MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter pilots assigned to the South Carolina Air National Guard's 157th Fighter Squadron undergo water survival training at Lake Murray in Chapin, South Carolina, Aug. 13.
The mandatory tri-annual training is designed to refresh pilots on survival and recovery procedures should they find themselves in open water after an ejection.
“Water survival training is an excellent opportunity for us to understand what we would have to do should we have to eject,” said Lt. Col. Taj Troy, a fighter pilot assigned to the 157th Fighter Squadron. “It also serves as a good refresher to keep us relevant.”
Each pilot suited up with training gear that mirrors the operational flight equipment they wear while conducting training and combat flying missions, such as a helmet, life preserver unit and full flight suit, while completing various tasks both in the water and on land.
Before the water training, the pilots were given in-depth instructions on all of the gear they have available to them when they fly in real-world scenarios.
“Safety is key,” said Hannah Connor, an Aircrew Flight Equipment technician assigned to the 169th Operation Support Squadron. “Our people are our number one resource, and we want to make sure that they’re safe above everything else.”
Starting from a dock, they were drug in full gear into open water to enforce the ability to disconnect from their parachute.
They then had to swim and navigate under a deployed canopy resting on the surface of the lake, which simulates what would happen if they were to end up underneath their parachute after they landed in the water. This reinforces the proper steps to take to get out from underneath the canopy.
“Under that kind of pressure, it is key that they remain calm in their actions to keep from being entangled in the chute and lines,” said Chief Master Sgt. John Quattlebaum, the Aircrew Flight Equipment superintendent assigned to the 169th Operation Support Squadron.
They wrapped up the water survival training portion by climbing into an inflatable single person life raft, where they demonstrated how to get into the raft without damaging it and how to apply a patch in case of a leak.
The pilots then moved to land, where they were instructed on how to deploy a flare gun and flares to assist in their recovery from rescue forces, to conclude the training.
“They can learn about something in a classroom setting, but until they actually get out there and do it, they won’t know what to expect,” said Quattlebaum. “We want to ensure that the muscle memory is there.”