U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Zachary Smith, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment apprentice, tightens a screw while repackaging a parachute at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., July 9, 2012. Smith is a member of the aircrew flight equipment shop and assists with the repair and maintenance of emergency flight equipment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Josef Coder, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment apprentice, repackages a parachute while working in the aircrew flight equipment shop at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., July 9, 2012. This shop is responsible for maintaining all emergency flight equipment and training flight crew members in the use of these items. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)
U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Zachary Smith, 27th Special Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment apprentice, repairs a parachute while working in the aircrew flight equipment shop at Cannon Air Force Base, N.M., July 9, 2012. This shop repairs all emergency flight equipment and trains aircrew on their usage. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ericka Engblom)
by Senior Airman Whitney Tucker
27 Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
7/13/2012 - CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- For the majority of the working world, the hours between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. are monotonous; the seconds tick by in the same, unremarkable fashion as the day before and the days to come. However, for parachute packers of the 27th Special Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment shop, this could not be further from the truth. Their days must be perfection.
As their mission statement decrees, they are charged with the responsibility of protecting and sustaining human life, a task that leaves no room for error.
"To instill meticulous habits, a first-time technician will only pack one parachute a day," said Staff Sgt. Joshua Charette, 27 SOSS aircrew flight equipment supervisor. "Once their supervision feels an Airman has progressed to a certain level, the technician will be trusted to pack up to two chutes a day."
To ensure no mistakes are made as personnel are given increased responsibility, a system of checks and balances was put in place to govern day-to-day operations. No chute passes inspection without first being examined with a fine-toothed comb.
"During the packing process, there are different checks that need to be made depending on what type of chute is being packed and the packing regulations for that particular parachute," said Master Sgt. Patrick Francis, 27 SOSS flightline operations superintendent. "Each parachute packer has to stop at certain stages; a certifier goes over to check that it is being done correctly and only then can the packer continue on to the next stage."
Though parachutes come in a myriad of different shapes, sizes and configurations, each of them falls into one of two categories: premeditated or emergency.
"Premeditated chutes are for scheduled jumps," Francis said. "They have a main canopy and a reserve just in case the primary doesn't work," Francis said. "Emergency chutes are in place on an aircraft in case members have to bail out unexpectedly. These have no reserve; you only get one shot."
Emergency chutes are the most time consuming parachutes the aircrew flight equipment team packs and also the most common. Comprised of a suspension assembly harness to support the body, suspension lines and a canopy, the emergency parachute is a member's last lifeline in an emergency situation.
"If all goes according to plan, the member will achieve pilot parachute deployment," Charette said. "A very small parachute comes out of the back to help stabilize the chute. The small parachute will then hanker itself while the member continues to fall away. Next, the suspension lines will start to deploy and the pack risers will come out of the bag. Lastly, the canopy will deploy and the member slows down."
In a career field where the stakes could not be higher, Charette believes each of the 3,000 chutes he has packed over the course of his seven-year career represents a life.
"In life there are a lot of things you can cut corners on, but this isn't one of them," he said. "It still makes me nervous to see someone jump from an aircraft with my name on their back even though I know I packed the chute perfectly. I think if it ever got to the point where I didn't feel that way, it would be time to walk away."
7/16/2012 10:37:09 PM ET The Parachute Rigger's PledgeI will keep constantly in mind that until men grow wings their parachutes must be dependable.I will pack every parachute as though I am to jump with it myself and will stand ready to jump with any parachute which I have certified as properly packed.I will remember always that the other man's life is as dear to him as mine is to me.I will never resort to guesswork as I know that chance is a fool's gold and that I a rigger cannot depend on it.I will never pass over any defect nor neglect any repair no matter how small as I know that omissions and mistakes in the rigging of a parachute may cost a life.I will keep all parachute equipment entrusted to my care in the best possible condition remembering always that little things left undone cause major troubles.I will never sign my name to a parachute inspection or packing certificate unless I have personally performed or directly supervised every step and am entirely satisfie