Fightertown conducts first-ever F-35 SAR exercise
By Lance Cpl. Terry Haynes, Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort
BEAUFORT, S.C. --
Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort tenant units worked side by side with the U.S. Navy, Naval Hospital Beaufort, Savannah Coast Guard and local first responders to conduct a Search and Rescue exercise in the Beaufort River July 27.
Marine Aircraft Group 31 organized the exercise so that pilots and first responders could train for potential real-life scenarios in which a pilot would have to eject from their aircraft and into water. Coast Guard Air Station Savannah and Naval Station Norfolk Virginia provided helicopters and search and rescue swimmers for the exercise. Parris Island Fire and Emergency Services and the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office provided additional support in case of emergency.
“I’m going to try and plan this once a year,” Sweeney said. “I think getting all of the other services involved is the best route so that we can learn what to do, how to do it and how best to communicate with one another.”
To begin the exercise, two pilots got in the water at the same time from a boat provided by the Beaufort CSO and lit flares so they could be identified by aircraft. The pilots treaded water and relayed their position to the helicopters, which deployed rescue swimmers to help bring them to safety. Once both pilots were rescued, each helicopter brought them to Naval Hospital Beaufort.
“It’s great to get exposed to this type of training because you can’t just replicate it in a pool,” said Capt. Christopher Collins, the aviation safety officer for Marine Fighter Attack Training Squadron 501. “We had the ability to work with two different types of helicopters, different rescue swimmers, and four different pilots. That’s important because you never know what unit is going to respond because you never know where a search and rescue may occur.
The F-35B is a joint service strike fighter. According to their website, the JSF Program is the Department of Defense’s focal point for defining affordable, next generation strike aircraft weapon systems for the Navy, Air Force, Marines and our allies. Pilots from the United Kingdom were also able to take part in the exercise and test the functionality of their gear.
“It’s great to see so many different organizations working together,” said “Bally”, a British pilot with VMFAT-501. “These kinds of exercises are very important. It gives both the search and rescue crews and downed pilots the opportunity to train and use the skills they’ll need in case of an emergency. This was a joint effort and I think it proved how effectively these organizations work together.”