Cover: The Training Needs of the Aircrew Flight Equipment Career Field

The Training Needs of the Aircrew Flight Equipment Career Field

Insights from a Survey of Airmen

Published Aug 10, 2023

by Chaitra M. Hardison, Tara L. Terry, Lawrence M. Hanser, Jacqueline Wong, Alice Qin, Anthony Lawrence


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Research Questions

  1. Are there proficiency gaps in the AFE career field? If so, which job tasks show proficiency gaps?
  2. What training and personnel management improvements can the U.S. Air Force make to improve the proficiency of AFE personnel?

Aircrew flight equipment (AFE) personnel inspect, repair, maintain, pack, and adjust aircrew flight equipment, which is vital to the safety of the aircrews. Consequently, U.S. Air Force leadership is concerned about proficiency in the career field. Previous RAND research suggested that changes to training may be needed. This report, following from that recommendation, provides a deeper review and identifies improvements.

The authors conducted a survey of more than 1,000 AFE enlisted personnel to help the career field better justify specific changes to training and personnel management policies. The survey explored six topics: (1) the workforce's level of proficiency, (2) adequacy of initial skills training (IST), (3) adequacy of follow-on training in the field, (4) maintenance of proficiency of 5-level and 7-level personnel, (5) impact of workload on ability to train, and (6) ways to improve training and proficiency. The authors identify proficiency gaps in the workforce and suggest where to first target training resources.

Key Findings

  • There are proficiency gaps in the AFE workforce. For a subset of AFE job tasks, 7-levels do not consider themselves fully competent.
  • Survey respondents indicate a gap for some tasks between what IST is delivering and the target competency levels for IST graduates, and some think that IST should be changed.
  • Proficiency of 5- and 7-levels is lacking in some areas due to insufficient follow-on training, insufficient maintenance of these skills, or both. Lack of qualified instructors, lack of training space and equipment, and other work demands are contributing factors.
  • The career field needs additional continuation training to maintain skills. Many tasks are performed infrequently, so skills can degrade.
  • Career field personnel perceive that extra workload has a direct effect on the career field's ability to train personnel and to maintain proficiency.
  • AFE personnel want extra support to help them brush up on proficiency and check their work. They also believe that the use of videos to illustrate proper techniques and adjustments to technical orders, particularly navigation and ensuring they are up to date, could improve training.


  • Shred IST training and address gaps in the proficiency of IST graduates identified in the survey.
  • Build dedicated training units in the field and utilize mobile training teams.
  • Establish a process of certifying currency and maintaining skill sets.
  • Address concerns about AFE work demands.
  • Develop videos and embed them in technical orders and modernize the technical orders' technology.
  • Invest in practice simulation equipment and make it accessible.
  • Devise a system specifically for flagging and recording training issues that is consistent across the career field.
  • Continue to look closely at the career field's proficiency and periodically resurvey part or all of the career field.
  • Focus resources on the areas in which training is most needed.
  • Prioritize the implementation of recommendations with high costs for tasks for which safety is a concern.

Research conducted by

The research reported here was commissioned by Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) A3/6, operations and communications, and conducted by the Workforce, Development, and Health Program within RAND Project AIR FORCE.

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