Jumping out of a helicopter to pluck crewmembers out of frigid waters. Rappelling to reach survivors at a remote crash site. Coming to the aid of civilians stranded by a hurricane. The motto of the Aviation Rescue Swimmer (AIRR) community is "So Others May Live."
When lives are on the line, Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmers (AIRRs) are exceptionally adept at answering the call. These brave men and women embody the courage of America’s Navy – readily going into harm’s way to complete their rescue missions in some of the most extreme environments imaginable.
As an Aviation Rescue Swimmer, you will be part of a tightly knit group, dedicated to being the top emergency response unit in the world. In this role, you’ll routinely put the lives of others before your own – applying your intense physical and mental training to challenging real-world situations where there’s often no margin for error.
Rescue missions. Recovery missions. Humanitarian assistance. Operational support. You may be called upon to contribute to any of these efforts. Thinking, acting and succeeding in the definitive task at hand: survival.
While Search and Rescue Swimmers (SARs) are associated with a ship, Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmers (AIRRs) are attached to an aircraft. This means that AIRRs will jump out of a helicopter into extreme conditions to complete their task, while SARs work from a Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat (RHIB). Their starting point may differ, but their mission remains the same: Save lives in a time of crisis.
Without hesitation, you must be prepared to enter the most treacherous conditions to provide recovery and relief to those in need. That could involve jumping from hundreds of feet out of helicopters into the ocean. Utilizing your search and rescue swimming skills to ensure safety. Or using evasion, resistance and escape techniques to save those in need.
Some of the many duties you may have as an AIRR include:
- Saving pilots of downed aircraft, people aboard stranded or capsized vessels at sea, or even hikers and mountain climbers in danger on land
- Rescuing civilians during natural disasters and collaborating with other forces, such as the Coast Guard during the joint rescue missions that saved thousands of lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita and the tsunami in Indonesia
- Working as a Crew Chief on a H-60 helo, where the primary duties are to make sure the rescue swimmer and the pilot are on the same page and to operate the hoist in rescues
- Delivering aid and supplies to other countries in humanitarian operations
- Providing support to Naval Special Warfare Operations
- Conducting surveillance in anti-submarine warfare and drug interdiction operations
- Transporting troops and cargo to and from ships
No college degree is required to become a Navy AIRR, but a high degree of difficulty and satisfaction come standard with nearly everything you’ll do. Training is tough and ongoing.
Your work setting is unique in that it could be just about anywhere, helping just about anyone. A family on the other side of the globe, desperately trying to survive a destructive storm. The crew of a sinking ship off the Pacific coast. Even a wounded mountain climber hanging from a nearly inaccessible cliff. Whatever the nature of the situation, you will be prepared to take action. What’s more, you will regularly provide support in relief missions around the world, responding to everything from the need for humanitarian outreach to natural disasters and more.
Training and Advancement
Whether it’s transporting other Spec Ops units or delivering supplies and aid, Aviation Rescue Swimmers must be prepared to operate in the challenging environments of those they assist. Because of this, AIRR training is as true to life as possible and one of the most demanding, life-altering training programs in the Navy.
AIRR candidates undergo almost two years of training in advanced swimming and lifesaving techniques before reporting to their first squadron. Throughout training, candidates will be continually tested, mentally and physically, as they advance to more rigorous and challenging scenarios. Training includes:
Water and Land Survival and Flight Safety
- Four weeks at Aircrew Candidate School in Pensacola, Fla.
Search and Rescue Swimming Skills
- Five weeks at Rescue Swimmer School in Pensacola, Fla.
Basic Skills in Naval Aviation (required for rating)
- An average of 18 weeks (depending on source rating) at Class “A” Technical School in Pensacola, Fla.
- This includes familiarization with military training, Naval Aviation and aviation psychology
Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) Techniques
- Two weeks at SERE School in North Island, Calif., or Brunswick, Maine
- An average of 24 weeks (depending on aircraft) at a Naval Air Station
Air Rescue Units
After graduation, an AIRR may be assigned to a Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron
(HSC), a Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron (HS), a Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light (HSL), or a Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) at sea or on shore duty in the following locations:
- San Diego, Calif.
- Fallon, Nev.
- China Lake, Calif.
- Whidbey Island, Wash.
- Norfolk, Va.
- Pensacola, Fla.
- Jacksonville, Fla.
- Patuxent River, Md.
- Key West, Fla.
- And various other locations throughout the U.S.
Advanced Education & Training
Enlisted AIRRs are passionate about jumping out of helicopters into the most extreme conditions. They would rather give someone a second chance at life than give orders. Based on performance and the needs of the Navy, you could potentially be eligible to receive additional training in:
- EMT training
- Advanced Rescue Swimmer School (includes swift water, high seas, cave and cliff rescue training)
Senior Enlisted AIRRs may also be selected to become:
- Schoolhouse Instructors
- Weapons Instructors
- Master Rappellers/Instructors
As a member of the Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations (NSW/NSO) community, you will have any number of unique opportunities to advance your knowledge. You may receive education and training about military tactics, small arms use, survival or a number of other tactical military procedures. The courses in this field are demanding, but those who accept these challenges will be rewarded not only with extra pay, but extraordinary duty assignments anywhere in the world.
You can put your training and education to use outside your official duties. Through the American Council on Education (ACE), you may receive college credit for what you've learned in your training "pipeline." Check out the ACE Military Guide Online to find out what training qualifies for college credit. If you have any questions about converting your Navy education into college credit, you can call ACE at 866-205-6267 for answers.
In addition to normal military pay and allowances, the Navy offers a $8,000 enlistment bonus for AIRRs. You will also earn extra flight pay and may qualify for additional special duty assignment pay.
For complete details on available special pay and enlistment bonuses, contact a recruiter.
Aviation Rescue Swimmers (AIRRs) have one of the most physically demanding jobs in the world. When it comes to saving lives, their strength, speed and endurance decide whether a mission is successful or unsuccessful.
To qualify for Rescue Swimmer Training, both men and women must:
- Meet specific eyesight requirements: uncorrected vision no worse than 20/100; correctable to 20/20 in both eyes with normal depth and color perception
- Meet the minimum Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) score: VE+AR+MK+MC=210 or VE+AR+MK+AS=210
- Pass a PST in DEP/Boot Camp
- Pass Class 1 Flight Physical
- Be 30 years of age or younger
- Must be a U.S. citizen and eligible for security clearance
The chart below highlights the current minimum Navy Physical Screening Test (PST) requirements for Navy Challenge Programs.
|Minimum PST |
Physical Screening Test
|Swim 500 yards |
(450 M) – breaststroke or sidestroke
|REST: 10 MINUTES|
[in 2 minutes]
|REST: 2 MINUTES|
[in 2 minutes]
|REST: 2 MINUTES|
[in 2 minutes]
|REST: 10 MINUTES|
|Run 1.5 miles |
*AIRR may use sidestroke or breaststroke and utilize American crawl/freestyle or a combination of all.
NOTE: You should consult your physician or other health-care professional before starting any exercise regime or other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs. This is particularly true if you (or your family) have a history of medical illnesses or ailments that could be made worse by a change in physical activity. Do not start a fitness program if your physician or health-care provider advises against it.
After the Navy
As a Navy Aviation Rescue Swimmer, you will be part of a community that regards leadership skills and self-determination very highly. The intense training you have received in the Navy shows employers you have the ability to accomplish any task that comes your way. Careers within the Naval Special Warfare/Naval Special Operations (NSW/NSO) forces have comparable civilian counterparts that include anything from force protection to personal security to law enforcement.