EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska --
With weather dropping below negative 50 degrees Fahrenheit and days filled with darkness, living in Alaska during the winter months can be anything but easy. The same can be said about trying to survive in that unforgiving environment after ejecting from an aircraft.
Airmen assigned to the 354th Operations Support Squadron Aircrew Flight Equipment flight are responsible for compiling survival equipment into survival seat kits for aircrew members in the event they have to eject from fighter aircraft.
“We inspect anything that could potentially save a crew member’s life,” said Senior Airman Dalton Smith, 354th OSS AFE specialist. “That ranges from helmets to parachutes to drogue parachutes for the aircraft itself. We also supply survival kits.”
With the arrival of the F-35A Lightning II at Eielson scheduled for 2020, the Airmen at AFE have a tough task ahead.
“Right now, there isn't a validated F-35 survival seat kit configuration that meets the Eielson Air Force Base cold weather survival requirements for arctic flying conditions,” said Maj. Brian Mueller, 354th Fighter Wing F-35 Program Integration Office director of operations.
Working towards creating the Air Force’s first-ever F-35A arctic survival seat kit has not been a walk in the park, due in part to its odd dimensions.
“The biggest challenge is the kit is small - smaller than other kits,” said Tech. Sgt. John J. Williams, 354th OSS AFE quality assurance craftsman. “The designed shape of it is very unique so we can’t just pack items straight vertical or straight horizontal. We have to fit them in like pieces to a jigsaw puzzle.”
The kit’s relative lack of space has made placing all the items required for cold weather survival difficult, but Eielson’s AFE Airmen are stepping up to the challenge.
“We are now able to identify that we can at least get a positive 30 degree sleeping bag in the kit,” said Williams. “Which is nowhere near having them survive in negative 20 degrees and below, but we have identified that we can put a sleeping bag in there with all of the survival components. That is huge because at first we thought we were not going to be able to fit a sleeping bag into the kit. Now we need to find the coldest sleeping bag that will fit with the survival components as well.”
Once AFE Airmen can completely pack a kit with the proper cold weather items they will move into a testing phase.
“We will take these items to Fort Greely where an individual will test how long they can survive with this kit in a cold weather environment,” said Williams. “The person will go into the cold weather room and pull out the sleeping bag, the life raft and will be wearing exactly what the crew members will be wearing while a flight doctor monitors them.”
After testing for the kit’s performance in simulated Arctic conditions is complete and the kit meets requirements all the way up to wing-level leadership, F-35A pilots will have the components necessary to sustain life for a period of at least 24 hours while awaiting rescue in an arctic survival situation.
“Because Eielson is the first cold weather installation in the Department of Defense to get the F-35, this will set the standard for the F-35 arctic survival kit in the Air Force,” said Williams.
By utilizing a pioneering mindset to ensure the survivability of downed pilots in Arctic elements, AFE Airmen are building a more lethal, resilient and rapidly-innovating 354th Fighter Wing as it prepares for the arrival of the F-35A.