Search Rescue

Discussion in 'Aviation' started by Maestro, Dec 22, 2008.

  1. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

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    Greetings ladies and gentlemen.

    I was watching a show on Historia channel yesterday about the training of the modern Canadian S&R team and it made me wonder how it worked for ejected pilots during WWII...

    Let's take a classic situation... A plane from RAF Fighter Command is shot down over the English Channel, the pilot jumps out and land into the water. Who is dispatched to pick him up ?

    A Walrus from the Fleet Air Arms ?
    A plane from the pilot's home base ?
    A plane from Coastal Command ?
    Any Royal Navy ship patrolling the area ?

    I know it's rather a stupid question, but I was wondering...
     
  2. FLYBOYJ

    FLYBOYJ "THE GREAT GAZOO"
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    Not a stupid question at all - I would think all the above.
     
  3. DBII

    DBII Active Member

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    I would guess who ever was near by. It seems that teams would be put on alert when the birds went up or be running regular patrols of the area?

    DBII
     
  4. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Maestro,

    >I know it's rather a stupid question, but I was wondering...

    Not at all stupid!

    I think Lysanders were routinely used for spotting duties - they might actually have been able to drop a small life boat to downed pilots, but I'm not sure of that right now. Lifeboat dropping was a difficult operation as the boats were often driven off the drop point by the wind more quickly than the pilots could swim ...

    When the Defiant was no longer a first line fighter, it was also pressed into the search and rescue role, where its good speed, its two-man crew and its defensive capabilities were valuable assets.

    The primary means of not just spotting, but actually rescuing the downed pilots seem to have been the so-called "RAF high-speed launches" according to my impression, specially-built speedboats that would race at top speed to the position of a downed pilot. I supppose they often had to be guided by aircraft until very close to the pilot in the water!

    I'm sure there's more to it, but that's what I remember without diving into my books :)

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     
  5. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Dbii,

    >when the birds went up

    Now that you mention, I seem to recall reading about carrier pigeons carried aboard bomber command aircraft, to be released in regular intervals with position reports for locating the crew's dinghi after ditching in the sea.

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     
  6. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    There were R.A.F. Rescue Launches stationed at key points along the British coast; these operated in conjunction with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution's Life Boats, and with the Walrus aircraft. Also, coastal shipping and the RN would go to the rescue if nearest. The launches, obviously modern versions, are still used today. I don't have any figures, but it is known that, sadly, the chances of survival and rescue were rather slim, which is not to say that the service provided was not good, it was excellent for the time. Unfortunately, without the proper equipment, and floating in a Mae West or, at best, in an open rubber dinghy, the cold waters around Britain could (and still do) lead to death by hypothermia and or drowning in as little as 30 minutes. It's amazing that some survived to be rescued, even after days.
     
  7. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

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    Thanks for all the replies, folks.

    30 minutes ! :shock: I thought the water in the English Channel was warmer than that... I could understand in the North Sea, but the Channel... It must depend on the time of the year, eh ?

    Plus, weren't dinghy standard issue with RAF fighters ? I remember reading an account from a Mustang III pilot stating that he was flying with a "raft" with his parachute (making the seat feels a lot harder, by the way).
     
  8. Airframes

    Airframes Benevolens Magister

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    Rubber dinghys (life rafts) for fighter pilors didn't become standard issue until, I think, late 1941, and even then, certain types of aircraft at first could not accommodate the packs, which were fitted to the seat-type parachute cushion. In the Mustang III, (P51B/C, 1944 on), the pilot wore a back-pack parachute, possibly of American manufacture, as the G.Q. and Irvin British packs were seat type. This meant that the 'K' type dinghy could be fitted to the seat strap 'd' rings of the parachute harness. but, until then, most fighter pilots had to rely on a rather antiquated 'Mae West' life jacket, early models of which had to be inflated orally. The slim, lightweight, CO2 - inflated Luftwaffe life jacket was much prized by R.A.F. aircrew, one of the most famous to use one being Guy Gibson.
    As for the seas around Britain, you are quite right, the North Sea is colder, even though, in geographic terms, it is classed as 'warm', due to the Gulf Stream; however, this is more relevant to surface temperature. Even a few inches below the surface, the temperature is considerably colder and, after sudden immersion, with heavy clothing saturated, the effects of the penetrating cold cause rapid cramps, leading to muscle spasm and rapid exhaustion, which accelerates the cooling of the body's core temperature. The English Channel is not much better, and is renowned as a cruel and treacherous stretch of water; ironically, allied aircrew probably had a better chance of survival if downed nearer the enemy coast, as the Germans had a chain of 'Rescue Buoys' anchord offshore. These were large buoys, with a superstructure resembling a small submarine, on board which was heating, food and water, a comms radio, and seating and bunks. These were patrolled by the Seenotdienst, the equivalent of the Air Sea Rescue service (as it was known up until the late '50's / early '60's.) by launch and seaplane.
    As the war progressed, obviously the 'survival' equipment, and training, improved, and fewer lives were lost. But, even in the 1960's, with the help of (then) modern helicopters, Air Sea Rescue could still be a delicate affair. There is a story (true) of how a downed pilot was only spotted, at the last minute, by a launch crew member, because he saw the reflection of the pilot's wrist watch in the water, just a few feet away!
    Finally, just to illustrate the effects of the British coastal waters, here's two stories. Some years ago, a friend of mine was flying from Barton, near Manchester, UK, to I believe Belfast, in a Bell Jet Ranger helicopter. Half way across the Irish Sea, he experienced a severe malfunction, and had to autorotate to a forced ditching in the sea. He was able to transmit a 'Pan' call, and survived the ditching, ending up floating in his (modern) life jacket, and clad in the immersion suit he always wore on this regular flight. However, the cold water had such a rapid debilitating effect, that he was unable to climb into the life raft, which had inflated alongside him. Very fortunately for him, his distress call had been received, and a R.A.F. Sea King SAR chopper arrived within about ten minutes, just in time to grab him from the sea, semi-conscious, and already in the early stages of hypothermia. He spent a week in hospital recovering.
    The second story involves an area of sea not that far distant, around Hollyhead Bay, on the west coast of the isle of Anglesey. Here, trainee aircrew from R.A.F. Valley, are 'dumped' in the sea, as part of their training, to be 'rescued' in a combined exercise with the RNLI lifeboat, and the SAR Sea Kings, which replaced the Wessex choppers in the early '90's. These aircrew are 'dragged', in full flying gear and parachute harness, to simulate a parachute landing in water, with a surface wind dragging them across the waves. After releasing themselves from the harness, they are left, sometimes for 15 minutes or more, before being recovered. This is to simulate, and acclimatize, or mentally prepare, the students, in case they ever have to do it 'live'. Ask any of these poor sods what it's like, and they will tell you they thought they were going to perish, due to the cold, strength-sapping water.
    I did a 'water jump' once, and never again, into the sea around Liverpool bay, in summer. The sudden shock of the cold water almost prevented me from getting out of the parachute harness and, bear in mind, the drills during the descent ensure that you are virtually free of the harness even before splash-down!
    Sorry if this has been a bit long-winded, but I hope it's given at least a little insight and been helpful.
    Terry.
     
  9. Maestro

    Maestro Active Member

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    No problem. It was very helpful. Thanks a lot, mate.
     
  10. Burmese Bandit

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    Airframes, that was one bloody good post! Both informative and anecdotal at the same time. I loved it.
     
  11. HoHun

    HoHun Active Member

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    Hi Terry,

    Interesting post, thanks a lot! :)

    With regard to immersion suits for aircrew, I guess Harry Hawker has to be considered one of the pioneers in the field as he and his navigator wore them during their (failed) attempt of an atlantic crossing. Considering that their attempt failed when they had to ditch in heavy seas in the North Atlantic, the immersion suits probably saved their lives as it took the crew of the ship that rescued them quite a while to get them aboard as the seas were so heavy! (Their Sopwith aircraft also had a "conformal dinghi" whose keel formed the rear fuselage spine - I'm not sure if they managed to deploy and use it after ditching, though.)

    With regard to the RAF in WW2, the recently posted story of the "first air hijacking" in which RAF prisoners took over an Italian search and rescue seaplane might be interesting, too:

    http://www.ww2aircraft.net/forum/stories/world-s-first-air-hijack-13675.html

    (Ian Wilkinson confirmed by PM that the seaplane after its capture was used by the RAF for search and rescue duties in Maltese waters.)

    Regards,

    Henning (HoHun)
     
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