Thursday, October 09, 2008
My brain is a swimming pool
. . . because I spent most of yesterday getting flipped upside down and having water forced up my nose every single time. This is a four-year tradition for pilots and aircrew. Officially it's known as water survival training; in actuality, it's like an amusement park ride designed by Tim Burton. Its purpose is to give aircrew the training necessary to safely escape a sinking aircraft and survive the crucial first few hours after a mishap. It succeeds, but only by making us do things that would be considered 'torture' in today's 'civilized' world. Some of it's easy, like practicing different survival swim strokes. But as soon as you put on your flight gear - boots, helmet, flight suit, survival vest, life preserver - things take a turn. With that twenty-odd pounds of extra junk weighing you down, you get to do activities like practicing getting hoisted up by a rescue helicopter, complete with six fire hoses spraying cold water at you from different angles to simulate rotor wash. You get refreshed on how to use your underwater breathing device; this is done by strapping you to a chair, flipping you upside down in the water, and forcing you to unstrap yourself, get your air bottle in your mouth, and swim through a tunnel to open a door at the end (water up my nose every single time, I remind you). Finally, you go through egress training, fondly known as the 'Dunker', which is kind of like the log flume ride - if it were run by the Republican Guard. Six people sit in different seats in a helicopter mock-up, which is lowered into a pool and then rotated upside down; you need to unstrap, get your window out, and pull yourself to the surface without freaking out or, well, drowning (I still remember the first time I did this exercise, way back in Pensacola: I was in the cockpit, unhooked myself, and swam directly into the front windshield; I looked like a bug smashed on a window to the rescue divers who pulled me out). Three times you do this with your oxygen bottle; once without; and, finally, once without the oxygen and blindfolded. By the time we were done, naval aviation's finest representatives looked like a bunch of drowned rats. Oh it's great training, but it's one of those days where you go from "I can't believe I get paid to do cool stuff like this" to "they're not paying me nearly enough to do this."