Friday, May 9, 2008

Summer Survival

Okay, it's the time of year where everyone dusts off the cobwebs and takes to the air. We have current charts, we've done our T&G's until we feel like we won't scare ourselves, or our passengers. So, what's left?

Looking back to the loss of Steve Fossett, I wonder if he survived the crash, yet succumbed to the desert. We are all great pilots and the odds of crashing are minute....but.

Humans can live for weeks or even months without food (maybe a year in my case [wink]), Humans are hard-pressed to go 3 days in summer heat without water. At 8.3370 pounds per gallon and hoping for enough water to potentially last for weeks, I would have to offload passengers, fuel or baggage. Not always an option. So, how can I get water? I've spent a lot of time in the desert Southwest and can attest that a solar still works and the components weigh in at a few ounces.

So, water is taken care of...what's next? Food. Now before you start packing in those packs of Oberto® Beef Jerky, think about this: Jerky = salted protein. Yes, you want some salt, but protein digestion requires vast quantities of water (we crashed in the desert, remember?). The foods that you want are fats, sugars, starch and a bit of salt. I find that dehydrated fruits are a great source of energy, weigh little and travel well. For pure energy, nothing can beat a Snickers® Bar for packed calories and fat with a bit of sodium and protein. Only downside is the melt factor.

Let's see...water, food. What's next? How about fixing any injuries to ourselves or our passengers. Is our first aid kit going to do it? I worked many years as a Trauma Tech and I can tell you that band aids and a bit of Neosporin® won't be worth @#%! in a major accident. What do you have in your first aid kit to stop REAL bleeding? I wanted something compact, sterile, individually wrapped with something to tie around an affected limb and it had to be absorbent. Hmmmm....Viola! Maternity pads fit every criteria. For those going “EWWWwww”, think back to Vietnam and the field dressings. Basically a maternity pad in army green...No? These pads are cheap ($44.99 for a case of 288 works out to a little over 15¢ each) and you could split the case among other flying friends. Last, always carry a Leatherman-type tool with you. A knife is a wonderful survival tool, but the pliers can be used to break off parts of the airplane. Longerons make a great splint.

Even though we are stuck in the desert, the nights can become bitterly cold and there is still no substitute for a space blanket. I must admit, as I've aged and the weight of sleeping bags have come down, my space blanket is augmented with the sleeping bag. A very light summer bag can become a 3-season bag with the addition of the space blanket.

Next I want to signal rescuers. A few options here. Fire works, but if I'm out in dry scrub, I would really hate to start a major range fire. You quit smoking and don't carry matches or lighters anymore. Good for you. But, what do you do for a fire? You have all of the tools right on your plane. A few lengths of wire and your plane's battery will work pretty well. For those of you who want a bit “more power” (insert testosterone grunts here), put a bag of fine steel wool in your survival kit. Take a piece of steel wool as big as your fist and pull and twist two “arms” on opposite sides to a length of about 12”. Place your kindling on top of the steel wool and connect your wires to the ends of the protruding arms. Touch the wires to the battery terminals and instant fire. It can become quite bright with a fully charged battery and the flash may be enough to signal help. If you don't believe that steel wool burns, take some ØØØ steel wool from your shop and touch a 9 volt battery to the wool. What if fire is too risky? Those CD's you listen to make excellent reflectors and you can use the center hole to aim the reflection. I carry a 5mw green laser that will shine to about 20,000 feet. No, I do not want to shine it in the cockpit, but it leaves a visible “track” that can be shone ahead of the aircraft flying overhead.

Finally, what doomed Steve Fossett was that he failed to file a flight plan. He was only going for a local flight and they have yet to find him. ALWAYS file a flight plan and hopefully you'll use little of your emergency kit. But, take it along, just in case.

Safe flying.

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