FAIRBANKS, Alaska Throughout the winter, airmen at Eielson Air Force Base learn the skills they would need to survive if their plane were to crash and immediate rescue wasn't available.
Airmen participating in Eielson AFB Arctic Survival School
The five day 'Arctic Survival School' starts with two days in the classroom learning skills before they spend three days out in the field. Airmen who are pilots or air crew flying over arctic environments are selected for the class to learn these skills.
"We focus mainly on Alaska based air crew that find themselves flying over Alaska, but we try to target all of the air crew that are going to be flying over here, anywhere from fighter to transport aircraft," said Commander of Eielson's Arctic Survival Training School Lt. Col. Daniel Franz.
This training is held throughout the winter to immerse participants in the environment, preparing them for what it would really be like. Although the classes held this March are warmer than might be expected in an arctic survival class, Lt. Col. Daniel Franz says both dry below zero conditions and wet above zero temperatures hold different challenges. "There's no better learning environment than what you're going to be in, especially when its 20 to 40 below, there's no better teacher than the actual conditions so really that hands on field portion is probably the best motivator of the skills that we teach them, and adhering to those," said Franz.
Another part they teach the participants is the importance of having the mindset that you can survive. "We try to breed a positive mental attitude for them, and training like this goes into that, so they know that they've been through it before, maybe it’s in a controlled setting, but at least they've been through the environment, they've seen the skills and now if they ever find themselves in that situation, then they can use that as part of their mental attitude that they know they can make it through," said Franz.
Part of the training is learning how to survive during the down time while you are waiting to be rescued, while the other portion is learning how to properly signal your location. It also includes how to use signal fires with smoke, flares and radio communication effectively to help navigate the helicopter to the crash location.
"We just want to make sure everybody has the skills and ability to come back and survive and we can rescue them," said Franz.
Whether it's a real incident or just a training exercise, the arrival of the Helicopter means it's time to go home.