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Hill F-35 pilots prepare for worst-case water scenarios

Lt. Col. Bart Wilbanks, an F-35A Lightning II pilot in the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, simulates being dragged through the water while still attached to a parachute.

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bart Wilbanks, an F-35A Lightning II pilot in the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, simulates being dragged through the water while still attached to a parachute. Pilots from the active duty 388th FW and Reserve 419th FW took part in the training to ensure they are prepared for all survival scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cynthia Griggs)

A 388th Fighter Wing water survival training instructor attaches a harness to Lt. Col. Bart Wilbanks, an F-35A Lightning II pilot in the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, as part of water survival training refresher course.

A 388th Fighter Wing water survival training instructor attaches a harness to U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Bart Wilbanks, an F-35A Lightning II pilot in the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, as part of water survival training refresher course.Pilots from the active duty 388th FW and Reserve 419th FW took part in the training to ensure they are prepared for all survival scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cynthia Griggs)

Capt. James Rosenau, an F-35A Lightning II pilot in the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, learns to prepare a one-man life raft while participating in water survival training Feb. 12, 2021

U.S. Air Force Capt. James Rosenau, an F-35A Lightning II pilot in the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, learns to prepare a one-man life raft while participating in water survival training Feb. 12, 2021. Pilots from the active duty 388th FW and Reserve 419th FW took part in the training, which included practicing jumping into the raft, blowing up the raft, removing water, and enclosing themselves for protection. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cynthia Griggs)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --

Pilots from the 419th and 388th Fighter Wings underwent intensive water survival training Feb. 12 to ensure they’re prepared to face worst-case scenarios over open waters.  

The F-35 pilots met with specialists in Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape – better known as SERE – at a local indoor swimming pool near Hill AFB for a hands-on refresher course on how to survive following ejection. That included simulated parachute drags, where pilots must quickly untangle themselves from a downed canopy, and other skills such as employing personal rafts and activating emergency signals.

Water survival is just one piece of routine survival training pilots undergo, according to SERE specialists assigned to the 388th FW. They must also prove themselves in combat survival, which includes harsh winter conditions, and emergency parachute scenarios over land, among others. Courses require both classroom material and physical training.  

Hill’s SERE specialists are responsible for training pilots in both fighter wings, along with other Utah aviators from the 514th Flight Test Squadron, Air National Guard, and Army National Guard. Their goal is to ensure each pilot maintains his or her combat mission readiness status. 

The Air Force Reserve 419th FW and active duty 388th FW fly and maintain 78 jets in a Total Force partnership that benefits from the strengths of both components. Together, the wings have flown the F-35 in various military exercises around the world, and completed three combat deployments to the Middle East.