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.
by Nate "Buster" Jaros
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is deadly, period. It's odorless and colorless. While flying along, you might feel a little headache coming on, maybe some confusion or tiredness...and before you know it you and your passengers are incapacitated. It's a real threat in today's aging (and new) GA fleet. It's an insidious killer.
Our friends at Bold Method have an outstanding article here if you want to know more. But I'm sure you already know the dangers of CO poisoning, and if you're thinking those little paper colored disks are going to help you...think again. I've found some research and user testimonials that say they don't, or don't work so well. They also lose effectiveness over time sitting in your hot cockpit.
One of the best features of this little device is...it's little! I love it, and the fact that it can sit on my panel where I can see it easily. It doesn't take up much real estate, but it's effective in doing it's job well despite that size.
What's also interesting is that the Pocket CO detector will trigger an alarm at three different intervals depending on what levels of CO it detects. These trigger at 50, 125, and 400 ppm with 50 ppm being the maximum permissible OSHA workplace CO exposure level. Smart. I "ops check" mine every so often by placing it near my car exhaust, and it goes bonkers! Ops check good!
I know it's a little pricey, but your health and safety are worth it, aren't they?...at least that's how I justified it to my wife :-) But honestly, if you're into safety like me, you can't put a price on that.
If you're looking for a simple and effective CO detector for your cockpit, the Pocket CO is a great way to go, and I think it's the best!
by Nate "Buster" Jaros
I keep seeing threads and discussions asking "what is the best product to help remove scratches from my aircraft plexiglass?" I even had a hangar neighbor ask me this very question the other day. It seems that folks just don't know what products are safe as well as effective.
Well the BEST stuff in my opinion is this goo called NOVUS. I have been using it for years on my Bonanza's plexi and even wingtip lenses. Any plexiglass really!
I need to get some before and after photos, and put them on this blog section, but the stuff really works. I've heard of a few guys getting crazy with the stuff and orbital or machine polishers, and damaging their aircraft windows. Obviously, any kind of mechanical polisher can do damage, regardless of the product you use on it...so just be smart, and careful. I did my old hazy, and scratched windows by hand. It took some time, but the results were worth it.
It's a 3-step process (kinda like coarse sand paper, medium grit sand paper, and fine sand paper.) And it really works! Give it a try, you can't damage anything if you do it by hand and use some elbow grease. I think one of the below kits has some cloths that come with it, but any cotton cloth will suffice, just make sure it's clean and dirt-free.
I used this stuff on my windows as well as some tinted G&D window inserts that reside in my plane. Man did it all work great! The Novus products really got rid of the coarse scratches and the medium and fine stuff too, while also just cleaning up years of dirt and grime and wear. I'd even go so far as to say that some of the haziness that is really common in the old plexi was removed. The milky-ness too.
I hope you'll give this Novus a shot next time you need to revitalize your plexiglass, or work out any scratches. I think you'll be impressed.
by Nate "Buster" Jaros
Hey all. Just a quick post as my first post. I wanted to give some "props" to a piece of killer pilot gear that you NEED! I used this very item in the F-16, and I still fly with it today. It's a pilot Kneeboard from FlyBoys...and honestly, it rocks!
Most military fighter guys are flying with these things, and in the F-16 community, the FlyBoys kneeboard is the preferred brand. Most of us loaded them up with checklists, In-flight-guides, and clear plastic sleeves full of useful information...like the Bonanza Smart Guide with key numbers and facts mentioned in Engine Out Survival Tactics and available here on my webpage. I load my kneeboard up with Bonanza specific items, checklists, and even some Emergency Procedure checklists and quick reference numbers...as well as some reminders for how to operate the ever-confusing G430/530 avionics. ;-)
Check it out! If you're looking for a great pics of cockpit hardware that most fighter guys use, and that consolidates your information perfectly...look no further. Check them out here on Amazon!
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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