The risk of landing in the sea has always been present with military aviation and by the Second World War pilots were routinely issued lifejackets in case they had to land in water. The lifejacket designs were regularly updated over the years to reflect improving technology and the life preserver is now up to the Mk 46 at least. We are going back a little way today however and taking a look a the Mk 25 pattern of life preserver that was issued to aircrew in the early 1980s and in service at the time of the Falklands War. The lifejacket is a short waist-coat style of design, with a large padded collar which the lifejacket stole is packed inside:
The vest secures up the front with a pair of large plastic buttons:
The stole is inflated using a one-use only bottle of compressed CO2, a screw fastener being provided to allow the bottle to be attached and replace. The bottle is missing here, but the connector can be seen:
Note also the beaded pull cord that is used to activate the gas bottle, the beads aiding grip when wet. There is also a large pocket for survival gear to the right of this pull cord. This is mirrored on the opposite side of the vest:
When the cord is pulled, the stole inflates and bursts out of the vest to hold the wearer’s head clear of the water. It is coloured bright orange to aid visibility in the water to help steer rescuers to the downed airman:
To aid getting the wearer into a rescue boat a grab handle with reflective tape is provided. The toggle next to it is to allow two men to connect themselves together so they don’t drift apart:
Other features of the stole are a small whistle attached by cord that can be blown to attract attention and a small valve that lets the wearer top the air inside the stole up manually if it starts to deflate:
The back of the vest is made of mesh as this is worn when sitting in the cockpit of an aircraft so anything that aids cooling is desirable:
This particular vest has been used for training at some point, and thus has a large triangular label on the rear indicating that it is to be used for drills in water:
This ensures that whilst used in the controlled environment of a training tank, it is not accidentally used for actual operations. As a piece of safety equipment, the lifejacket has extensive labels to its interior. Firstly we have the stores label which as well as giving this jacket’s serial number, tells us that is was manufactured in September 1984:
There is also a label to track any modifications or changes that might be made to the vest, although none have been made to this example:
These jackets feature prominently in photographs of aircrew fighting in the Falklands War and can be seen being worn here by a Harrier pilot during that conflict:
Worn in most small aircraft not only for over ocean flights but for pretty much all flights, we have a LOT of large lakes, the Great Lakes for example, and many others and guaranteed you’re going to come down in the worst possible place in the area. Larger aircraft, where you could get out of your seat, usually had them stowed in various locations around the cabin close to each position, along with parachutes, oxygen ‘candles’ etc.
Sometimes Immersion suits were worn for overocean transits and QRA crews wore them during interceptions since those were almost invariably over the ocean.