they come here, we put them all together,” he said.

“Our only claim-to-fame is these deceleration chutes. There’s only two bases in the world that maintain B-52 deceleration chutes,” Gibson said.

Minot AFB and Barksdale AFB in Louisiana are the only bases with B-52 bombers.

He said the personal parachutes are for various aircraft and not specifically for B-52 aircrews.

Every aircraft has a drogue chute. “These chutes are attached to the ejection seats,” Gibson said. “It helps pull the seat away for the crewmember during man seat separation because you don’t want to be attached to the seat when your personal parachute opens.”

He gave a quick explanation of how an ejection from a B-52H works:

– Both aircrew and seat eject from the aircraft.

– Drogue chute deploys separating the aircrew from the seat. At this point a timer is activated on the personal parachutes that will deloy it at around 14,000 feet.

– Once the aircrew members reach 14,000 (feet), the personal parachutes will deploy. When the chute deploys it automatically activates the personal locater beacon and deploys the survival kit.

Senior Airman Tyandra Small, a journeyman, and Airman 1st Class Roger Bennett, an apprentice, are among the personnel with the parachute shop. Small, from Sumter, S.C., has been at the Minot base for four years. Bennett, who calls Hillsboro, Ore., home, arrived in July 2013 Minot AFB is his first assignment in the Air Force.

“We are pretty much experts on everything. We are able to assemble/disassemble, maintain, inspect all the parts and pieces,” Small explained.

The shop is a five-day operation, except when there are exercises they work extra time, Bennett said.

Aircrews rely on the shop for well-operating equipment should anything go wrong with the aircraft.

“If there’s any problem with the aircraft, they only have one chance to get out safely,” Gibson said.

Their building not far from the flightline has two different sections: the parachute section which does all the parachutes and the flightline section which maintains all the survival kits and installs the parachutes on the aircraft.

A third section located in the PRIDE building on base maintains the personal survival equipment including oxygen masks, helmets, life-preserve units, survival vests, night vision goggles and nuclear flash blindness goggles.

The technicians work on a rotational basis so they get to know all the equipment. “When we go to the Flightline Section, our guys have to go out there, load this stuff and bring it back in,” Gibson said.

Several people work in the parachute shop; the entire flight has 36 personnel. All are part of the 5th Bomb Wing’s 5th Operational Support Squadron, a squadron led by Lt. Col. David Gordon.

Small gave a broad overview of the work the parachute shop people do with a personal backstyle parachute opening the bag, taking out the canopy and stretching it out on the long table. She did some inspecting, including separating the lines. Several people inspect every personal backstyle parachute before it leaves the parachute shop.

Bennett showed the final procedure done to the B-52s drag chute that was laid out on another long table in another room. “We already inspected it and everything so all that is needed to do is to be packed up,” he said.

Gibson and Bennett said the drag chutes weigh about 185 pounds and are about 85 feet long just the chute. All of it is packed into a bag..

Gibson and Bennett “aired out” the drag chute that was stretched out on one of the long tables. Bennett then tied the lines in various places, followed by packing it into its bag, jumping on it to get the chute to fit compactly into the bag.

A drag chute is used for 160 deployments, Bennett explained. Each one is repacked every time an aircraft flies. The one packed on Feb. 26 had been on 75 deployments. Each drag chute is marked to keep track of its deployment numbers and Bennet made another record of the number of deployments for the one he was packing.

“About seven years ago we did a merger,” Gibson said. “We actually used to be two different career fields. We used to be survival equipment which packed all the parachutes and then we were life support which took care of all the flightline work and all the aircrew personal equipment. And then we did a merger and that’s when we became Aircrew Flight Equipment.”

“We deal with everything needed for the aircrew member to survive,” Gibson said, adding, “We’ve got real good people here. They do a real good job.”