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Survival instructor keeps F-35 training afloat

Staff Sgt. Edwin Portan teaches students about the thicker and heavier material used for the new IRVIN-GQ 6000 parachute during a water survival class Oct. 30, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Portan created a floatation device from PVC pipes that prevents the parachute from sinking to the bottom of the pool while students complete their training. The octagon-shaped floatation device creates an effective training simulation that provides students with a more realistic water landing. Portan is the 33rd Operations Support Squadron F-35 Lightning II aircrew flight equipment continuation training instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

Staff Sgt. Edwin Portan teaches students about the thicker and heavier material used for the new IRVIN-GQ 6000 parachute during a water survival class Oct. 30, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Portan created a floatation device from PVC pipes that prevents the parachute from sinking to the bottom of the pool while students complete their training. The octagon-shaped floatation device creates an effective training simulation that provides students with a more realistic water landing. Portan is the 33rd Operations Support Squadron F-35 Lightning II aircrew flight equipment continuation training instructor. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

Lt. Col. Ben Aronhime positions himself on a forest penetrator, a rescue device used in water rescues, during water survival class Oct. 31, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Pilots attending F-35 Lightning II water survival training are placed in simulated scenarios to provide them with the knowledge they need if they were to eject over water. The 33rd Operations Support Squadron F-35 Lightning II flight equipment shop incorporated some training elements from previous water survival training programs and developed training tools and techniques to account for the new equipment unique to the F-35 program. Aronhime is a 56th Training Squadron pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

Lt. Col. Ben Aronhime positions himself on a forest penetrator, a rescue device used in water rescues, during water survival class Oct. 31, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Pilots attending F-35 Lightning II water survival training are placed in simulated scenarios to provide them with the knowledge they need if they were to eject over water. The 33rd Operations Support Squadron F-35 Lightning II flight equipment shop incorporated some training elements from previous water survival training programs and developed training tools and techniques to account for the new equipment unique to the F-35 program. Aronhime is a 56th Training Squadron pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

Lt. Col. Ben Aronhime navigates his way from one side of an IRVIN-GQ 6000 parachute to another while Staff Sgt. Edwin Portan assists him from poolside during a water survival class  Oct. 30, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Portan created a floatation device from PVC pipes that prevents the parachute from sinking to the bottom of the pool while students complete their training. The octagon-shaped floatation device provides students with a more closely simulated water landing. Aronhime is a 56th Training Squadron pilot. Portan is an F-35 Lightning II flight equipment continuation training instructor from the 33rd Operations Support Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

Lt. Col. Ben Aronhime navigates his way from one side of an IRVIN-GQ 6000 parachute to another while Staff Sgt. Edwin Portan assists him from poolside during a water survival class Oct. 30, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Portan created a floatation device from PVC pipes that prevents the parachute from sinking to the bottom of the pool while students complete their training. The octagon-shaped floatation device provides students with a more closely simulated water landing. Aronhime is a 56th Training Squadron pilot. Portan is an F-35 Lightning II flight equipment continuation training instructor from the 33rd Operations Support Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

An IRVIN-GQ 6000 parachute stays afloat as each new F-35A Lightning II pilot completes required tasks during a water survival class Oct. 31, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The parachute is tied to a floatation device created from PVC pipes enabling students to successfully swim out from under the parachute before it sinks to the bottom of the base pool. The octagon-shaped floatation device creates an effective training environment that provides students with a more closely simulated water landing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

An IRVIN-GQ 6000 parachute stays afloat as each new F-35A Lightning II pilot completes required tasks during a water survival class Oct. 31, 2014, on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. The parachute is tied to a floatation device created from PVC pipes enabling students to successfully swim out from under the parachute before it sinks to the bottom of the base pool. The octagon-shaped floatation device creates an effective training environment that provides students with a more closely simulated water landing. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson)

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AFNS) -- Within the 33rd Fighter Wing, innovation doesn't end at the flightline, but finds its way into a 12-foot swimming pool where new F-35 Lighting II pilots are now able to seamlessly complete their water survival training.

During the F-35 aircrew flight equipment shop water survival training here, pilots are required to swim under the parachute and follow the seams to find their way out -- this worked with the C-9 parachute since it would stay afloat. With the new IRVIN-GQ 6000 parachute, a different design and thicker material at the center of the canopy caused the parachute to quickly sink to the bottom of a 12-foot pool, creating a difficult scenario for students.

"Previously, we would spread the lines of the parachute to the sides of the pool," said Staff Sgt. Edwin Portan, an F-35 AFE continuation training instructor with the 33rd Operations Support Squadron. "The canopy would then sink all the way down to the bottom of the pool, making it impossible for the second student to complete their evaluation because they would be pulling about 100 pounds of parachute canopy from underneath the water."

This proved to be detrimental to the program since students were unable to successfully complete that portion of the training.

"This was not a good simulation of the situation that would be experienced after a fully inflated parachute landed on top of the pilot," said Col. Christopher Niemi, the 33rd Operations Group commander. "The pilot would typically end up doing a 180 degree turn and then exit from under the parachute exactly where they entered."

Recognizing the issue, Portan, with some ingenuity and innovation, took a trip to a hardware store and came back with a solution.

"The concept started with thinking of something that floats," Portan said. "We got some PVC pipe, created the design, tested it and it worked out very well."

Portan's new device has since been implemented into the training and pilots are now able to complete their required tasks.

"With the parachute being spread out with this octagon-shaped PVC pipe floatation device, it sinks to a more realistic depth," said Portan. "It's just enough to get that heavy parachute canopy on them for the training, but not enough to where it becomes a safety hazard, and ultimately makes the training more effective."

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