SWISS AF LIFE VESTS 1960 - 1985
From mid 1945 until the early 1960s the life vests in use by the Swiss Air Force were the US "Mae West" B-3 and B-4.
The first specimens taken from U.S. bombers landed and interned in Switzerland, then probably made the subject of orders.
By 1963 the AF was in the midst of the procedures (and problems) that would lead to the purchase of the Mirage III.
With the intent of sourcing a replacement for the outdated B-3/ B-4 also suitable for the new aircraft, a series of tests of the model in use by the Armée de l'Air, the Aerazur (ARZ) 33, was undertaken. The same was evaluated in various cockpits and at a swimming pool in Zurich.
it was also tested on training aircraft such as the Bücker Jungmann/ Jungmeister, Pilatus P.2/ P.3 and AT-16, in use at the Locarno Magadino AB, where takeoff is routinely to and from the nearby lake.
The ARZ 33 was positively rated, consequently the purchase of 150 pieces was proposed to be supplied to the flight school and to the pilots of the future jet.
The first Swiss AF confirmed use of the ARZ 33 is in 1963, when three Hunters flew to Kalmar in Sweden for the recently purchased AIM-9B "Sidewinder" A/A missile operational testing.
In 1966, the the person responsible for the commissioning of the Mirage defined what type of emergency equipment was to be carried in the life vest: Fluorescine/ signal rockets / whistle/ signalling mirror. Unlike the French version, the lamp not required.
in 1967 some Mirages were planned to fly to France to the "centre d'essais des missiles" in Cazaux to carry out test firings with the Aérospatiale AS-30 NORAS air-to-ground missile.
The AS.30 was a short-range missile controlled by the pilot via radio signals; with a small control stick, he directed the missile on the target.
Most of the flights took place over the sea, so four ARZ 33s were procured for the GRD pilots.
For reasons of which we are not aware, a campaign was undertaken between 1970 and 1971 to evaluate different types of life vest.
ARZs 33 and 34, Pirelli LPU-2/P, RFD Type 80 Mk.2, and the US AQUA-MATIC Model 10 were tested on ground onboard various Swiss AF aircrafts, (including simulated "unintentional" cockpit inflations) and in the pool.
Following a proposal made by the AMF (Abteilung für Militärflugplätze), also the possibility of making use of anti-g garments as flotation aids was considered and tested. None of the life vests featured such advantages as to be preferred to the ARZ 33.
Given that during trials its configuration assessed as the most "comfortable" when worn under the belts of ejection seats, it is assumed that, although not the "best", the ARZ 34s procured for testing were used for missions abroad (considering that transfer flights and part of the missions were to be held over the sea), for instance during the live firing campaigns at Vidsel in Sweden, although limited "nachbestellung" cannot be ruled out.
Indeed on the "Piloten Zuteilinglist" of 1974, probably for formal reasons, the ARZ 34 is listed as a possible alternate to ARZ 33; although we cannot completely rule it out we have never seen photos or documents confirming its "domestic" use.
it is assumed than wearing a life vest onboard was in any case considered uncomfortable by jet crews; in fact the AMF submitted proposal of using "speedjeans" as a means of flotation was implemented.
Anti-g garments were modified by installing on the left thigh of a firing pin and CO2 cylinder of the same model as those fitted on ARZ life vests.
The ditched pilot had to open the leg zippers and then inflate the garment's bladders.
Probably the guidelines regarding flight equipment left room for interpretation: there are photos showing pilots equipped with modified anti-g and ARZ 33; same outfit but returning from a campaign at Vidsel wearing ARZ 34s. (see picture above)
Unfortunately, some tragic accidents that happened above our lakes forced a reassessment of the soundness of the choices made.
Given the possibility of pilot loss of consciousness after an ejection with the risk of drowning if fallen into the water,in 1985 a new evaluation was undertaken to equip pilots of "narrow cockpit" aircraft with automatically activated life vests.
As in the previous evaluation, Secumar 10 HK and SF, Lifeguard LG 1181 and SAAB-Scania FT-8 were tested in cockpits and in the pool.
The SAAB-Scania FT-8 and LG 1181 were judged to be the best, however, the former had a complicated electro-mechanical activation system and was considered expensive.
Eventually, the LG 1181 was deemed to be the best, but the manufacturer required to implement some modifications: the modified life vest put into service under the designation LG 1073.
It is interesting to note that -somewhat like the ARZ 34- although not deemed entirely suitable, but probably because of the ability to carry a wide array of survival equipment, the Secumar 10 HK would be used for overflights to and from the various low-flying and shooting campaigns abroad such as the "SAKAs" in Sardinia.