Bomb wings partner to keep safety firmly in check

  • Published
  • By Major Shane Balken
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
When your job literally keeps people's lives hanging in the balance, things can get tight - really tight - with no room for error.

That is why, when several B-52s from the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot AFB, N.D., were temporarily assigned to Ellsworth through October, the 28th Civil Engineer Squadron was required to build custom platforms to accommodate the aircrafts' deceleration parachutes, or "drag chute".

Part of that project included building the equipment necessary to pack nearly 200 pounds of nylon material and harness into a three-foot long parachute bag. The drag chute helps significantly slow the B-52 down as it lands on the runway and adds another layer of safety in case of an emergency.

Airman 1st Class Jeremy Mitchell, 28th CES structural apprentice, and four other Airmen from his office built the 100-foot-long parachute table - currently used during the inspection and packing of the chute -- in only six days and approximately 1,000 man hours. It is not uncommon for special requests like the parachute table to come their way, he said.

The start of the inspection begins by searching for damage, twisted lines, holes, and rips in the chute. The 90-foot-long chute is then stretched out and secured from both ends on the long table.

The 48 lines and 24 panels in the drag chute are separated and divided in half and then straightened out for repacking. Temporary ties are then attached to hold the lines together. Finally, the chute is pushed down the table in several folds like an accordion and ready to be tightly packed in the bag.

Since they have been working here, members of the 5th Operations Support Squadron have packed an average of 2 to 3 drag chutes per day, considerably less than back in North Dakota with about 7 to 8 per day. And they have generally have been able to pack a drag chute in approximately 30 minutes.

During the past two years, Minot's runway has been under construction at each end, allowing only 10,000 feet for landing and take-off, compared to Ellsworth's 13,297 feet of tarmac. This explains the difference in parachute packing frequency - the shorter the runway, the more often the drag chute is deployed.

Staff Sgt. John Williams, 5th OSS aircrew flight equipment technician, added that the lower number of deployments aids the overall lifespan of the parachute, which stretches out each time it is used.

Another unique platform request the 28th CES handled was a 28-foot-tall B-52 drag chute stand used by crew chiefs to load the drag chutes into the tail of the B-52.

Staff Sgt. Nate Sobolewski, 5th Maintenance Squadron aerospace ground equipment lead technician, said the drag chute stand was deconstructed at Minot, loaded onto pallets, and then driven to Ellsworth.

It previously took a month to put the drag stand back together but with the help of civil engineers from both bases they were able to assemble it in a day and a half. The 28th CES even brought in a crane to help assemble the very top pieces on the stand, said Sobolewski.

"The teamwork with Ellsworth has been incredible. If it wasn't for them we would be packing our drag chutes on the floor," said Williams.

Despite the challenges of working in a new environment, the 5th BW aircrew flight equipment personnel have not allowed obstacles to slow them down. Williams and Monroe added that during their time as aircrew flight equipment technicians at Minot, no parachute has malfunctioned.

"The cooperation between the two bases has been amazing," Monroe said.