In a place of sand and scorpions, landlocked and hundreds of miles from an ocean, pilots at Luke Air Force Base are receiving a water survival course as part of their annual Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course.
Providing relief from the hundred degree heat, pilots dressed in full flight gear are zip-lined into the Silver Wings Pool to simulate being dragged by the strong tides of the ocean. A pilot has to quickly think in this case and must release the parachute before being dragged beneath the water. The possibility of landing in the water and having the parachute land on top of them is a very real scenario, and pilots learn during this course how to calmly find a way out before the parachute entangles and drowns them.
Despite being in a desert, Luke’s pilots will likely fly over oceans or lakes when deployed or assigned to other duty locations making the training vital to every pilot trained on base.
“A water landing is always on our minds when we have a water crossing like the Atlantic,” said Maj. Bailyn Beck, 309th Fighter Squadron chief of scheduling. “Being in the middle of the ocean, we think about how long we might be out there. However, we always travel with a wingman and someone always knows where we are.”
When a pilot ejects from an aircraft, survival gear weighing 30 to 40 pounds and containing basic first aid, water and a small one-man raft also eject with him. There are other items such as smoke flares, a signaling mirror and a radio for communication. During training, pilots learn how to lift their weighted-down body out of the drifting ocean and up into a raft. They also learn how to protect themselves from dehydration and the sun, which are among the many perils of being stranded at sea.
“The sun is very dangerous and it can start burning you within minutes,” said Senior Airman Jose Ochoa, 56th Operations Support Squadron aircrew flight equipment journeyman. “The sun can start tearing at your skin. That’s why there is sun screen in the kits to help.”