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Sgt. Nicholas Bourque inspects the communication radio on a pilot's flight vest at Al Asad, Iraq, Sept. 29. Bourque is a flight equipment technician with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, Carrier Air Wing One, Carrier Strike Group Twelve. Bourque is a native of Charleston, S.C.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Nikki M. Fleming

Flight equipment shop vital to pilot's mission in Iraq

27 Nov 2007 | Lance Cpl. Nikki M. Fleming

As pilots suit up, their main focus is mission accomplishment. With their minds continuously rehearsing strategies, it does not give them much time to think about their gear being properly equipped.

It's up to the Marines of the flight equipment shop with Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 251, Carrier Air Wing One, Carrier Strike Group Twelve, to ensure the pilots are outfitted for survival.

The flight equipment shop is responsible for the life-support gear the pilots need to have when flying, preparing them for different situations during combat operations, according to Staff Sgt. Don Huston, staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, flight equipment, VMFA-251.

"The pilot's rely on the Aviation Life Support Systems we inspect and install for their safety, as well as their lives," said Huston. "They count on us to make sure their gear -- their helmet, oxygen masks, communication, parachutes and seat pans -- are working properly in the unlikely event they're needed."

Flight equipment conducts 30-day, 90-day, 180-day and 360-day inspections on all pilots' gear.

"Inspections start as a visual assessment, making sure everything looks good and then breaking down the equipment," said Lance Cpl. Clayton Noal, flight equipment technician with VMFA-251. "While inspecting the gear, we check for serviceability, holes, tears or anything that may be damaged, and we either replace or repair it."

The flight equipment shop works continuously to maintain the pilots' gear, except for when a pilot is flying.

"We have a day and night crew, each working 12-hour shifts," said Noal. "In Iraq, you never know when an emergency launch will occur. It becomes much more important to have a Marine on standby and have the pilots' gear ready at all times."

"You have to pay constant attention to detail with this job," Noal added. "If you miss one step in preparation, it could be a Marine's life."

Although their main focus is the pilots' gear, flight equipment has helped the squadron with a few other things.

"We are able to make name tags for uniforms and have also manufactured canopy covers, intake and exhaust covers, tool pouches and other various items that assist with daily aircraft maintenance," said Huston.

With only four Marines working in flight equipment, the shop keeps up with the workload and maintains a team effort.

"We work great as a whole," said Noal. "Although we have a small shop, it doesn't affect our work at all. We are able to communicate with each other more efficiently."

Not only do the Marines in the flight equipment feel confident about their work, they receive positive feedback from the pilots, as well.

"We've had nothing but great reviews from the pilots," said Huston. "It definitely makes a difference knowing we provide support that aids in the mission's success."
3rd Marine Aircraft Wing