Florida Keys

Air Force pilots refresh their survival training in the Florida Keys

Air Force pilots refresh survival training in Florida Keys

Fighter pilots from Homestead Air Reserve Base brushed up on their water survival skills off Key Largo Sunday, with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary.
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Fighter pilots from Homestead Air Reserve Base brushed up on their water survival skills off Key Largo Sunday, with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary.

Pilots with the 93rd Fighter Squadron based at Homestead Air Reserve Base finished the second phase of their two-day survival training Sunday in Key Largo.

The F-16 aviators spent Saturday navigating through the woods and brush in Homestead for land-based combat survival training and Sunday treading water, getting dragged by personal watercraft and hoisted up in a basket by the crew of a MH-65 Dolphin Coast Guard helicopter.

"It's good training. If anything happens we know what to do to survive," said Maj. Lindsey Lamb, 37, one of the reserve squadron's active duty pilots.

Pilots have to go through the training every three years to complement what they learned during an intense two weeks of combat survival training they received as new pilots.

"It's a refresher course," said Capt. George Cook, 30.

To simulate falling into the water, the pilots were lifted into the air by a parasail and unhooked their harness. They then swam to one of three Coast Guard Auxiliary boats taking part in the exercise.

"It's another epic day because all three Upper Keys flotillas of the Coast Guard Auxiliary are represented today," David Gross, of Flotilla 1308, said as he sat behind the whil of his 29-foot catamaran. The Auxiliary has been participating in the exercise since 2013.

Pilots were also dragged behind personal watercraft to simulate being pulled by their parachutes in high winds, said Staff Sgt. Paul Cook, a media relations with Homestead Air Reserve Base.

"If they eject over the water, they're learning the things that could happen and the different skill sets they would need to survive," Cook said.

Lt. Col. Ryan Ley, 41, has taken part in the training every three years for the past 16 years, so he took it in stride.

"But the location? You can't beat it," Ley said.

He said the last time he did it was in a cold lake on the Misawa Air Base in Japan.

"It was cold, but it beats the Pacific Ocean.

Not all the men participating in the drill Sunday were F-16 pilots, per se. Maj. Dutch Vanderveldt, 49, is the squadron's flight surgeon. He rides in the backseat of a two-seater F-16. He went through all the same psychological and physical training the pilots had to endure to earn their wings, including being subjected to the pressure of nine times the force of gravity.

Flight surgeons are basically the squadron's doctor. If something goes wrong in the cockpit, there's little he can do. But, the Air Force feels it's important doctors like Vanderveldt are part of the squadron so a camaraderie develops so the pilots trust him with their health and health concerns on the ground.

"They keep me safe in the air," said Vanderveldt, who in civilian life is a gastroenterologist and teaches medicine at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. "And I keep them safe on the ground."

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