Friday, July 24, 2009

Crawl... Walk... Drown...

Taking a break from our resent weeks of sitting at a computer and reading about other computers, the Navy regulations decided that several of our class needed to go through an impressive bit of training that will probably start to seem fun again in about four to five years… probably about when we are due for it again. It was a two day combined refresher for Hypoxia, Water Survival, and Dunker.

This really is some of the better training that they send us through… and is worth describing it in some detail. It seems the better training is always the most hands on… though it seems also that this is a trend we are getting away from in most things. Dread the day when this sort of thing becomes an online powerpoint presentation that must be viewed biannually!

Anyways. The first day was for the most part Classroom review of all the standard ways aircrews get messed up and fly perfectly good aircraft into the ground. The afternoon was a bit more interesting. A hypoxia lab of sorts. The idea behind this is to remind you what the beginnings of hypoxia feel like while your brain still works so that you can recognize it and fix what ever the problem is before you loose the ability to fly the aircraft. The old way to do this is to put you in a altitude chamber, suck out the air while you do math problems or play cards. After you can’t figure out what beats two of a kind or answer “4 + 4 = YOUR MOTHER TRABECK!” you are done… hopefully able to recognize the onset of Hypoxia before you chucle about “FAMOUS TITIES for 500!” at the controls of an aircraft. Interestingly, they came up with a new way to teach this particular lesson. Instead of using the altitude chamber and sucking the air out… they put you in an F-18 simulator, have you fly around, and slowly replace the oxygen you are breathing with nitrogen. The point is eventually you stop being able to fly the aircraft well, you recognize the onset of hypoxia, and push the 100% emergency oxygen button… restoring your brain to normal function. The best way to describe trying to fly an F-18 with most of the oxygen depleted from your blood is that it is like drunk sledding… The vehicle isn’t quite doing what you want it to, but you don’t mind that much and are still having fun. Overall very good training.

The next day was “Underwater Egress and Water Survival.”

The first thing they did was introduce us to a piece of ninja gear that I am very impressed with. It is basically a mini SCUBA tank to use if you end up underwater in a sinking aircraft. It is designed to give you just enough air to reach the surface if you can’t get out with just what is in your lungs. This little scuba tank is about the size of a redbull can and has a mini regulator on it. The last time I went through this training, we were shown one, but didn’t get to actually use it much. This time we would carry it with us underwater and at the approved times were aloud to use it. Before we get to that… a few exercises that as far as I can tell were designed to get anyone with a fear of water over it… and anyone that didn’t have a fear of water to instantly grow some aqua-phobia.

Just to add to the fun you are in full flight gear. Flight suit, gloves, helmet, survival vest, steel toed boots, and an inflatable life vest that you are not allowed to actually inflate. I barely float as it is. With all that shit on, I sink like a ten penny nail! There is a technique they were teaching us with the euphemistic name of “Drown Proofing” but it is the same move that used to go by the much more real name of “Dead Man’s Float” Either way… I have no doubt that this was invented by a person significantly more buoyant than myself. When I do it, I pretty much sink for a while, struggle back to the surface, cough in some water, then sink for a while again. Obviously it is a calming and energy saving technique!

The first exercise was they attached you to a sunken steel pole. The pole is at the bottom of the pool. You have to go down to the pole, release yourself from your attachment belt, follow along the pole to a sunken hatch with about six different latches on it. After manipulating each latch, you open the hatch and swim through back up to the surface. Mot much problem there. We only had to do that one once without our magic scuba bottles and once with them. It was a warm up.

The next bit of fun was a cage with two chairs over it. The roughly 25 by 6 foot long cage is submerged under water. You sit in the chair blindfolded (simulating night time) and strapped in like it is your aircraft seat. On the count of three, they flip both chairs over and plunge the both of you upside down underwater into this sunken cage. You have to extricate yourself from the chair and find your way out. The nearest hatch to you is always blocked… so you have to make your way blindfolded through the cage to find the hatch on the other end, then manipulate the mechanism, and swim back to the surface. It is easy enough when you just hold your breath and do it… though it is a little less comfortable than the first one. Eventually they make it so your seat belt won’t release you from the upside down seat. Luckily on this iteration you get to use your magic SCUBA bottle though and once you are breathing from your bottle, they release you from the seat to find your way out of the sunken cage.

Fun stuff!!!

Next came a sort of swim with your shit on exercise. After about one and a half laps with all this junk on I thought to myself, “this is stupid! The easiest stroke is the back float! I should just back stroke my way around here.” So I there I was back stroking my way around the pool… Unfortunately I got told I had to redo the swim portion. Apparently the only approved strokes were the breast stroke and the side stroke. There were no points for style! (to be honest, I didn’t look that stylish even back stroking… more like a bobbing half sunken helmet.

After all that, we were ready for “The Dunker” itself. It a mock up of the front of an aircraft that they strap you into in your normal crew position, lift it out over the pool, and drop the whole thing into the water. It of course flips upside down and sinks to the bottom of the pool. Your job is to make it out of the aircraft before you die. They have divers in the pool waiting incase it looks like you are not going to pull that off. Everything went fairly well for me except my first time through. (we did it 5 times.) The way we were supposed to do the first iteration was that we would stay in our seats, use our little scuba bottle, then escape calmly out of the aircraft. Well, I had set my bottle up wrong…(No better teachers than experience and adrenaline, right?) so I was strapped upside down in the sinking aircraft with no air. It isn’t bad itself as we had to do it without extra air too, but was a shock when I was expecting to be able to use it. So I then jettisoned my window, released my belt, and started swimming out and to the surface just holding my breath. My lungs were already burning as I had been dicking around with the stupid bottle that didn’t work and my window didn’t open very easily… Just as I was inches below the surface… BOING! My leg was snagged in the seatbelt and still stuck inside the aircraft! I wish I had had something witty to think about my situation, but I’ll tell you what, being trapped only inches underwater with your breath running out, snagged to a sunken aircraft has got to be one of the most terrifying feelings in the world. I could see the surface only inches from my face, but there was no way I could get to it. “About to drown” is a terrible, terrible feeling! After a moment of paralyzing panic I shook it off, swam back down to the sunken aircraft, unsnagged myself, and then finally made it to the surface. It felt like I had been underwater for a week! Fuck that shit! Though the rest of the times went fairly incident free.

The last time through we had to escape the sunken aircraft, swim across the pool, and huddle up with each other and wait to be rescued. This went just fine… Much better than the first time they did this with us 5 years ago or so. Last time they sprayed us with fire hoses to simulate waves and rain.

All this has made me completely sure that I don’t ever want to crash an aircraft into water. Two-engine failure 50 miles out to sea… to hell with ditching in the water brother, I will glide that bitch back to the beach on will power alone!


Anonymous said...

Not many people are aware of this, but in water survival situations, only the breast and side strokes will elicit the desired response from the female human.

(I read it in a book about fish)

Notorious said...

Ah! That explains everything! I had never really liked the breast stroke before... but after you put it that way, I am excited to practice it!

Anonymous said...

Just the right combination of wild laughter and real terror. A great blog entry. Time for a novel.