Red Bull pilots prepare for bailout with underwater safety training

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!” The plane has lurched into an uncontrollable descent towards the water and you brace for the force of the impact. A few seconds later it hits you, the plane rolls under and water floods into the cockpit. You are disoriented, in shock and your vision is blurry, but you have to stay […]

“Mayday, Mayday, Mayday!”

The plane has lurched into an uncontrollable descent towards the water and you brace for the force of the impact.

A few seconds later it hits you, the plane rolls under and water floods into the cockpit. You are disoriented, in shock and your vision is blurry, but you have to stay focused or you may drown. You unclip your strappings (seat belt), grab the emergency air bottle to breathe and eject the cockpit canopy.

As you emerge from the submerged aircraft, you inflate your survival vest and rescue divers pull you to a nearby speedboat where a safety team is ready to take you ashore.

For pilots taking part in the Red Bull Air Race World Championship, keeping calm under pressure is everything. The high-speed, low-altitude race series navigates a challenging set of obstacle courses, meaning there is no room for error.

But in aerobatic planes travelling at top speeds of between 406 and 426 kilometres per hour, worst-case scenarios such as ditching in water cannot be ruled out.

As the capital of the UAE geared up to host the opening event for this year’s race series this weekend, 14 Master Class and eight Challenger Class pilots underwent intensive safety training behind the scenes.

Abu Dhabi is one of eight locations around the world in which the championship will take place and as the ‘racetrack’ is over the Arabian Gulf, water survival training is essential. About half the races take place over water and each Red Bull pilot must undergo annual SWET (shallow water egress training), also known as UET (underwater egress training).

This year’s training took place at the Hiltonia Beach Club on the Corniche, where members and hotel guests got to see the underside of life as an ace pilot.

A team from Falck, a rescue and health care company based in Copenhagen, Denmark, suspended a dummy one-seater aircraft cockpit from a steel frame and a flotation rig of buoys, using rope pulleys. Once it was lowered, each pilot then entered the underwater egress trainer, or ‘dunker’, in full flight suit and helmet.

Once the pilot was strapped into his seat and signalled ‘ready’, three men stood atop and started to ‘walk’ the dunker under the water, as if they were rolling a log.

The pilot then had to remove his strappings and eject himself from the cockpit, both with and, on another training scenario, without the canopy (cockpit roof). Three awaiting rescue divers then assisted in pulling him to the surface, where they placed a spine board underneath his body and pulled him to safety.

In addition to the cockpit scenarios, the pilots also underwent a pool session in which they had to breathe from an air bottle and regulator while submerged under the water.

British pilot Steve Jones, a former competitor and head of training for Red Bull, said the training had enhanced teamwork between pilots and safety crews. “Mutual trust between divers and pilots was established,” he said.

Spanish Master Class pilot Juan Velarde, of Team Velarde, said: “Both divers and pilots were able to increase their skills and knowledge.”

Austrian Master Class pilot Hannes Arch, for Hannes Arch Racing 22, said: “The proper application of the emergency equipment could be taught.”

Australian Master Class pilot Matt Hall, for Matt Hall Racing, said: “The training allowed us to build up muscle memory that will translate in a higher survival possibility in case of an accident.”

Since the Red Bull Air Race World Championship began in 2003, there has only been one crash over water, at the Swan River, Perth, Australia, in April 2010. During this incident the pilot, Brazilian Adilson Kindlemann, was pulled to safety.

But as the world’s best pilots continue to push their aerobatic skills to the limit in this supercharged thrilling race series, safety remains paramount.

A Red Bull Air Race spokesman said all competitors are equipped with air bottles, parachutes and life vests.

“If the pilot can open the canopy, he or she should leave the cockpit as quickly as possible,” he said. “In case the pilot is unable to leave the cockpit, he or she should wait while using the air bottles until the rescue team arrives.

“The rescue teams are equipped with special hammers and belt knives which they can use to open the canopy.

“The rescue teams are positioned at several strategic important key points around the racetrack. Boats are operational with rescue divers. Additionally, emergency services and doctors are on site for first diagnoses and adequate treatment. In case of an accident the rescue teams are the first teams at the location to evacuate and stabilise the pilot. On site the pilot will be in injury triage and a first diagnosis will be made by the emergency team and doctor. Then the pilot will be transported to the hospital for any further treatment.”

He said: “An accident doesn’t depend on the speed. There was one on-water incident from Adilson Kindlemann while flying a training session in 2010. The rescue team reached the plane in seconds and was able to rescue Kindlemann without any injuries. As a consequence, the officials introduced the SWET training to occur every season on a regular basis, to train the pilots in such situations.”

The 2016 Red Bull Air Race World Championship takes place on Friday and Saturday (March 11-12), from 10am to 6pm Friday and 12pm to 6pm Saturday, at the Abu Dhabi Corniche and Breakwater. For more information, visit redbullairrace.com

adale@thenational.ae

Source: uae news

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