By S/Sgt. Gregor Duncan

Eight Air Force men drifted on the waters of the Gulf of Mexico for six days recently without strangling a sea gull, slugging a shark or writing a diary. But they did come back with complete teleoroentgenograms, electrocardiograms, classy urinalyses—and high praise for the fatigue hat.

aaf raft experiment

They found that a horizontal canopy over the raft gives better visibility and protection from the sun.

These volunteers, five officers and three enlisted men, went down to the sea in two rubber rafts to make practical medical studies of physical and mental reactions of castaways under the joint auspices of the Air Sea Rescue and Medical Sections of the Flight Control Command and the Medical Branch of the AAF School of Applied Tactics. Here are some of their conclusions:

The best thing to do about water—the castaway’s main worry—is to drink it, not hoard it. One officer drank 2 ½ quarts before boarding the raft. Then he fasted from food and water for 96 hours. This throws a different light on the accepted practice of doling out water drop by drop. It proves you can keep it with you if you drink a lot at the beginning.

aaf raft experiment

One of the offiers who volunteered for the test, sketched by Sgt. Duncan.

The fatigue hat seems to be the best protection from the sun. If recommendations from this experiment are accepted, a hat for each man will be included in rubber-raft emergency kits.

Sgt. Tommy Chancey, Cpl. Gilbert Bowman and Cpl. Aubrey (Red) Nelson, the three enlisted men in the party, found that it is a waste of time to fish for big fish, which break lines and run away with bait. They suggested small bait and tackle for the kits.

Ducking yourself in the water, clothes and all, cuts down thirst if you take care to stay in the shade of the raft canopy afterward.

Cotton socks come in handy. There’s only one way to lie in a life raft—sideways, with legs dangling over the side. Your shins will get badly sunburned unless you protect them with socks.

aaf raft experiment

Pvt. Robert Akers, a lab technician, made medical tests of men each day.

Other recommendations for improvement in rubber-raft equipment:

An additional mast holder and sectional oars should be included to allow a second mast at the aft end of the raft.
Stretching a canopy horizontally over the raft, instead of stretching it in a sloping fashion from the front mast to the aft end, gives the men better visibility and protection from the sun.

Signaling mirrors, sun glasses and a sponge for bailing should be included in the emergency kit.

All the volunteers took the form 64 physical examinations for flying both before and after their six days on the rafts. Although they were weary at the end of the trip, a comparison of both exams showed only slight variations. The average weight loss per man for the week was about a pound a day, with the fatter men losing the least and the thinner men losing the most. Their circulatory systems showed no signs of deterioration and their eyesight was the same as before the test, despite constant exposure to sever glare and wind.

aaf raft experiment

Cpl. Bowman, in a one-man raft, comes to the tender for chow.

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