Arizona’s tanker aircrews test water survival skills

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Kelly Deitloff
  • 161st Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
More than 70 Airmen from the 161st Air Refueling Wing participated in water survival training at Lake Pleasant here, May 3.

Arizona Air National Guard officials say the training is an absolute necessity for KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew members who consistently fly over open water. In the unlikely event the Airmen are stranded at sea, they need the skills that will keep them alive until rescue forces arrive.

The refresher course is conducted every three years to familiarize the aircrews with the 20 man life raft and the equipment contained in the raft outer kit.  Training is led by the wing's Aircrew Flight Equipment shop and is broken into two parts; classroom and hands-on in the water.

During the morning orientation, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Storm, AFE superintendent, reinforced the training's importance.  "Our job is to teach these aircrew members that if the time comes and you have to ditch in a water landing you know how to use the equipment," said Storm.

During the classroom portion, the contents of the raft outer kit were spread out on a table - a radio, water, food rations, signaling mirror and flares.  The aircrew members got reacquainted with items in the kit that are loaded onto the aircraft before every overwater flight.

"This is a refresher of what the aircrew has already learned.  Improvements and upgrades to equipment are constantly being made and this gives the aircrew the ability to recognize new equipment items in the kits," said Storm.

The second half of training took place in the water.  "We try to make the training as realistic as possible." said Staff Sgt. Vince Sesma, AFE craftsman.  Non aircrew members participate in the water portion to represent passengers on a flight - people the aircrews would be responsible for in a real-world situation.

Life rafts were inflated and set out in the lake.  Pilots and boom operators donned their life preservers and jumped in the water.  They swam out to the raft and helped the others climb in.  "We use these people because they don't know the equipment, they don't know the life raft and they don't know what to do once they get in the water," said Sesma.

After all survivors were aboard the life raft the group took an inventory of personnel, equipment and survival components. All members practiced putting up the canopy, which helps protect them from the sun and rain on the open water.

"The training went well," said Storm, "All the aircrew enjoy getting off the base and going somewhere for realistic training.  Going to Lake Pleasant is a great opportunity to get out there and do some team building."