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Life on a UTA Weekend – Egress

U. S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jacob Bonner, an Aircrew Egress Systems Specialist, guides an F-16 canopy to a canopy dolly for scheduled egress time change maintenance in Hangar 12 at the 162nd Fighter Wing, January 13, 2013. Bonner is one of many specialists working to ensure the life support systems for the F-16 Fighting Falcon remain serviceable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Hollie A. Hansen/Released)

U. S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Jacob Bonner, an Aircrew Egress Systems Specialist, guides an F-16 canopy to a canopy dolly for scheduled egress time change maintenance in Hangar 12 at the 162nd Fighter Wing. Bonner is one of many specialists working to ensure the life support systems for the F-16 Fighting Falcon remain serviceable. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Hollie A. Hansen/Released)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Airman 1st Class Jacob Bonner has been with the Egress Shop here for two short years. When asked what his job entails, "Saving people's lives" is the first answer you get - without hesitation. He follows up with a short description of the maintenance activities performed on the Life Support System: "We're that crutch the pilots can lean on when they have nowhere else to go," he said.

The 162nd Fighter Wing Egress shop is responsible for the emergency escape system for the wing's 63 F-16 Fighting Falcons. Every few months, the explosives on the egress system need to be replaced with new, serviceable items. Forecasting these "time changes," as they are called, and coordinating maintenance with the Documentation and Munitions shops on the base, is necessary to ensure the jet downtime is kept to a minimum.

According to Master Sgt. Marvin Hall Jr., the Egress shop supervisor here, egress is "the escape system on the F-16 aircraft - a way to get the pilot out safely and quickly."

It takes only 1.8 seconds to begin what has been described as the most violent ride of a pilot's life, said Sgt. Hall. That 1.8 seconds is the responsibility of the Aircrew Egress Systems Specialists. If an emergency exit is necessary, the pilots need to rely on the ejection system to quickly egress the jet and return to earth safely.

While the Unit Training Assembly (UTA) weekends don't deviate much from the normal day-to-day work, Airman Bonner, a drill status Guardsman, has a different weekend experience. Still in training, he spends his UTAs immersed in learning every aspect of the egress system, from inspection and repair of the system components to replacing the explosives used to clear the canopy and pilot seat.

"I think I'm starting to get the hang of it, though I wish I had more time out here, instead of just being a weekender," said Airman Bonner.

Egress is one of the few career fields with a two-man work concept, meaning one person performs a given task, while an inspector signs off on their work. Procedures are completed step by step, to ensure a task is performed properly and safely.

"I like the two man checks; it makes me feel a lot more comfortable," said Airman Bonner. "I perform the task, I have my trainer checking my work, and then the inspector checks him, too. In my way it's a three-man check, just so they're making sure it's all being done right," he said.

When asked what he enjoys most about Egress, Airman Bonner said, "It feels like a family. I feel comfortable here. With that, it makes my job easier. I know everybody. I know who I can rely on, who I can ask," he said.

According to Sgt. Hall, this is a good thing because failure is not an option in the Egress shop. "Our career field is critical, you have one shot to make it work. So you do it by the book and you do it safely," he said.

Sgt. Hall - who has seen the successful result of his work twice during the span of his 31-year career - said, "It's rewarding knowing I worked on a system where a pilot was able to get out safely."

While they hope to never see their efforts in action, knowing their meticulous work is the difference between life and death for one of our pilots is "a feeling of accomplishment," said Sgt. Hall.