Survival – it’s the first thing an ejected pilot contemplates once safely on the ground.
A survival situation could span days, and the Air Force is taking advantage of advancements in technology to allow ejected pilots to survive for longer periods of time.
Researchers from the Junior Force Warfighters Operations in the Air Force Research Laboratory Materials and Manufacturing Directorate are increasing a pilot’s capability to survive, escape and evade through near-term, short-turnaround projects.
“We are developing materials that will last longer in operational environments so that isolated personnel have the equipment readily available,” said Capt. Jason Goins, JFWORX team member.
A subteam of JFWORX, the Ejection Seat Survival Kit Enhancement, Modernization and Optimization team, are working to improve the current ejection seat survival kit for the Air Force.
The kit contains more than 50 items, broken down into subprojects, with the first project being the survival knife for improved survive, escape, resist and evade operations.
JFWORX is evaluating different types of steels, varying edge grinds and blade shapes for the new knife.
The team performed field tests with various commercially available knives. The blades are tested to see how quickly they dull with an edge-retention test. A knife made of harder steel will hold an edge well but is difficult to sharpen and is likewise brittle.
Based on the initial JFWORX technical evaluation, the team selected 60 knives for end-user testing by the 22nd Training Squadron and 336th Training Group at Fairchild Air Force Base, Washington. A concurrence on the best knife will be determined and then recommended to the Air Force for inclusion in the survival kit.
The 336TRG is the Air Force’s sole unit responsible for SERE specialists and train more than 6,000 students from Fairchild AFB, alone.
“SERE specialists are trained to survive anywhere in the world and are the best-trained personnel recovery subject matters experts,” said Staff Sgt. Ryan Torres of the 22TRS and 336TRG. “The foundation of everything we do is the ability to relate information that is known or discovered to provide the best possible life-preserving equipment to the future isolated person should they require it.”
According to Torres, the JFWORX team is invaluable to improving this SERE equipment.
“Getting the opportunity to try out new knives gave me more insight on what would be more practical and useful for a downed pilot. I am excited to see an improvement on kits that have not changed through the ages,” said Senior Airman Kyle Alvarez of the 22TRS and 336TRG.
A modernized survival kit enables the warfighter to survive with updated tools. Sharp knives for food, water for drinking and medical bags for first aid are just three of the improvements currently being worked for the kit.
“The overall goal of JFWORX is to provide personnel with the opportunity to rapidly identify and develop solutions to time-critical operational needs,” said Goins. “Emphasis is placed on increasing our customer-centric focus and forming partnerships with other operational units.”
JFWORX projects are managed entirely by its members, who are military and civilian employees of the lab. Their projects are designed with the warfighter in mind.
J.D. Bales, a mechanical engineer in AFRL, is one of the newer members on the team.
“I was excited to work on a team where my ideas and insights were heard,” said Bales. “Brainstorming on projects with many viewpoints is always good.”
Supplying Airmen with advanced state-of-the-art survival kits is just one of the many projects the team works continuously.