by Nate "Buster" Jaros
As you probably know, I often discuss airborne, and in-flight emergencies, and emergency procedures (EPs) centered around engine failures and so forth while traveling around the skies. If you’ve read my book Engine Out Survival Tactics, you know it’s an extremely thorough look at this specific EP, and provides pilots with some concepts and training regimens to help solve that difficult puzzle. What I’d like to do now is to have a look at another specific emergency, one that is not discussed too often in GA, but trained and discussed heavily in the military and professional flight operations. We are going to look at three key considerations during an aircraft emergency on the runway.
The following are three important considerations to think about every time you take the runway for takeoff, or land…with or without an emergency. The following works for takeoffs, aborts, normal landings, and emergency landings too.
Bottom line: if you’re on a runway here are three things that you need to know. Here we go!
1. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate
Fly the plane first, and know if you should go or stop (more on that next). Whatever you are doing, get the thing under control, get it on centerline and get it stopped safely. With a fire or some other engine problem, or even controllability issues like a blown tire or such, your only job is to aviate. Don’t worry about what happens next, or what’s going on on the radio, or that Air Force One in on six mile final behind you…fly the airplane and get it safely stopped.
Keep it on the runway, and fly it till the last part stops moving. Use all available controls - brakes, steering, crosswind controls. That is job number one! If you’re going to depart the prepared surface, continue to do your best at controlling the aircraft, and consider shutting down the engine.
During a takeoff, be ready for anything. Again, job one here is to aviate…nothing else. When I’m traveling down the runway on takeoff, I’m mentally prepared for an abort every time. Sometimes I even say to myself “I’m aborting, I’m aborting, I’m aborting” until I pass my go/no-go point. More on that next. Be spring loaded to abort your takeoff with anything that doesn’t look right, sound right, or smell right. “Abort early, abort often” we sometimes say in the military training circles.
Remember, going Ferrari speeds on the ground with three little wheels, brakes, and tires near the departure end of the runway is risky stuff. Always aviate, navigate, then communicate…in that order, and based upon where you are at in this phase of flight - the aviate step is really the only thing you should be doing.
2. Know your TOLD
We need to take a deep look into what we in the military call TOLD (Takeoff and Landing Data). That might be the subject of an entire other article, or even a book, but you owe it to yourself to thoroughly understand TOLD for your aircraft and specifically how to make the Go/No-Go decision.
In single engine aircraft in the USAF we have something called Refusal Speed (RS). Refusal Speed is the maximum speed that the aircraft can attain on takeoff, then call for an abort (refuse the takeoff), and stop in the remaining runway. We calculate and brief a RS on every takeoff. Refusal speed is essentially a go/no-go decision maker number. If I'm below this speed and I have a problem, I can abort safely. If I am beyond, or faster than this speed, I don’t have the option for an abort anymore…I must continue to takeoff as an abort now would put me off the departure end of the runway surface. Make sense?
In some cases, on some runways, RS can be well past takeoff speed. Imagine a Cessna 152 taking off from Edwards runway 04R/22L which is 15,000 feet long. The little Cessna could takeoff, fly for nearly one minute and then still land safely in the remaining runway distance. For him, on that runway, his theoretical refusal speed might be well over 300 KIAS (obviously not reachable for the Cessna, but you get the point).
We don’t compute refusal speeds in GA. In fact because our takeoff rolls are so short relatively, it’s almost moot. But a way to calculate a Go/No-Go decision is needed, and our performance charts don’t often provide this important number. We’re all a bit like the little Cessna in that regard. Where it becomes critical is on shorter runways or when it’s hot, or the aircraft is heavy.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have a refusal speed for your GA steed? The top speed you can attain and still stop in the remaining runway. In GA, we’re somewhat blind to this important and most useful feature found in bigger single engine aircraft. (Keep reading, I'll show you a tactic on how to develop this for your bird).
One additional (and critical part) of this RS discussion is first knowing that this (and any) arbitrary number in the performance charts is correct to begin with. What I mean is, how does a pilot even know if his aircraft is accelerating down the runway “with book speed?” How do you know that you are actually performing like the charts predict you are? For example, your charts say you should have a 900 foot takeoff roll today, at this wind, weight, and temperature. But how do you know your aircraft is performing “as advertised?”
Knowing this “engine performance” factor is critical in your TOLD. We call it Acceleration Check speed, or simply “the accel check.” Think about it like this. You’re rolling down the runway on takeoff, things seem great, but unbeknownst to you, your engine is only producing say, 50% thrust or horsepower. You might eventually reach that refusal speed, and liftoff speed, but it will take you a mile or more to reach that velocity. By then, you could be off the departure end of the runway, still not airborne, and yet below RS.
You, the pilot, need some way to validate that your engine is producing “book power” or all that refusal speed nonsense goes out the window. If you think about it, ALL your TOLD numbers, climb charts, cruise figures, etc are predicated on the fact that your engine is “normal.”
We use an Accel Check Speed in the Viper, and in single engine aircraft in the USAF. Here’s how it works. The Viper charts say that 1,000 feet past brake release we should be going 100 KIAS (on this given day, with this particular weight, and in this scenario). If I pass the “eight board” (9,000 foot runway) and I see 100 KIAS, I’m good. My TOLD is valid and my RS is valid and all my other assumptions for this takeoff are valid. My engine is “normal.” Cool.
But If I’m passing the eight board and I only see 90 (or less) KIAS…something is wrong. At that point I abort the takeoff. An abort at relatively lower speeds is far better than later or with less runway remaining. Does that make sense? Accel check speed is a check speed, at a certain check distance. And it’s sole purpose it to validate engine performance, thus validating the rest of your performance charts.
You might be able to determine what an appropriate Accel Check speed is for your aircraft, and use it on every takeoff. If you are taking off from a high DA airport and don’t lean your NA bird correctly, you can catch an underperforming engine early. Or if you fear those tall trees at the departure end with a full load of fuel and folks, knowing a baseline for adequate (and correct) performance for your bird is paramount. A way to validate your engine performance early in the takeoff run, would be extremely smart.
We commonly don’t have refusal speeds and acceleration check speeds in GA aircraft (as they are not typically provided by the manufacturer via actual testing). The March 2103 Cirrus SR-22 Information Manual, Performance Data section even states “Computed performance data in this section are based upon data derived from actual flight testing with the airplane and engine in good condition and using average pilot techniques.” They are basically saying the same thing…the engine and airplane are normal, and all your performance data is based on that.
One simple TOLD technique for us in GA that mimics an Accel Check speed, and a Refusal Speed is to ensure you reach 70% of your takeoff speed by the time you are halfway down the runway. This is sometimes called the 50/70 rule. And it works!
I actually have a mark I made with a piece of tape on my airspeed indicator at my typical 70% speed, and I always figure out what the runway markings or distance remaining markers should say at halfway down the field, and ensure I hit my 70% speed by that point. It’s a check speed, at a certain check distance. And because we don’t have a reliable method to figure an Accel Check speed in our aircraft, this method is perfect, applies on all runways, and should occur quite early in your takeoff roll.
Checking your performance on the takeoff is critical to identifying an engine emergency early, and it’s easy to do. Just ensure you do it every time, like we do in the F-16, T-38, and like the majors do as well.
I know this was a long discussion, but it’s vitally important. Know your TOLD.
3. To Taxi or Not To Taxi…That is the Question
You’ve successfully landed with a problem, or emergency and stopped on the runway. Or maybe you aborted a takeoff and got it safely stopped on the runway. Great job! Now what? Do we taxi back to the hangar?
In the USAF we have a common phrase that we use when discussing various EPs and EP scenarios. We use this phrase to “sanity check” the outcome of our thoughts or proposed plan. The phrase is “what would the line on the accident review board results read, if I continue to do this?” Here’s how it works.
Picture a perfect landing with a brake failure, you somehow get the thing stopped safely and all is good. Now the decision to continue to taxi the aircraft clear of the runway, with a brake failure, looms. What do you do?
Ask your self what the accident board would say, or what their writeup would read and you’ll gain some clarity.
“Mr. Buster, the mishap pilot (PIC), successfully landed his Bonanza with a brake failure. Following the successful landing, while attempting to taxi with no brakes, he lost control of the mishap aircraft and entered a ditch on the side of the runway, causing a prop strike, engine damage, undercarriage damage…. etc.”
Get it? You can also apply this sanity check phrase to other aspects of your daily flying. When you find yourself asking “Do I really have to sump the tanks? Should I accept an intersection departure when it’s hot and the airplane is heavy? Should I fly under that bridge?”
Ask your self what the accident board’s writeup might look like following your question, and you’ll immediately know the answer.
As far at taxiing clear after landing or aborting with an emergency, that is a typical question that I see many many USAF students struggle with in T-38s and in the F-16. If you have an engine failure, well that decision is made for you already…you’re not going anywhere. But what about a rough running engine, or low oil pressure, or some other engine anomaly? I’m not saying you shouldn’t taxi clear, but the sooner you get the engine shut down, the less damage that you might inflict on the suffering motor. You also don’t know what is going on up there in the cowl, maybe there is a fire, or soon to be a fire. Shutting things down as early as practical during any engine anomaly is smart business.
We sometimes teach that if you have to push up the power (with an engine anomaly) to move the airplane on the ground, that you are probably doing it wrong.
Another consideration is any kind of brake failure or brake issue, a blown tire, or any kind of steering difficulty. The USAF actually has a safety rule on these sorts of things for most aircraft. It says “don’t move the aircraft.” Simple.
If you have a problem with controlling the aircraft on the ground, get it stopped and leave it. You don’t want to inflict more harm, and honestly, it’s not like you're on the deck of an Aircraft Carrier where low fuel aircraft are on short final and you need to get out of the way. Other local aircraft can land on other runways, divert, or even land on taxiways (with tower approval) in an emergency.
Think about how stupid you’re going to feel (that line in the accident board’s findings again) if you decide to taxi clear of the runway with a flat tire/brake failure/steering problem and lose control of the aircraft…just to allow that other GA single behind you (with probably four hours of fuel on board) to land, or do a touch and go.
It’s your call, but I’m airing on the conservative side. That has done me good for a career in the USAF and 2,000+ hours in fighters.
Here's a video of a Cessna landing with a flat right tire. They did a great job!
Top Photo credit Flying Magazine
by Nate "Buster" Jaros
I was airborne over Southwest Texas. Today’s sortie put me as the instructor of record in the back seat of a T-38C. In the front seat, was one of my students. He was doing well and had advanced through most of the grueling T-38 syllabus just fine. Today, he was “leading” a two-ship of T-38s, and on our wing was one of his classmates, and that kid was solo. Unbeknownst yet, one of us was about to get an advanced lesson in the aviation emergency frequency.
It was part of the normal syllabus in the T-38 to send student pilots solo, as well as formation solo or “form solo” as we’d often call it. Form solos were tough training sorties for us old and crusty IPs (Instructor Pilots) because not only did we have one dangerous student at the controls in the front of one aircraft, but another dangerous solo student at the controls of another aircraft…with the sole purpose of flying extremely close to the lead jet. Three feet wingtip separation was the required position through barrel rolls, turns, and Lazy-8s with up to (but not to exceed) 90 degrees of bank. Amongst other formation maneuvers too.
By this point in the syllabus the students were pretty solid in the ole T-38, but it was still a sortie on which to not let your guard down. More than one solo T-38 student has come dangerously close to their lead jet and been told to “break out.” We had our hands full as IPs managing this sortie. Sometime called the “2 v 1”…meaning two students versus one IP, that moniker stemming from the classic 2 v 1 Air Combat Training profile common in fighter aircraft training. In the T-38, flying a form solo ride, it often felt like they were both out to get you and sometimes it felt like a real combat sortie. Your head was definitely on a swivel.
The Guard Call
We were midway through the profile when a loud and clear radio call came in through our helmets.
“This is Laughlin SOF on GUARD, Laughlin AFB is now executing a weather recall for rapidly deteriorating weather. All local aircraft conserve fuel and begin immediate recovery. SOF out.”
The SOF was the Supervisor of Flying. This was an experienced pilot who's job it was for six to eight hours to basically oversee all local flying operations. He or she would help with emergencies, assist solo pilots on the radios if needed, and generally coordinate all flight operations for the base with an eye for safety overall. Today the SOF was watching massive thunderstorms approaching Laughlin AFB, which were about an hour away (or so the weather guessers predicted), and he smartly decided it was time to get everybody home.
We immediately called a “knock it off” within our two-ship. “Talon 31 knock it off, Talon 1 knock it off.” Then the acknowledgement from our solo wingman, per the standards “Talon 2 knock it off” was textbook.
I instructed the student pilot up front to set up for the recovery per the standards. This had him beginning a recovery profile, descent checks, having both aircraft fence out, sweeping ATIS, and performing a fighter standard post-fight battle damage check. It was aviating, navigating, and communicating at it’s finest. It was a lot to do going 300 kts just 40-50 nm from the base, but by this time in the program, these guys could usually handle it.
The rest of the recovery was uneventful, though I could tell my solo wingman was a little “off.” He was flying intensely to say the least, and I could tell he was trying to be on his “A game.” He was nervous however, and I could sense it, as well as hear the tone of his voice through the radio as we checked in on different frequencies during the ride home. Maybe he was really concerned about the approaching storms?
We brought the two-ship up initial after passing through the normal VFR recovery points that funneled all traffic into the pattern for the designated T-38 runway. Overhead the numbers, the signal for a typical five second break and a salute were issued and we each split off for downwind and configured for landing. Landing and taxi back were also uneventful, the solo student did everything correctly and was on frequency and positioned correctly for our two-ship taxi in. We could see the gray storms approaching pretty clearly now, a bolt of lightning was spotted in the distance, and winds were picking up a little. We were glad to be back home and safely on the deck.
We parked side by side on the ramp as was common and shut down our sleek jets. I happened to notice that my solo wingman seemed pretty distraught over at his jet. His head was hanging low and he just seemed “off.” He reluctantly did his post-flight walk around and he just wasn't his usual happy self after executing a fine solo in the Mach-capable T-38 jet. Hmmm. He was also very quiet and wouldn’t make eye contact on the van ride back to the squadron. Something was wrong with this kid.
After dropping off our helmets, parachutes, and limited survival gear we eventually got to the debrief room where my two students sat upright and attentive. I stood in the usual fashion, and began to go over all the items in a typical debrief that we needed to discuss. I couldn’t help but notice again that the solo student was upset. He seemed disgusted and maybe even angry. At one point in the discussion and re-creation of the sortie’s events I mentioned the weather recall and the nicely flown recovery, pattern entry, landings, and taxi in ground ops.
The solo student’s eyes widened. He looked at me with an air of hope, and confusion. I could tell he was really lost at this point. It was almost time for them to be able to ask questions anyway, so I went ahead and opened up the floor to questions. I could see he had a lot to ask me.
“Sir” he said, “what do you mean weather recall?”
“The weather recall, you know! The call from the SOF about the recovery due to bad weather approaching.”
“What call from the SOF sir?’ he questioned. “I didn’t hear a thing.”
“Did you have Guard selected on your radios today?”
I already knew the answer, it was a classic blunder for a young trainee.
“Not sure sir, I guess maybe not. I never heard anything from the SOF.”
And that right there explained it. But I was still wondering a few things about his shift in attitude…right about the time we started the recovery.
“What did you think was happening then when we called the knock it off, and then proceeded to RTB?”
His reply. “Well sir, we were executing that last leaf of fingertip at 90 degrees of bank, and I fell out of position. It took me awhile to get back into formation.”
“Yes, I saw that, but you made a good recovery, and you did it safely” I informed him.
“Well sir, I thought that I had just busted the ride…as you called for the knock it off, and the immediate recovery.”
It made total sense then. This poor kid never heard the guard call, but obviously heard our decision to knock it off and start home, just after he had made a significant mistake (and a good correction). He thought he busted the ride and would be receiving the equivalent of an “F” on the mission for the day, which can have lasting implications on later choice of aircraft assignments after graduation.
The Moral of the Story: Guard Frequency
Radios in our USAF jets have a built in capability to monitor the Guard frequency, whereas our GA radios typically do not. But if you have a spare radio, a COMM 2, consider keeping it set to 121.5, as you never know what kind of information you might receive on that frequency. Besides, Section 3 of the FAR/AIM suggests all pilots may monitor emergency frequencies. If you were to get lost on the radios or fly near restricted airspace, a helpful ATC controller will most likely use Guard to notify you of impending trouble…and possibly save your license.
Always try to have Guard selected and monitored on your radios. I admit that I don’t always do this in my GA aircraft, it’s an old school technique, but monitoring it can save you a lot of headache.
Having Guard selected would have prevented my solo student from thinking he busted his training ride for nearly two hours on that stormy day. Having all available information in the cockpit can help your Situational Awareness immensely.
Some Cool T-38 gear
Some old, but good T-38 Videos, and a great T-38 Book for those interested.
Courtesy Vance Class 07-11
by Nate "Buster" Jaros
It’s eight o’clock in the morning, and it’s a beautiful day to fly. You enjoy a simple and thorough preflight of your airplane as the dew burns off the wings in the calm and cool morning air. As you prepare your steely beast to go, you feel ready and prepared for the short flight you are about to undertake. You have full tanks of fuel, water to sip, and your trusty kneeboard with some regularly used checklists and maps all at the ready. It should be a simple VFR flight to your favorite morning breakfast destination. Aside from all your preparation, there is one thing you haven’t thought of. Something most pilots don’t put much planning into. What is your emergency response plan for an aircraft accident?
I admit, it’s not something we all like to think of too much. Right? Who wants to think about that horrible situation and some of the harsh realities of what could happen to you, or your loved ones in the event of an aircraft accident? If you’re like most pilots, you don’t think about it much at all. “Going there” mentally, picturing all the possible and ugly outcomes is just too difficult, and messy. Flying is supposed to be fun!
Why is it that as pilots we spend countless hours and dollars perfecting our patterns and landings, studying books and increasing our pilot knowledge, as well as taking the time to plan out a flight from checking NOTAMS and TFRs to mapping out the route and looking at weather and even alternate airport options? Why all this preparation?
Pilots are habitual planners and thinkers, yet most omit a critical planning step in every flight…the aircraft accident plan. Today, we are going to talk about one important method for building your emergency response plan for a accident by discussing survival packs. When I ask pilots the question “Do you carry a survival pack with you when you fly?” almost every pilot responds in the negative. Yet in the USAF, survival packs and survival gear are not only mandatory, but their contents are trained with regularly.
Let’s have a look at some GA survival pack ideas.
Survival Packs: Essential Pilot Gear
In this article, I’m going to teach you how to build a survival pack, which I believe is the number one thing you can to do to build an emergency response plan for an aircraft accident.
First, I need you put all morbidity aside. Get over any hangups that you might have, maybe even reduce that pilot ego that we all have a little. It can happen to you, and you should be prepared.
Early in my USAF pilot career I was sent to Fairchild AFB, Washington for SERE school. SERE stands for Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape. SERE school teaches essential concepts and training for today’s combat pilots and crews. Of note, the survival portion of the four week school was about two to two-and-a-half weeks. It’s pretty intensive, and it’s a major chunk of the training time at SERE.
Secondly, I’m not pretending to be a survival expert, by any measure. I like watching Bear Grylls and I enjoy some hiking and short wilderness adventures, as long as there’s a comfy bed and a cabin or hotel nearby. Nor am I going to be able to train you on everything you need to know about survival with one short (well, it’s kinda lengthy) article. The purpose here is to provide you with some basics, some theories of survival, and allow you to decide on your own what items you want for your pack.
Short of actual survival training in the field (which I also recommend you get) the most important thing you can do to increase your survival odds after an off airport landing…is to have a survival kit. Again, we plan for so many airborne contingencies, take a minute to plan for one possible airborne contingency, that is the one that finds you battered and bruised, walking away from a successful off-airport landing. It’s the least you can do.
Okay, here we go.
My Survival Gear: Kit Basics
There are two ways to develop your ideal survival pack. The first is to grab a bag and fill it with gear. Hmmm, okay. The second method, is to find the gear you believe is important to you, and then locate a suitable container that can nicely hold all that gear.
I think option two is the preferred method. Get your gear first, then find the container second. Additional considerations are also just how large of a survival pack do you really want? When you start talking about life rafts and Himalayan overflights, you’re going to need a pretty big pack. If you’re into just local flights, and “lunch-n-backs” to the nearest fly-in restaurant then a smaller and more manageable survival pack might be the right thing for you. It would be nice to be the ultimate Boy Scout and have everything conceivable in your pack, but that just isn’t cost effective, realistic, nor sound for a pilot watching his load and CG as well.
You also need to know what kind of basic gear you need. What terrain are you typically overflying? Survival packs for desert flight operations will and should look drastically different from the pilot who flies over arctic tundra, or mountainous terrain, or over the ocean.
Additionally, we will plan for a speedy recovery once SAR (Search And Rescue) is initiated, but we need to also plan for the worst case situation. It might actually take SAR some significant time to locate you. In this article, we will focus on a survival pack basics that allow for minor injuries, and a goal of 24 to 48 hours survival before recovery. You can adjust your pack as you see fit.
Lastly, the key concept that I go with, and learned about at SERE is this…simplicity.
Simple items fail less, and can make the difference when you need them the most.
Complicated battery operated devices and even cell phones are great technology and options, but will they fail you when needed? How long will they last? You’ll notice that I don't talk about or include GPS devices, radios, or other battery operated items in the discussion. There’s a reason for that as I prefer to go “old school” with options that wont fail me in the field, ever.
Breaking Survival Down: The Gear
At USAF survival training, it becomes blatantly obvious pretty fast, in order to survive you need air, then water, then food, then shelter. Take it one step further, and you can add signaling as well. That’s it! Now there is a whole lot of training and skill that goes well beyond that simple statement, but simply realizing these basics can help you easily identify what you need. Let’s have a quick look at each item as it relates to our survival gear in the GA cockpit.
Water. When faced with either a simple outdoor situation or the worst case aircraft accident, you will need water if you expect to survive more than a day or so. A few items that I picked up at SERE were that you’ll need a water collection device of some sort, as well as clean, safe water to drink. If I’m flying over the arid deserts of the Southwest (as I mostly do) I will try to bring a gallon or two of water and throw them in the back of the plane. It’s a simple solution, but it also assumes I can get to the water jugs after the landing. That’s a big “what if.”
Two important items in my pack for water collection and drinking are a simple stainless steel canteen cup, and a water filtering straw. The canteen cup is useful for hundreds of things in the field and can collect water or be used over flame to boil water or even dinner. I use the canteen cup in my pack as the bottom hard shell, placing it in the pack first and then filling it with other items. The filtering straw is lightweight and if I can find any appreciable water source, this will do the trick and keep me from getting sick. Remember, I’m planning on possibly a 24 hour recovery, hopefully no more.
You can also consider adding a small tin ofiodine tablets as well. These can be dissolved in your collected water for purification and last forever in a sealed container.
Food. Food is a difficult one, but there are hundreds of option once you know the tricks of the trade. Ideally in our 24 hour period, you can survive just fine without any food. Consider packing a few granola bars in your pack for extra energy, and replace them every so often.
While food may not be an immediate concern, it will be a long term issue if you find yourself stranded for any length of time. That being said, I put a few other critical items in my survival pack that can help me with a myriad of tasks, as well as later food gathering if needed. I have two different knives in my pack, as well as a small fishing kit. A few hooks, some line, weights and similar items cost you pretty much a zero weight penalty, but can be a key item in your pack if you’re really stranded. My fishing kit lives in a really small round Altoids-like tin. With practice, the knives can be used to help fashion snares, spikes, and spears for later hunting.
Shelter. For basic shelter over a 24 hour period, you don't need much. Consider that you may also have injuries and even could be in shock. With that I pack four mylar “space blankets.” They work well in the cold desert nights and also serve as great signaling devices and even rain catchers. Far easier to pack that blankets and sleeping bags, I recommend the mylar space blanket. You can even use them to make a small tent or lean-to if you’d like.
The knives can also help you construct some shelter if you really want to go full Bear Grylls out there. I’ve also added a 50 foot length of "550" paracord. There are hundreds of useful things you can do with paracord, and having some kind of basic string implement out there can help you with many tasks. I guarantee you’ll need some string to tie up something in your campsite, help with snares, or to make your shelter stronger and more secure.
Lastly, I include a metal “ring saw” which can be used to cut larger branches and trees if needed. It’s effective, and light weight.
Let’s talk a little about fire too. Fire is pretty important and having it can really improve your living conditions and morale. As the sun sets and rescue forces are nowhere near, being able to start a fire easily can be a big boost. I pack a small flint and steel. It’s that little orange aluminum stick, it weighs nothing and it really works.
Consider some kind of starter-tinder if you want as well. Cotton balls soaked in petroleum jelly are the best fire starter I know of. One spark from that flint and steel on a cotton ball with petroleum jelly will light off in a hurry, even if damp. Sparingly place them under your dry tinder when constructing your fire pyramid.
You can also add all sorts of miscellaneous items to your pack, depending on how much weight and space you have. I picked up a pre-made medical kit that wasn’t too overblown, yet had a good amount of key items, or items that I valued. Consider a quality medical kit, they come in all shapes and sizes. Be sure it will fit in your survival pack. Mine nestles perfectly into my canteen cup.
I also have a simple sewing kit in my pack too. We used these in SERE from everything from, well…sewing damaged gear and clothes obviously, to making fish hooks and so forth. I had one lying around so I threw it in. You might even need it for medical situations too.
I don’t have any chemical light sticks yet, but need to add a few. They will last forever in your pack and obviously can help you at night. More on them in a minute. A flashlight with fresh batteries would be a novelty too, but you have to be diligent about keeping the batteries fresh. Again, simple wins the day.
I think we spent maybe a full day in the field at SERE school learning about signaling, and various signaling options. After air, water, and food, and perhaps shelter…signaling is incredibly important. As SAR ground crews approach, or helicopters pass nearby, how are you going to help them find you, and zero in on your precise location? They say that survivors help themselves, and assisting SAR with locating you might be the difference between being picked up now and a much longer overnight visit in the great outdoors.
My absolute favorite signaling device for the day is a true and professional signal mirror. These things really work, and on a bright and sunny day, you can reliably flash someone and get their attention out to 40 or more miles! There's even one story from World War II that one troop was able to signal a passing ship at over 100 miles. Any flat metal or reflective surface (like a smart phone) will also work, but they can be hard to aim, and not as focused. Trust me I’ve tried it with airborne assets looking for me, and it is difficult. The signal mirror makes aiming a cinch and with it you can precisely hit any target. My recommended mirror is one from Coghlans. It’s harder to find, but is Mil-Spec and actual glass and metal (as opposed to the plastic ones). It has a hole for tying off a string loop as well and is substantially more focused and accurate than some of the plastic ones out there, though those work okay too.
After that, laying out shapes on the ground or using those mylar blankets can all help get an airborne SAR team’s attention. Additionally, if you have a fire going, throwing some wet or live branches and leaves on the fire will make a ton of smoke, also very effective. Think “obvious” and always use color and contrast to help your position stand out to SAR forces. A whistle is also a good item to have for calling in nearby ground recovery teams.
Night signaling is a little more tricky. A flashlight can help, but the batteries can fail. What I like to use is an item we trained with in the F-16 called the “buzzsaw.” The buzzsaw is simply a chemical light stick tied onto the end of a three or four foot length of paracord. Spin it over your head and trust me, you will be seen. Most SAR forces are also employing NVGs as well. A buzzsaw can be seen by NVGs nearly five miles away.
The Survival Bag
My survival bag is pretty sweet. Easily found online, there are hundreds of option to choose from. I chose a simple single-sling design that can be easily carried, and I’ve even worn it in the cockpit. Red is my preferred color as I want it to be very visible and easily findable. Some of today's camouflage gear is pretty sweet too, but you risk losing it, and being visible in the field is the true name of the game when it comes to survival.
I try to keep my kit within arms reach in the cockpit, assuming I’ll need to egress the aircraft quickly after an off airport landing. Following the ‘landing’ my plan is to secure the fuel selector and aircraft battery, then grab the survival bag and run!
There are a lot of options out there for a survival bag. Find what works for you and what can easily carry all your gear, and remember, you might have to walk many miles with all that gear. Think about that when searching for the right carrying sack and planning out and selecting your gear.
Developing some field survival skills are an important part of any pilot’s training. Lacking that, a simple survival kit that you build and maintain can be an asset worth it’s weight in gold should the day arise when you need it.
There are literally hundreds of volumes published on outdoor survival, with their associated techniques and ideas. Far more than we have time to discuss here. What I hope is that you will also consider in your pilot training and flight preparation repertoire is putting together a simple survival pack. It just might be the edge you need when the chips are down, and be the best part of your emergency response plan for an aircraft accident.
by Nate "Buster" Jaros
Sigh…the E6-B. I’m sure you're thinking “really Buster, an article on the most useless antiquated thing in my flight bag?” I know, I know. But give me just one minute to explain, and maybe you’ll find that your E6-B should no longer be relegated to the bottom of your flight kit, or even just left at home. It actually has uses for pilots, and there’s a lesson in here too.
For those pilots reading that are just getting into aviation and “learning the ropes,” you may have been told to purchase one of these E6-B things by your instructor. Or perhaps you were given one by your flight school. Maybe? No? Do you know what I’m talking about?
The E6-B is a piece of old tech, that every pilot should at least be familiar with.
These days, is anyone even teaching and using the venerable E6-B anymore? It seems that with the advent of Garmin Pilot and ForeFlight Applications (or “Apps” as the kids say these days) that the old rusty and trusty E6-B that some of us, ahem… more experienced pilots… grew up with has often been brushed off as a tool of the past. Maybe it is no longer needed. These new fancy planning Apps and modern computers and software really do a fabulous job of aiding the pilot in mission planning and flight planning. I admit, I turn to my iPad and my App of choice when it’s time to plan a flight somewhere.
What Can it Do?
In case you don’t recall, there are a few things that the ole E6-B can do, once you dust off the dirt and candy bar bits stuck to it from years of flight bag slumber.
The most common purpose that I can remember from my early days of using the E6-B was solving time and speed problems. I admit, twisting the wheel on the backside of the metal tablet was always rewarding, but lining up various numbers, on various scales was always a bit troublesome too. If you’re like me, finding the right number was always difficult, though satisfaction was gained at times if you stuck it out. Anyone else ever plug in 100 knots groundspeed for a given distance and come up with a figure like 78? Yeah not very useful right, until you remembered you were solving for time and 78 was actually minutes. Oh! That’s going to take me one hour and 18 minutes. Oh, that makes sense. Stupid E6-B!
Okay, lets, be honest…solving time and distance problems on an E6-B can be a bit of a challenge. Where’s my calculator App?
What else does the E6-B do well? Honestly, some of the more simple functions on the various graduated scales around the perimeter the E6-B are great. There are easy to read and have logical scales for various conversions. Things like nautical miles to statute miles, a temperature conversion scale, and more. These things are actually quite useful, and they are simple to use. There is even a crosswind conversion chart and mine has a second crosswind grid area with pre-computed wind factors. Cool.
Also important, an easy-to-read flight plan filing checklist in case you decide while airborne that you need or want a flight plan in the system. I don’t know of any airborne methods of electronically filing a flight plan available to the GA pilot. You're going to have to call up the Flight Service guys. Additionally, next to this checklist are the Special Equipment suffixes, in case you forget that you’re probably a Slash G.
When I was teaching young student pilots how to fly the T-38, we had a very common discussion amongst the Instructor Pilots. We always wondered how many of the “bells and whistles” to let the next generation use in the cockpit.
You see, the T-38 I was teaching in was the T-38C. The “C” model has a fancy glass cockpit ADI/HSI, like a massive Aspen on steroids, with a keyboard-like interface as well. Hand-jamb in any identifier on the keypad and you were on your way. In addition, it had two navigational pointers on the HSI and a third INS driven pointer. The days of the fix-to-fix were going the way of the dinosaur. Additionally the ten inch color MFD display had all the airspace boundaries loaded into it, and the common low-level routes we used to train on as well. Navigating the T-38C was crazy easy.
Was it okay to let the average student use these new tricks and technology? Or was it better to have them “suffer” like we did with a simple TACAN receiver and HSI, and a map?
I’m quite certain that debate will rage on for centuries and our grandkids who become pilots will know nothing more than flying programmed magenta lines “in the system.” It’s worth thinking about however. Are you comfortable with the old methods of navigation?
The Venerable E6-B
Seriously, the E6-B is old technology. You can better use it as a makeshift chock for your nose wheel, or perhaps to fashion a cutting tool with, or some other survival instrument in the event you have a forced landing. Honestly, I don’t use the E6-B anymore, the modern technology is simply too accurate, and simple to use.
But if you’re a bit of a dinosaur like me, or perhaps a new student who wants to ensure there are no gaps in your knowledge-base…the E6-B is something important to have and use. Like a classic muscle car, there’s a soul in that old circular slide rule. Knowing how to use one not only sets you apart from the modern era of whiz-kid computer experts and technology, but it also gives you something to fall back on should your tablet or panel mounted GPS device decide to quit on you.
If you haven’t ever used an E6-B, grab one. They’re just a few bucks. Find the oldest CFI you can find and spend an hour drawing pencil lines on a chart and computing headings, groundspeed, and drift corrections. It’s useful “old school” pilot knowledge that will make you a better and safer pilot in the long run. Besides, busting out an E6-B makes you look like a rocket scientist to some of today’s hatchlings.
As old as it is, give it a try! The dinosaurs will thank you for it!
PS - The micro one there in the middle, is the one the USAF still issues today! Yep, there is a full class on the E6-B in Undergraduate Pilot Training.
Nate "Buster" Jaros
What is Engine Out? Relevant aviation topics, key safety techniques, war stories, and pilot tips from Fightersweep writer and the author of Engine Out Survival Tactics, Fighter Pilot Tactics for GA Engine Loss Emergencies.
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