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Thu, May 29, 2003

Life Support Ensures Pilot Comfort, Survival

When a pilot must eject from his aircraft and parachute to the ground, he builds a fire, drinks water and signals for rescue using the survival kit provided by the life-support unit at home base. The life-support unit here ensures all aircrews receive the best life-support equipment for flights and emergency situations, said Tech. Sgt. Scott Schmidt, life-support superintendent.

"If pilots need to eject from the aircraft, life support provides the equipment to safely get them to the ground and survival gear to help keep them alive until they are rescued," Schmidt said. Typical survival equipment includes water, food rations, fishing kits, flares, radio, compass, mirror, glow sticks and fire starters.

"The equipment inside a survival bag really depends on where you are," Schmidt said. "For example, pilots in desert areas would have a lot more water in their survival bags." Along with building and maintaining survival kits, life-support instructors provide pilots with annual refresher training courses to ensure they remember how to use the equipment.

"This keeps the information fresh in their (minds) in case they get in an emergency situation," said Schmidt. With about 400 students going through pilot training here yearly, plus a cadre of around 400 instructor pilots, life-support workers strive to ensure each pilot has all equipment in tip-top shape, said Senior Airman Joseph Hale, a life-support technician.

"All new student pilots here are fitted with a custom built helmet and oxygen mask," he said. Along with those items, technicians also ensure each pilot's "G-suit," a pressurized gravitational harness pilots use in high-performance aircraft, fits properly and is in perfect working condition. The suits have to withstand certain pressures to remain intact for pilots to survive, Schmidt said.

"It keeps blood where it needs to be so the pilot doesn't lose consciousness," he said. Last year, the life-support team conducted about 35,000 regular equipment inspections. Adding support to the T-6 Texan crews, the team expects to top 40,000 inspections this year.

"Our mission is so big here," Schmidt said. "We work hard and do an immense amount of work to support the pilots. In one day, one worker will do as much work here as an entire shop at most other bases." With about 300 sorties per day, the life-support technicians work hard to ensure pilot safety.

"Their life is our business," said Hale. [ANN Thanks Airman 1st Class Yvonne Conde, 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs]

FMI: www.af.mil

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