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Oregon fighter pilots practice water-ejection techniques

By Master Sgt. Jefferson Thompson | 173rd Fighter Wing, Oregon Air National Guard | Aug. 9, 2019

CULTUS LAKE, Ore. – U.S. Air Force F-15C pilots from the 173rd Fighter Wing of the Oregon Air National Guard spent July 25 preparing for an emergency ejection over water during water survival skills training at Cultus Lake in Central Oregon.

In the campground overlooking the crystal-clear lake, pilots donned their flight suits, sans patches, and prepared to practice releasing from a parachute while being dragged through the water, navigating beneath a water-logged chute, and entering and exiting a life raft.

This year, the aircrew flight equipment section brought Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, otherwise known as SERE, instructors from Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington, and Beale Air Force Base, California, to teach the material ensuring the pilots are qualified to fly and train over water, something they do when using the coastal ranges in Oregon.

"Our role this year is to coordinate with SERE, get them down here as trainers as well as provide the equipment," said Master Sgt. Brian Vaughan, the flight chief for 173rd Aircrew Flight Equipment. The list of equipment is long: flight suits, helmets, life preservers, inflatable rafts, harnesses, survival kits, recovery devices, a parachute and anchor system, and the gear to simulate a parachute drag.

"It's a lot of work; we actually start planning about a year out and there are a lot of permits that we need from the Forest Service…and then just getting the gear ready," said Vaughan.

The SERE instructors took them through various procedures involving their included survival gear and explained what the process will involve when being picked from the water using a number of different methods.

"It's kind of a first-of-its-kind event," Staff Sgt. Michael Bilodeau, a SERE water survival specialist from Fairchild AFB, Washington, on getting away from his classroom and out to the operational Air Force. "We get a chance to work with these folks and give them a little bit of information that we have at the schoolhouse that we want to pass along to them."

"It went great; good training," said Lt. Col. Ryan McLain, the 114th Fighter Squadron commander. "It's always a good refresher and it's good to get some new perspectives and some of these guys that came out have done different things than we have, they were able to teach us some new things."

Additionally, Bilodeau points out that it's a great opportunity for the aircrew flight equipment and the pilots to bring their families along for a first-hand look at the training.

"This is also a chance to showcase a part of what they do for their families, ‘hey, here's a taste of some of the training I've been through,'" said Bilodeau. "More often than not, you go away for training and then you come back, so this is a nice chance to share it with them."

This training will ensure all of the pilots in attendance are certified to fly and train over water for the next three years when AFE will plan another training at one of the lakes surrounding the Klamath Basin.