36th Rescue Flight
Published April 18, 2006
To support the activities of the USAF Survival School through hands-on helicopter operations;
To support the National Search and Rescue Plan by providing assistance to local authorities;
And to provide the Department of Defense with exceptionally qualified crewmembers.
About the 36th Rescue Flight
The 36th Rescue Flight (36 RQF) supports the USAF Survival School training through hands-on helicopter operations for over 3,000 students per year. Training is conducted year-round at Fairchild and at the School’s field location in the Colville National Forest, about 60 miles north of Fairchild. Flight operations include live rescue hoist training, Para drop demonstrations, and combat rescue procedures training for students in the basic Combat Survival Course. An aircraft and crew are on stand-by 24 hours a day, 6 days a week to provide medical evacuation coverage for students and instructors alike.
The 36 RQF also supports the National Search-and-Rescue (SAR) Plan by conducting SAR and medical evacuation missions in a 4-state region, from the Cascades in Washington to the Rockies in western Montana. The unit has the only hoist-equipped aircraft and Night Vision Goggle (NVG)-qualified aircrews in the Inland Northwest. SAR missions are conducted both day and night, often at high altitude in treacherous mountain terrain, in areas completely inaccessible by ground vehicle. The unit’s unique capabilities can often spell the difference between life and death for lost or injured hikers, hunters, skiers and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Both the Survival School support mission and the Search-and-Rescue mission require crews to train day and night, year-round to maintain proficiency in critical skills. Searching for and recovering lost or injured personnel in the mountains at night is the most demanding mission an aircrew can undertake in peacetime. Depending on the weather, survivor’s condition, location, and altitude, these often-dangerous missions can require operations at the edge of the helicopter’s performance envelope. RQF aircrews regularly perform “practice” mountain training missions in conjunction with Survival School operations, but also launch out of Fairchild several days a week. Closer to Spokane, a training Landing Zone (LZ) is located in the Seven-Mile area near the ORV park. This LZ is used when weather or other constraints prevent transit to more distant and remote training LZ’s. Crews practice search-and-rescue and hoist procedures under controlled conditions in order to be ready for the real thing.
In order to be effective, NVG missions must be flown in complete darkness. Here in the northwest, that can mean very late operations due to the long days during the summer months. Aircraft will take off an hour after sunset and may fly 2-3 hours, usually landing no later than midnight.
Depending on where an actual rescue mission occurs, survivors and injured personnel are often transported to Spokane’s larger hospitals (Deaconess and Sacred Heart) due to the level of trauma care available there. Patients are airlifted directly to the hospital’s rooftop helipads, which is why helicopters are often seen flying over the city, both day and night. Landing on a building’s rooftop is also a non-routine operation, a skill that requires some practice to do safely. Proficiency and familiarization training for newly assigned aircrews is also required on a regular basis.
The unit has an outstanding record of humanitarian assistance in lifesaving SAR operations. Since 2001, the 36 RQF has responded to over 50 requests for assistance and saved over 35 lives. These missions included searching for crashed aircraft and lost hikers, fisherman and hunters; notification and evacuation of backcountry personnel in the face of Washington’s worst fire season in 7 years; transport of a critically-injured gunshot victim; and the rescue of a seriously injured back-country snowboarder with a 200-foot hoist at night on NVG’s from near Sandpoint, Idaho. Most recently, the RQF found and rescued a 62 year-old elk hunter who was lost for numerous hours in another difficult multi-day search operation. The ability to train and hone unique skills to a fine edge is absolutely critical to the success of missions like these.
On average, the unit responds to 15-20 calls for assistance each year, and has been credited with saving over 600 lives since its inception in 1971. In doing so the 36 Rescue Flight is proud to uphold the motto of rescue personnel worldwide, “That Others May Live.)