With the winter season close at hand, our crew reported to the survival equipment department for fittings and practice in the use of survival gear available to us. Much of it included the standard life vests, rafts, flares, and more familiar equipment.

Unique to our experience was an individually fitted survival suit. This consisted of an undergarment, much like heavy quilted underwear. It had a frontal zipper that could be opened from the top or bottom. Over this went a rubber suit with the pantlegs welded to the boots. The suit had tight-fitting rubber neck and wrist openings.

After putting on the undergarment, one had to unzip the outer suit’s diagonal zipper running across the chest. This open, you unrolled a rubber tube that you crawled through to gain entrance to the inner space. Once inside with feet in the boots, making sure the boots and your feet were both facing to the front, you popped your head and hands through the rubber cuffed openings. When you were settled in, you would roll up your chest tube, fold it into the opening and zip up.

On a mission, as the day or night wore on, if you had to empty your bladder, you found another, smaller, zipper down below. With this open, you could unroll this tube and reach inside, unzip the underwear opening and proceed to hunt for an appropriate body part. The next trick would be to stretch that body part out through all of that equipment and have enough left to point it at the relief tube. This was just possible when your body was fairly warm. It was almost impossible when you had been freezing to death in a frosty ice-cold crew position for a few hours.

After our fittings, we all jumped in the pool to check for leaks and get the feel of things. Without these suits, we were told that we would lose our ability to function in the cold water in less than a minute. With the suits on, and barring any rips or tears, we would have as much as thirty minutes to get into a life raft and begin the long paddle home.

I don’t recall them mentioning it at the time, but we later learned that these suits were designed for wear by fighter pilots for and hour and a half to two hours. Our task was to wear them for 6, 8 or 10 hours. Pity the poor devil who may find himself on a mission with loose bowels.

End Fitting Survival Equipment.


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