SAN DIEGO --
Even when he is in the sky, the pilot of an F/A-18 “Hornet” fighter jet depends on many Marines on the ground to keep him safe, like the leathernecks of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 323’s seat shop.
As the name of the shop suggests, these Marines are in charge of the maintenance and repair of a vital, lifesaving piece of equipment in the cockpit – the ejection seat. These Marines make sure every nut and bolt in the seat is in good repair so if something goes wrong on the aircraft the pilot can safely eject.
Hundreds of parts keep the seat together and functional, and the Marines inspect the seat daily and repair it as needed. It also gets rotated out of the F/A-18’s every 728 days. During the rotation, they remove the seat from the plane, de-arm, test, re-arm and reinstall it. The explosives involved with making the seat eject quickly and powerfully pose a risk to the Marines during the de-arming and arming stages, but “the only time I’ve seen mishaps are when someone wasn’t adhering to the book,” said Gunnery Sgt. Michael Tamm, the work center supervisor. He explained further that the sound judgment of the Marines in the seat shop is what keeps them safe.
“Common sense is huge when working on an aircraft. If it doesn’t look or feel right, it probably isn’t,” said Tamm.
This common sense applies to all areas of the aircraft, since the Marine’s responsibilities go beyond just the seat. In fact, Tamm explained that the ejection seat is “the least they have to work on.” As F/A-18 Aircraft Safety Equipment mechanics, they have many responsibilities in the aircraft, including cabin life support pressurization and oxygen and maintaining fire extinguishers for the engines.
The plane maintenance is important for mission completion, but keeping pilots safe helps them do their job with confidence, explained Tamm.
“We have fine pilots because they are confident flying [the jet]” he said. “They are getting in there knowing they can trust us to do our job well, and they can get out if they need too.”
Tamm also credits his Marines on the flight line for mission success. Even lance corporals are important in the safety and readiness of the aircraft, and they are on the line making pretty critical decisions every day, explained Tamm.
“There is a lot of responsibility with this job,” said Pfc. Emilio Fusco, an F/A-18 aircraft safety equipment mechanic. He explained that he works hard and makes sure to do his best because, “If that pilot goes up and needs to pull the ejection handle and nothing happens, they are in trouble.”
Although a seat ejection is rare, it’s still important to maintain a high level of professionalism and dedication to make sure the parts are operable and the pilots are safe, said Tamm. The hard work the Marines put in every day is for the pilots’ safety, and ultimately getting the aircraft up so the squadron can conduct its mission.