January 21, 2008

Virginia Aviation troops tackle water survival training

A Virginia National Guard pilot from the 2nd Bn., 224th Avn. Regt. practices an underwater egress Jan. 5 at Naval Air Station Norfolk. (Photo by Capt. Dayna Rowden, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

By Capt. Dayna Rowden
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

NAVAL AIR STATION NORFOLK, Va. - After a helicopter crashes or ditches over water, the crew has only seconds to respond to the emergency. The crew will be bombarded with violent jerking motions and several tons of incoming water. In most cases, the helicopter rolls upside-down, causing what might be a panic-inducing situation.

With over 3,315 miles of tidal shoreline, Virginia Army National Guard aircrew members and pilots face a possibility of an over-water emergency. It is because of this possibility that members of the 2nd Battalion, 224th Aviation Regiment, traveled to Naval Air Station Norfolk to participate in aircrew water survival training on Jan. 5.

The water survival training will increase the unit’s readiness to answer the call and to respond to natural disasters, like hurricanes, which may require them to fly over water, according to Maj. James Ring, commander of the 2-224th. Keeping pilots and crew members safe is a focus of the Virginia Army National Guard.

Panic is typical in many emergency situations, and the best way to prevent panic is through good, repeated, realistic training. So starting at 7 a.m., nearly 50 members of the 2-224th spent nearly seven hours in a swimming pool learning water survival techniques from the experts- the U.S. Navy.

 

A Navy instructor from Naval Air Station Norfolk explains to Virginia Guard aviation troops how to properly use a Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Device. (Photo by Capt. Dayna Rowden, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

 

Starting with learning to do basic survival swimming strokes, the training became progressively more difficult. The aviators swam and tread water in flight suits and boots, practiced opening compartment doors underwater, and completed Shallow Water Egress Training, in which they had to successfully unbuckle their harnesses from a chair that was submerged upside-down. Some of these exercises had to be completed while blindfolded.

All training was designed to build confidence and proficiency and culminated in the Modular Egress Training System (METS), or multi-place helicopter dunker. METS simulates a helicopter making a crash-landing in the water. The crew has to safely unbuckle their harnesses and safely egress the submerged aircraft. Each crew took three “rides” in the dunker; on the final ride all crew members were blindfolded.

After their last “ride” in the dunker, the aviators received training with the Helicopter Aircrew Breathing Device (HABD), which looks like a miniature SCUBA tank. The HABD is a piece of military survival gear that was adopted in order to increase the chances of survival for aircrew trapped in an aircraft which has crashed into a body of water.

After hours in the water, the aviators, many of whom possessed a certain amount of dread prior to the training, left the pool feeling confident that they learned the skills necessary to survive in the water.

 

Crew members from 2nd Bn., 224th Avn. Regt., equipped with black-out goggles, strap into the Modular Egress Training System for their final "ride" in the dunker. (Photo by Capt. Dayna Rowden, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

 
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