Lifeline to the Flightline

The Sheppard Air Force Base Aerospace Ground Equipment (AGE) technical school's rigorous training prepares students for a career in AGE and inculates the doctrine: "There is no Air Power without Ground Power."

National Guard and Reserve members as well as prior service military personnel may decide to make a career change to AGE and return to school. International enlisted and officers from all parts of the globe including Egypt, Kenya, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines need the specialized AGE training when their country has purchased aircraft from the US. "It's a great experience for the young student's right out of Basic," says MSgt Daniel Farquharson, Assistant Flight Chief, AGE. "They get to interact with a wide variety of individuals and learn about their experiences." To assist the international students with the language barrier, an English language school is offered at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio to develop their proficiency before entering training at Sheppard AFB.

In addition to the age and cultural differentia is the gender differentia. Thirty years ago, due to legislation, women were not permitted in any aircraft maintenance field. Today, between 20 to 35 percent are women, including four instructors within the AGE school at Sheppard AFB.


The AGE career field is divided into AFSCs that closely parallel a skilled tradesman in the private sector with the levels corresponding numerically, three through nine, to the trade levels of apprentice, journeyman, craftsman, superintendent, etc. In addition, it is one of the few military fields that have a mechanical/electrical duel entry perquisite within the four categories to be tested. The other two are general and administrative.

Typically, an AGE shop in the field is comprised of sections known as Combat AGE Teams (CATs) which support either aircraft maintenance or a base support function. Another AGE shop structure might include sections such as minor maintenance, major maintenance, periodic inspection (scheduled maintenance on the equipment) and pick up and delivery to the aircraft. The apprentice course which has 24 blocks of instruction and 53 instructors is divided into 4 CATs. In addition, six advanced courses supported by 11 instructors form the Advanced CAT. Starting in CAT I the process begins by introducing the fundamentals of the AGE career field. Progressing from CAT to CAT involves the introduction of more in-depth instruction on specific pieces of support equipment. In the end the students will need to know the mechanical and electrical inside and out for any number of pieces of equipment including bomblifts (used to load the munitions onto the aircraft), heaters, hydraulic test stands, air conditioners, air compressors and the self-generating nitrogen carts (SGNSC), etc.

However, it's a totally different generation of students coming through the schoolhouse doors than it was when many of these civilians' instructors passed through 20 to 30 years ago. "When I came through, 99 percent of the kids had already worked out of a toolbox," claims Mr. Michael Dow, Supervisor, Training Instructor. "Now, 99 percent of the students have never seen a toolbox. So the first thing we do in Block 2 is teach them what a hammer is, what a wrench is, a nut a bolt and a screw ? because most of them have never handled any of these things."

The school also takes into account that the students entering the curriculum today are a product of the "X-Box generation." In each of the 23 classrooms you will now find enhancements to the course supported by new technology.

These new technologies have replaced antiquated, one-dimensional training aides such as overhead projectors, poster board schematics and line diagrams; now the students can follow the exact route of the air flow in a bleed-air system or the air load valve on the A/M32A-60A generator set in an animated version that comes to life through the use of interactive courseware and Smart Board technology. As TSgt Saffell, designer of the animated program points out, "Instructors are quick to comment that a picture is worth a thousand words ... this is worth a million."

Similarly, in each of the 24 labs you will find state of the art equipment. For example, motor generators, which convert 60 cycle commercial power into 400 hertz, are being replaced with solid state frequency converters. "Right now the Air Force is negotiating the acquisition of a fully computerized hydraulic test stand," says Deynzer. "That's the way technology is pushing us. Pretty soon we are going to have a piece of equipment that doesn't have any valves; instead, it's going to be the push of a button." The instructors all agree, AGE has seen more change in the past five years than in the 25 years before that and is becoming as sophisticated if not more sophisticated than the aircraft it's supporting.


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