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Arctic survival: Eielson F-35s get new kits for ejected pilots

F-35A fighters at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska are getting newly developed Arctic survival kits to help pilots survive and be found after ejecting in the cold climate.

The new kits, which are now being installed in Eielson’s F-35s, contain winter-geared survival tools and equipment, such as a knife for gathering food, a poncho and signal flares to alert rescue teams, Eielson said in a Friday release.

The base’s F-35s are the first in the Air Force to be stationed in the Arctic, which prompted the base’s 354th Fighter Wing to create the new kits last year.

But they also had to be tailor-made for the F-35′s smaller seat size, which limited how many items could be packed in there, Staff Sgt. Ross Dugger, an aircrew flight equipment craftsman from the 354th Operations Support Squadron, said in the release.

Staff Sgt. Ross Dugger lays out the contents of the new Arctic survival seat kit for the F-35A Lighting II on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Sept. 25, 2020. (Senior Airman Beaux Hebert/Air Force)
Staff Sgt. Ross Dugger lays out the contents of the new Arctic survival seat kit for the F-35A Lighting II on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Sept. 25, 2020. (Senior Airman Beaux Hebert/Air Force)

“Over the years, we’ve worked with [survival, evasion, resistance and escape specialists] to develop this kit and decided what is the most essential equipment needed to survive,” Dugger said. “It’s been a learning curve, with the seats being so new they are not as easy to pack. With time we will become more efficient and continue to ensure our pilots' safety.”

The new kits were developed in November 2019, the release said. After months of research, development and testing, the new kit’s design was sent to the commander of the 354th Operations Group, who approved it in April.

Airmen from the 354th Maintenance Squadron Aircrew Egress Flight will swap out the summer kits, already installed in the F-35s, with the new winter survival kits after they are packed and fitted to the fighter’s seat. The airmen also inspect the seat during that process to make sure pilots are able to eject safely.

“Hopefully they never have to use these items, but I take a lot of pride in my work, which could potentially save a pilot’s life,” Dugger said.

Staff Sgt. Ross Dugger zips up the new Arctic survival seat kit for the F-35A Lighting II on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Sept. 25, 2020. All of the items have to be packed tightly and efficiently to save space and fit in the cockpit. (Senior Airman Beaux Hebert/Air Force)
Staff Sgt. Ross Dugger zips up the new Arctic survival seat kit for the F-35A Lighting II on Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Sept. 25, 2020. All of the items have to be packed tightly and efficiently to save space and fit in the cockpit. (Senior Airman Beaux Hebert/Air Force)

All Eielson F-35s will receive the new Arctic survival kits, the release said. Allied nations and other partners who also operate F-35s in similar cold climates could use the new kits as well.

Eielson will ultimately have 54 F-35s. The first fighters began arriving this spring, and the rest will follow over the next two years.

The base reactivated the 356th Fighter Squadron, which is nicknamed the Green Demons and assigned to Pacific Air Forces, last October in preparation of the fighters' arrival.

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