Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Simulator helps aviators
prepare for underwater escapes

By Jeremy Kirk
Seoul bureau chief

CAMP HUMPHREYS — Apache crew members are practicing underwater escapes at a one-of-a kind $1 million training facility here.

Crew members regularly take their turns inside a massive hydraulic simulator that approximates a helicopter crash in the water.

The simulator, made by Groton, Conn.-based Survival Systems Training Inc., is the only one in the military designed exactly like an Apache, the U.S. Army’s attack helicopter, said Chief Warrant Officer Mike Corsavo, overwater training officer for the 6th Calvary Brigade.

The simulator is at this base because the wartime mission for Apache crews would be to take out North Korean boats approaching the shore, Corsavo said. The 6th Calvary Bridade is the only one in the Army designated to fly missions over water, he said.

The simulator has been at Camp Humphreys for a couple years, but was relocated to a new indoor facility that opened in April. About two training sessions a month are held at the facility.

Before using the simulator, a trainee must study escape procedures and undergo underwater training, during which he is held nearly upside down in a pool until he gets used to the feeling of water going into his nose.

The next step is called shallow-water egress training, which involves being strapped inside a metal cage similar to a cockpit. Trainees practice escaping through sides that simulate open and closed windows. They also use opaque goggles to simulate a nighttime escape.

Two trainers stand on either side of the cage, turning it upside down by hand. Trainees must find their bearings, unlatch their seat straps and helmets and wriggle out of the window.

"It’s not quite as much fun as it looks," said Lt. Col. Chuck Harrison, dripping wet in his flight suit after emerging from the cage Friday. "The most difficult part is to not panic."

Corsavo said he’s helped train crew members who are afraid of the water. He said it’s good to see "people who are deathly afraid of the water work through their fears."

The final step is moving to the simulator, a two-seater behemoth suspended above the pool. A controller moves the trainer by hydraulics, dipping it in and out of the pool.

Once a trainee is strapped in, the simulator is lowered into the water. The trainee must begin a Harry Houdini-like sequence to escape from the craft.

In a real crash situation, explosives would be triggered that would blow the doors off the Apache’s canopy. But crew members must still know how to open the doors if the explosives can’t be triggered.

The crew member assumes a crash position, then unhooks the helmet and seat straps before swimming out a door. All of this is done, for the most part, upside down.

Harrison swam to the side of the pool after an escape, coughing only once from the ordeal. In just a few seconds, he freed himself from one of the hardest scenarios: opaque goggles over his eyes and a door that had to be opened underwater.

Harrison, commander of the 3rd Squadron of the brigade, has been an Apache pilot for about 10 years. He’s used other simulators, but never a perfect model of an Apache.

Next up in the simulator was Chief Warrant Officer John Eastmoore, who came with five other Army aviators from Camp Zama, Japan, for training. He’s actually a Blackhawk pilot, but using the simulator is still good training, he said.

After a run at the simulator, Eastmoore floated over to the side of the pool, watching trainers preparing it for another shot.

"I’ll be glad when it’s over," he said.