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  #1  
Old 12-25-2011, 04:24 PM
KC10Chief KC10Chief is offline
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: Edmond, OK
Posts: 44
Default Safety gear everybody should have!

I've read several threads on here recently about flying through remote areas, ditching into water, and other serious situations. I haven't seen many recent posts on survival gear so, I thought I'd throw my two cents in.

I started flying GA aircraft in 1996 in Oklahoma. I joined the Air Force and did some flying in Texas and New Jersey. These days, I live in Alaska and fly here. I also fly for the Air Force. I have been to several different survival courses. I have been to a water survival course in Florida, a combat / outdoor survival course in Washington state, and an arctic survival course near Fairbanks, Alaska. I'm by no means an expert but I did learn a lot. I found them a lot more useful for flying GA, than for flying a big Air Force jet where I likely wouldn't survive any kind of crash. HA! The course I learned the most from, was probably the arctic survival course in Fairbanks. It was a truly miserable experience. It was -40 degrees when I was out there and we stayed out there for three days, building shelters and fires, catching rabbits and other not fun stuff. None of these courses were fun at all. But I suppose that being stranded out in the wilderness wouldn't be either. I'm confident that I could survive out in the woods for a few days, even though it would totally suck.

Some of the things I took away from those courses that are good for GA flying, are some of the gear you need to survive. When I was flying in Oklahoma and New Jersey, this stuff wasn't too big of a deal. If you go down in one of those places and survive, you aren't far from help. Here in Alaska and other areas in the western US, that's not the case. When I fly, I bring quite a bit of survival gear with me. Especially in the winter. Some of them are common sense things. Others, are things most people don't think about. If you find yourself on the ground out in the middle of nowhere unexpectedly, your first priority is to be warm and dry. If you're wet, you need to get dry as fast as possible. If you start getting hypothermic, you're going to be in serious trouble. You'll start making bad decisions that will only worsen your situation. Get dry! You need shelter and water as well. You can live for weeks without food. You need to be warm, dry and hydrated. With these few items, you can do all of that.

In the back of the plane in a duffel bag, I carry a two man tent, wool blankets, Mountain House food, camping stove with a small propane canister, towel, water filter, water bottle, plastic tarp, etc. Mostly, it's the same stuff that I take with me when I go hiking plus a few extra items for passengers if I have them. I'd be pretty comfortable if I went down and had all of that stuff. However, there are a few items that I keep on my person at all times. They are the things that I'd absolutely want to have on me if I had to get out of the plane in a hurry and couldn't get the rest of my gear. For example, if the plane were on fire or it were sinking in a body of water. I'll cover those items.

In my opinion, the most important piece of survival gear that I have, is my combat survival knife. Forget the combat part. Just think of it as a survival knife. If you're looking for one on the internet, most of them will be called combat survival knives or bolt knives. These things are extremely useful. You can chop a tree down with one if you need to. They are excellent for splitting wood. If you have a log, put the knife on the end of it and hit it with another log to split it. These are tough knives and built for the abuse. The knife I have, is a Cold Steel SRK. It is a 6" fixed blade knife. I think I paid about $60 for it. It's a simple yet very tough knife. You can clean an animal with it, make a spear with it, and do anything else a knife is good for. If I had to get dropped off out in the middle of nowhere and could only have one piece of gear, this would be it.


The next few items are all of equal importance I feel. The first is a magnesium fire starter. If I crashed down somewhere and found myself all wet, my immediate priority would be to get a fire going. I'll start a forest fire if I have to! Forest fires are good for helping somebody find you too! If I had ALL of my gear, I'd simply use my camp stove to get a fire going. It's a piece of cake. But it's a little bulky to carry all of that stuff on my person. So, I have a magnesium fire starter. It's super simple to use. Basically, you scrape the steel blade down the magnesium shaft. It makes a lot of hot sparks that you can use to light some kindling on fire with. Birch bark, witches beard, dry leaves, etc. Matches and a lighter will get a fire going too, but they are not as reliable. Using this thing, isn't much more difficult than using a lighter anyways. It will work when it's soaking wet. I also carry a film canister with cotton balls soaked in Vaseline inside. They are very easy to light on fire and make a good kindling starter. The starter that I have, is this one sold at REI. You can find them just about anywhere. Even Wal-Mart sells one.


Another very handy item is a folding saw. Gerber makes one that most people are familiar with. It's a bit over priced in my opinion. I use a Corona 10" folding saw. They cost about $10 and can be found in the gardening section at Lowe's. I like the curved blade on it. It's easy to use and is very light weight. Obviously, it's for sawing up logs. You can eventually hack them up with your survival knife, but this works a lot better. I would find a 3 to 4" dead tree out in the woods. Something that's still standing, but obviously dead. Birch, Pine or Aspen. These trees are common in the areas where you might find yourself far from help. You don't want one that's laying down as it is absorbing more water. Find one that's still standing, but dead. You can stab your knife into it and see if it's wet under the bark or if it's splintering up when you pry a chunk out. If it's dry, saw it down and saw it into logs. Then, use your survival knife to split it. Just hit the knife with another log. This saw is excellent and cuts logs very quickly.


The next item I keep on my person, is a good pocket knife. Personally, I carry a CRKT (Columbia River) M-16-13T. I think it was about $60 as well. It's all metal and has a 3.5" blade that is partially serrated. I use this knife for all sorts of things. Any good quality pocket knife will do. I'd get a 3 to 4" blade. A pocket knife like this has a much sharper angle on the blade than your combat knife has. If you've sawed up and split some logs, you can use this to cut little shavings off of the log if you don't have any other kindling. If it's wet outside where you are, your kindling might all be soaking wet. Your best bet might be to cut some shavings off of the dried wood you chopped up. It's also a lot easier to handle when cutting smaller things.


Another extremely useful item, is some 550 cord. You might hear it called parachute cord or paracord as well. You can find all different types. It can be ordered on Amazon, from REI or found at an Army surplus store. You can use it to tie up tarps for a shelter, to collect water, use it to tie logs together for a shelter, etc. You can make snares out of it to catch a rabbit or something too. I carry 100 feet on my person and another 300 feet in my bag in the back. There are all sorts of uses for this stuff and there's a ton of videos on YouTube about making shelters and what not.

Last edited by KC10Chief : 12-25-2011 at 04:32 PM.
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  #2  
Old 12-25-2011, 04:24 PM
KC10Chief KC10Chief is offline
 
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Another item I recently started flying with on my person, is a personal locator beacon (PLB). In a remote area, you might not be able to count on anybody hearing your ELT. Some ELTs send signals to search and rescue through satellites these days but if your plane is underwater, on fire, or the antenna is trashed, it's going to be useless to you. Even if it is working, that doesn't mean that anybody will hear it. I hear ELTs all the time here in Alaska. Never on the ground. Only when I'm actually in the air. I carry an ACR Electronics SARLink 406 GPS and keep it on me. If I'm pinned in the airplane, I could activate it and toss it on the dash. It's very easy to use. Open the antenna and press the red button. This doesn't come with a lot of frills like the SPOT does, but it's a lot better product in my opinion. I've read too many reviews about SPOT being unreliable or they break. This isn't a problem you want to have if you're stranded or injured somewhere. You want something that's going to work and can take some abuse. It's water proof too. You can still pay a subscription and send the "I'm Okay" messages, but the main purpose of this thing is to save your bacon if you need it. It won't do the flight tracking like SPOT will. SPOT is okay for that stuff. I wouldn't trust my life to one though. This thing is $500. They have cheaper versions as well that are a little less than $300. But it sends your GPS coordinates to a satellite and then to the corresponding rescue center. You register it with NOAA. I guess you have to do the same thing with SPOT. SPOT would definitely be better than nothing at all, but in my opinion, the ACR is a much better product. A friend of mine was on an elk hunting trip on Raspberry Island a few months ago. Raspberry Island is a remote Island in the Kodiak Island Archipelago. A bush plane dropped him off and wasn't coming back to get him for a week. Long story short, the weather turned bad and he got wet. He couldn't get a fire going and could not warm up. After a full day of that and feeling like he wanted to strip all of his clothes off, he had the good sense to push that button. Less than two hours after he pushed the button, the Coast Guard was there loading him onto their rescue helicopter. It definitely saved his life. By the time they got him back to Kodiak, he had warmed up some but his core temperature was still 91 degrees. It was still in the low 50's outside at that time too! The worst temperatures are the mid 30s to 50s. I'd rather be stranded in 20 degree weather than 50 degree weather any day. The beacon saved his life. $500 isn't a lot to pay for your life, in my opinion.


These are all good items to have. It's kind of annoying to have all of that on your person. If I were flying in Oklahoma, I'd fly in shorts and a T-shirt. You don't need this stuff out there. Here in Alaska and many areas out west, these things are a good idea. Especially in the winter. Here in Alaska, the snow in some of the remote areas is so deep, it would take you all day to move a half mile. You'd be dead in less than 24 hours up here. Unless there is some sort of immediate danger where you are at, your best bet is almost always to stay put! Don't move. If you have the resources you need to survive, stay there. When I fly in remote places, I always wear some sort of water proof foot wear. I wear my hiking boots pretty much year round up here. I would never ever consider wearing tennis shoes any time of year here. Keeping your feet dry is very important. I also fly while wearing my coat and keep my gloves and sock hat nearby.

Even if you don't know how to use all of these things or all of the things you can do with your survival knife or whatever, it's still good to have them. If you found yourself stranded somewhere, I guarantee you, you'd figure it out! A couple other things that wouldn't be a bad idea, are a roll up canteen. Basically, it's a heavy duty plastic bag that you can roll closed and it's water tight. Also, iodine tablets for sterilizing the water you collect. Whether it's melted snow or collected from a stream, you'll want it to be clean! Drinking water that you collected in the wild can make you deathly ill.

Hopefully, you'll never be in one of these situations. Perhaps I've lived in Alaska too long and seen and heard too many horror stories. Excellent pilots survive crashes here and then die from exposure because they weren't prepared and didn't know what to do to survive. Even in the summer. Your airplane is providing you with a tiny little environment that is making it comfortable for you to survive as you pass through a much bigger and much more hostile environment. It's a great big world though when you find yourself outside the protection of your cockpit. You might have a PLB, but that's no guarantee if nobody can come get you! Perhaps you went down due to weather! If you can't fly your RV in it, chances are, nobody else can either. These things don't cost a lot of money other than the PLB. They're lightweight and can be carried on your person. The inconvenience and cost are minor compared to the payoff if you ever need them. All of the gear I take with me, even though some of it is a little bit overkill, is about 35 pounds all together. That's not a problem for just about any airplane. If you fly in remote areas, spend a couple hundred bucks one some of these things. It might save your life.

Last edited by KC10Chief : 12-25-2011 at 04:36 PM.
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  #3  
Old 12-25-2011, 04:57 PM
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frankh frankh is offline
 
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Default Thanks

I really appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise in this area.

I must admit I need to do a little better in this area.. I carry the PLB and my Wife is briefed on its use before every XC flight.

The idea is if were are going down she sets off the PLB while still airbourne and it is tied off in tha airplane. Just seems highly likely that one or both of us would be knocked unconcious is an unplanned landing out in the boonies..

It just seems to provide a little extra insurance.

Cheers

Frank
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Old 12-25-2011, 06:43 PM
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Excellent information, Matt.
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Old 12-25-2011, 07:51 PM
KC10Chief KC10Chief is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by frankh View Post
I really appreciate you taking the time to share your expertise in this area.

I must admit I need to do a little better in this area.. I carry the PLB and my Wife is briefed on its use before every XC flight.

The idea is if were are going down she sets off the PLB while still airbourne and it is tied off in tha airplane. Just seems highly likely that one or both of us would be knocked unconcious is an unplanned landing out in the boonies..

It just seems to provide a little extra insurance.

Cheers

Frank
Aah, yes. I forgot to mention that. I always brief my passengers on how to use the PLB even though it is extremely simple. Open the antenna, press the button, and give it as clear of a view of the sky as possible. Especially kids that are in the plane. I show them where it is in my coat or where ever. It's not outside the realm of possibility that the front passengers are knocked out and the ones in the back aren't. Kids are a little tougher as well.

I've thought about whether or not I would activate it in flight. Here's my thoughts: When you press the red button, it powers up the PLB and starts to get a GPS lock on your location. Once it has that info, it then starts working on getting a signal out to a satellite. That takes a few minutes. When I fly XC, I'm usually 2,500 to 3,500 AGL. That gives me about three or four minutes or so before I'm on the ground in an engine out situation. If I were to activate it in flight, it might not have time to get a signal out before landing. In a crash, if it flew off somewhere or sank in some water, it's not going to work. However, it continues to send out a signal every few minutes and updates your location. So, what I think I'd do in that situation, is activate the PLB in flight and then stick it back in my pocket. Even though the antenna is down, it's better than nothing. I'd hit my ELT switch as soon as possible too. Once on the ground, I'd get it back out and let it see the sky.

My friend that was hypothermic out on Kodiak island, hit the PLB when he was about four miles from camp. He didn't know anything about the PLB as it was borrowed. It doesn't really give you any confirmation that it's doing anything other than a blinking light. Once he activated it, he folded the antenna up and stuck it back in his backpack. He then hiked the four miles back to camp in the two hours that the Coast Guard was tracking him down. They first flew to the spot where he had originally activated the PLB and were able to see that he was on the move. This is while the thing is in his back pack too. When he got back to camp, he threw the whole thing in his tent and the Coast Guard still came to his exact location. Matter of fact, there is a show that comes on the Weather Channel called Coast Guard Alaska. It's one of those reality / documentary type shows where they follow the Coast Guard guys around Alaska and film some of their rescues. They just happened to be filming his rescue and the episode aired a few weeks ago. This guy is one of the smartest people I know and he and his hunting partner made a few bad decisions that got them in trouble. He tells me that he doesn't even remember much of it. He thought he was fine and wanted to take his clothes off! Anyways, here's a clip from their part of the episode, in case anybody is interested.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqnOctAOmok
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  #6  
Old 12-25-2011, 08:02 PM
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rv9av8tr rv9av8tr is offline
 
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Default survival

I agree, thanks for your insight! The 406 ELT's now require the remote activation switch in the cockpit. Once you know you are going down, turn the ELT on right then and there, while the plane is still flying. It only needs about 30 sec to hit the SAR satellites.
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Old 12-26-2011, 12:49 AM
KC10Chief KC10Chief is offline
 
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Hey! I forgot something that could be pretty important to you. A light! While not as critical as the above items IMO, it's still pretty useful. A regular flashlight is better than nothing, but a headlamp is what you really want! If you go down somewhere and it starts to get dark or it IS dark, it's going to make your problems worse. If you're trying to get a fire going or build a shelter, you'll want to have both hands free. I keep an Energizer LED light in my coat pocket. It has a head strap on it. They also make the LED lights that clip on to a hat bill if you like wearing hats. I hate hats. Anyways, anything like that would be great to have. You can get an Energizer LED lamp at Wally World for $15 to $20. Mine takes AAA batteries and is supposed to last about 50 hours. LED is definitely what you want. They're small, durable, bright and drain batteries very slowly. Much slower than a regular bulb will.

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Old 12-26-2011, 02:51 AM
Sig600 Sig600 is offline
 
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Most important piece of safety gear...

An instrument rating.
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Old 12-26-2011, 03:29 AM
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GusBiz GusBiz is offline
 
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One of the elements that most people miss (deliberately) is all of that needs to be practiced. I don't mean once a week, just once would be better than buying the kit and thinking your all good even thought its never even left the wraping.

Having served in the Australian Military its not as easy to use it all if your injured, dehyrated, confused or just totally pumped to the eye balls with adrenaline you are going to be served well with remembering how you do it, rather than figuring out how you do it, from scratch. Let alone in the dark, while raining, freightened etc...

Go out, just once and use your equipment, saw a branch, cut a small tree down with your combat knife (yes you can do that, its easier than you think) try putting up a hoochie (shelter) in a barren area like a desert, it takes a little nack and once you have done it you will be proud as punch with yourself and you could save your life by doing it.
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Last edited by GusBiz : 12-26-2011 at 03:31 AM.
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Old 12-26-2011, 04:02 AM
KC10Chief KC10Chief is offline
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sig600 View Post
Most important piece of safety gear...

An instrument rating.
Excellent advice. If not an IFR rating, at least a good understanding of flying in IMC conditions and what you should do if you suddenly find yourself in the soup.

Quote:
Originally Posted by GusBiz View Post
One of the elements that most people miss (deliberately) is all of that needs to be practiced. I don't mean once a week, just once would be better than buying the kit and thinking your all good even thought its never even left the wraping.

Having served in the Australian Military its not as easy to use it all if your injured, dehyrated, confused or just totally pumped to the eye balls with adrenaline you are going to be served well with remembering how you do it, rather than figuring out how you do it, from scratch. Let alone in the dark, while raining, freightened etc...

Go out, just once and use your equipment, saw a branch, cut a small tree down with your combat knife (yes you can do that, its easier than you think) try putting up a hoochie (shelter) in a barren area like a desert, it takes a little nack and once you have done it you will be proud as punch with yourself and you could save your life by doing it.
This is true. It's easy to read about it, but the practice is a bit different. I'll take my son out occasionally and show him how to use a bolt knife, or chop wood or start a fire, build a shelter, etc. I'm nowhere near as fast as a survival expert, but I'll get er' done eventually! Don't just practice it, teach somebody else! Especially if it's somebody that flies with you all the time.

By the way, if you watch that survival guy, Bear Grylls, he sucks. He's a total tool bag. That's shock TV. Some of the stuff that he shows you on his show, would likely get you killed in real life, out in the wild.
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