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Capt. Chase Todd, 40th Helicopter Squadron pilot, holds his breath under water during underwater egress training in the base pool at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., Aug. 3, 2023. The training is essential for placing aircrew in a psychologically and physiologically challenging situation and mandatory every three years. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Mary Bowers)

Malstrom Air Force Base, Montana. (August 15, 2023): In this photo by Senior Airman Mary Bowers, Captain Chase Todd, a pilot with the 40th Helicopter Squadron, holds his breath while undergoing Underwater Egress Survival Training, a brutal test of physical and psychological strength.

In this challenging program, instructors use a simulated helicopter body to train pilots and air crew how to escape from various underwater emergency situations. This device is officially called a Modular Amphibious Egress Trainer and consists of a pilot chair connected to buoys to represent the cockpit of an aircraft. Once strapped into their seat, trainees are then flipped upside down and submerged in water and must successfully extricate themselves from the aircraft before running out of air. Students practice dropping their gear, exiting the aircraft, and returning safely to the surface.

Unfortunately, some trainees panic in this situation.

Being suddenly thrust upside down in the water is extremely disorienting and can lead to fear and sometimes panic for some students. In addition to the natural disorientation of being upside down, this stress reaction can cause rapid heartbeat, tightening in the chest, trembling, and a sudden shortness of breath. This combination creates a desperate panic to get away that overwhelms rational thinking.

The results of panicking can be fatal.

That is why the 40th Helicopter Squadron sends its pilots and air crews to qualify in egress training every three years. Flying mostly the famous UH-1H “Huey” helicopter, the 40th  conducts search and rescue missions and currently supports the National Joint Chiefs of Staff. Thanks to this lifesaving training, pilots and air crew will have the confidence and mental focus to know “which way is up.”