KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --
U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kenny Shearer, the 173rd Aircrew Flight Equipment superintendent, says he would prefer his career stay out of the spotlight.
“It’s a thankless job, and I would prefer it stay thankless,” he says. “I would prefer it to be something that never gets used.”
The Aircrew Flight Equipment shop is tucked behind a small door at the end of a hallway. The unassuming door belies the importance of the mission: keeping Team Kingsley pilots alive, no matter what.
“We handle anything life-sustaining in the cockpit: your equipment, g-suits, flight suits helmets, harnesses, life preservers, anti-exposure systems,” Shearer adds.
This includes Anything relating to life sustainment in the aircraft or post-ejection such as oxygen equipment, ejection seats, and parachutes.
Given the life-saving nature of the equipment, there are a lot of inspections at every step of the process, keeping the AFE shop busy says Shearer. “It doesn’t matter if we’re flying or not flying, there’s always work to be done. When everyone goes home after a long day of work, AFE is still here.”
In addition to regularly scheduled inspections, every single flight generates multiple inspections for each set of gear worn by the pilot and used in the jet.
AFE also manages pilot survival education, equipping them with the knowledge that they need to survive from the moment they pull the ejection handle all the way up to the moment they are rescued by friendly forces.
Under the guidance of AFE, pilots learn how to prevent their parachute from dragging them across a body of water, or make their way down from a tree. “We even teach them SERE [Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape],” adds Shearer.
SERE is the art and science of surviving enemy capture with your honor intact. Training includes overland and water survival, how to survive captivity, and other skills a pilot might need if downed over enemy territory. This training is necessary because pilots trained at Kingsley Field will join the ranks of the combat air force and fly in hostile environments, where a speedy rescue isn’t always possible.
Shearer says that his mission isn’t unique to Kingsley. “From your fighters, to your heavies, to your pararescue, all these areas have an AFE shop; putting all that into one area makes our career field huge.”
In a career field that includes everything from classroom teaching, gear inspections, parachute sewing, to oxygen system maintenance, Shearer says that it’s tough to keep track of everything AFE is responsible for.
Shearer feels the beauty of a “thankless” job is that pilots are returning to base safely nearly every day. The majority of the students don’t see most of what AFE does, and that means all the emergencies they prepare for, never happened.
“They really don’t know the depth and detail of what we do, and they don’t need to; but at the same time, if a pilot is recovered, the first place they go is AFE.”