MARINE CORPS AIRSTATION YUMA -- Like an airbag in a car, a parachute is a safety device pilots have, but hope to never use. If the time ever comes for station pilots to eject from their aircraft, parachute riggers from Aviation Life Support Systems, Marine Aviation Logistics Squadron 13, have bettered the pilots’ chance of survival despite whatever may have happened in a life-threatening situation within the aircraft.
The ALSS parachute riggers take their safety inspections to heart to make sure aircraft ejection seat parachutes function properly, said Sgt. John O. Rundle, MALS-13 ALSS parachute rigger and a native of Plymouth, England.
When doing their work, the riggers have to be very meticulous when dealing with the life-saving equipment because the gear ALSS Marines are responsible for is the pilots’ last chance of survival.
"There are a million working parts in an aircraft and (mechanics) repair them at some level, but if any of those mechanical parts fail or anything within the jet fails, and won't bring that pilot safely home, the only alternative is to ditch the aircraft,” explained Gunnery Sgt. William T. Campbell, MALS-13 ALSS division chief and a native of Winslow, Ariz. “If the pilot is forced into the situation where he needs to ditch the aircraft, it's up to my guys and the gear we're responsible for to make sure the pilot has a successful ejection and he gets to the ground safely.
"If hydraulics fail, that can be repaired, but if a parachute fails, there is no redo,” Campbell added. “It's got to be right the first time. There are no second chances."
The parachutes must be checked on a 448-day cycle as scheduled maintenance, according to Rundle.
To successfully rig a parachute, the Marines carefully follow every detailed step in the Naval Air 13-1-6.2 manual. During the three-day inspection, the Marines perform tasks such as threading parachute cords, conducting ballistic spreader gun function checks and checking the continuity of suspension lines.
"We have to disassemble it and the parachute has to be inspected from end-to-end to make sure there are no defects on it of any kind,” Campbell said. “If there are any defects, that's when we immediately do whatever it takes to get that parachute back into a safe status.
“Afterward, we do the rigging. That's when we do the functional checks. We make sure the toe line release works properly and we check the ballistic spreader gun so that the parachute will (open) in time before it gets to the ground.”
For extra safety precautions, Marines who conduct work on the parachutes must a card history attached to the gear if it was inspected or repaired, said Rundle.
“We're basically responsible for saving their lives and they know that,” Campbell added. “Every time you put on the flight gear that we got ready for you, or you climb into the seat that we packed the parachute for, you know that you put your life in my hands and the ability of me and my Marines to have done it the right way the first time.
"You don't ever like to see a mishap, but there is a certain amount of satisfaction when the unfortunate does happen,” Campbell continued. “It pays off when you see the pilot walking through the door, shaking hands and saying, 'hey thanks.’It beats any paycheck in the world."