|Unplanned landings in isolated areas could quickly become critical survival situations (opposite, left; bottom, right). Photo by Mike Hangge|
There are two types of survival gear that should be taken on every flight—the gear you pack in a sack and the gear you pack in your skull. While the gear you carry is essential, the training you have acquired is even more so. A trained survivalist wandering a frozen wasteland in Bermuda shorts is better equipped than an untrained person with a surplus of gear.
|Never forget you are never more than one low-fuel light from a survival situation.
Photo courtesy of James “Elvis” Costello
But survival training and gear are nothing more than insurance—you pay for them, hope you’ll never have to use them, but can’t imagine being without them when they are needed. Because of that, the value of a survival course or a kit far outreaches the initial cost—and everything comes with cost, whether it is measured in time, effort or money. Quality gear will also cost space and weight. But lack of preparation might be more costly. If unprepared, cost might not be measured in dollars or hours, but rather in life.
The value of quality training and gear cannot exceed the value you place on it. If you take classes and learn hard lessons, you’ll be better prepared for a difficult situation. If you take those same lessons and apply them to your core values, you’ll be prepared for any situation.
Although we all know that anything made to fly or float costs more than it should, the price of a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) class or a good knife is nothing compared to the cost of watching helplessly as you lose a friend. Whatever the case, here’s the painful truth: quality is hardly ever cheap, and cheap is hardly ever good enough when quality matters.
If you’re truly interested in quality training and in an opportunity to excel, then a trip to any military recruiter might be a worthwhile expedition. Then again, that might be a drastic solution to a simple problem. An easier method might be to do an Internet search for survival training, medical training or wilderness emergency medical technician (EMT) classes. Many schools offer classes that begin with simple CPR instruction and end with initials behind your name. Volunteer fire departments might be willing to exchange valuable training for your time, and there are hundreds of reputable survival schools around the world.
Medics and first responders are often willing to teach basic medical courses (given that the requisite legalities have been covered), and you might even be able to get deeper information about survival medicine for the cost of a case of beer or a meal. I recently attended a first responders class given by Andy Chiasson, a fantastic special-operations medic who focused on MARCH. MARCH stands for massive hemorrhage/bleeding, airway, respiration, circulation, head injuries and hypothermia (see the sidebar).
Though the acronym does not cover all aspects of medical care, the U.S. Army now uses MARCH in its Tactical Combat Casualty Care as the standard for providing care under fire. In the past few years, these methods were proven highly successful on the battlefield, with the percentage of preventable deaths dropping from about 24% to only 3%. That statistic is even more impressive considering those preventable deaths had not occured in sterile office environments, but rather in dusty areas with no lights except those from explosions and gunfire.
Of course, MARCH isn’t meant to necessarily save a life, just to prevent death until one can receive proper medical care. If you’ve been involved in a serious accident in a survival situation with injuries involved, following the steps of MARCH might allow you to help get the injured through the initial moments and provide you the valuable moments needed to recover from the shock of what just happened.
It is important that you do not practice any medical procedures for which you haven’t been trained. But with proper training, the life you save might be your own (or a loved one’s). In my most recent training, Andy said, “A solid mastery of the basics can sometimes be more valuable than all the fancy training.”
For the ultimate survival training, one suggestion would be Randall’s Adventure and Training in Gallant, Alabama. For nearly two decades, Jeff Randall, Mike Perrin and the other trainers there have been recognized leaders in U.S. and Latin American survival training.
They offer medical, jungle/woodland operations, land navigation and primitive training. Their Peruvian Amazon and American expeditions are specifically based around short-term, downed pilot scenarios and will teach skills such as how to navigate and travel through a jungle environment, make fires for cooking and signaling, build a shelter from the surrounding environment, prepare food from live animals and fish and build a personal raft to travel safely downstream.
Randall recommended to go “beyond your comfort level” when training. Perrin added that practice is necessary. “Like using a foreign language, the skills will fade if you don’t use them,” he said.
Eugene Burton Ely has been dubbed the father of naval aviation, but he might also be considered the father of aviation survival gear. On Nov. 14, 1910, Ely made the first successful takeoff from a naval vessel. On Jan. 18, 1911, he made the first landing on a different vessel. Through both flights, Ely wore a padded football helmet and bicycle tubes for flotation.
Ely’s flights represent the birth of aviation life-support equipment. Since those flights, the military has repeatedly emphasized the importance of aviation life-support gear.
In many ways, the American military has always stretched the boundaries of technology and equipment; aviation life-support gear is just one of those many stretches. It encompasses the vast spectrum of aviation equipment protecting military aviators prior to, during and after an aviation incident.
The military aviation life-support equipment programs provide lightweight, versatile and comprehensive kits capable of sustaining crew and passengers in most climates long enough for rescue teams to find them. For all tactical military flights, the crew is required to wear cotton undergarments, Nomex flight suits, flight gloves, survival vests and flight/crash helmets. The clothing will protect the aircrews against flash fires, the helmet against traumatic head injuries and the survival vest will sustain the individual aviator’s life for several days. Aircraft kits can sustain both the crew and passengers for much longer.
As military aviation grew, the gear used by military aviators also matured. In World War II, aircrews wore those great leather bomber jackets with “Blood Chits” sewn into the linings. Along with those jackets, some aviators also had Gold Barter Kits containing country-specific gold coins and rings that could be used to trade their way back into friendly hands.
By the beginning of the Vietnam War, military aviation survival kits were becoming more sophisticated and included important equipment such as canned water, food, fishing kits, signaling devices and even M1911 pistols.
|On Nov. 14, 1910, Eugene Burton Ely performed the first takeoff from a navy vessel while wearing a football helmet and looped bicycle tires for flotation. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy
Though the military has maintained some form of aviation life-support equipment since World War I, it has made the most tremendous strides forward during the last decades. Today’s military aviators have received years of valuable training in life-saving medical techniques and survival methods while carrying quality gear that is lightweight and extremely comprehensive. They are issued an array of impressive aviation life-support gear, such as cooled over-suits for hot environments, lightweight ballistic plates and extensive survival vests.
There are many companies that have great aviation life-support gear programs, but the military provides some of the most impressive equipment and training to their aircrews while backing that with the regulations and funding to require the equipping of both aircraft and personnel.
For those without an active life-support gear program, such as what major companies like PHI and the military provide, you must take on that responsibility for yourself. In this case, it might be best to emulate their rules and regulations to the extent that your budget and aircraft capabilities allow.
This is not to suggest that you simply don Aviator Ray Bans and recite cheesy “I’ve got the need… the need for speed” quotes, but that you consider wearing flame-resistant clothing or a survival vest or belt and equip your aircraft with enough gear to ensure you can weather the elements until rescue crews can locate you.
As with everything in life, moderation is key. Not enough gear could cost lives; too much gear could cost space and weight. Obviously, taking an arctic parka on a summer trip to the Bahamas is a needless expenditure of calories, but it is not difficult to carry a small flashlight, pen, paper, multi-tool and lighter.
If you are frugal or don’t fly enough to warrant an entirely separate aviation survival kit, a good suggestion might be to buy and pack gear that could double as auto and aviation kits. The gear needed is not entirely exclusive to either mode of transportation, and most of us park a motor vehicle before going out to fly the helicopter. At best, it might cost less than a tank of gas for enough gear to save your life. For the space of a small carry-on bag, you can have enough gear to provide medical support, make fire, eat, drink and live comfortably in nearly any environment for any length of time.
Some of us fly for fun and others for pay, some in small aircraft and others in powerfully capable crafts, some in shorts and others in full flight gear. Despite the many differences, we can all acknowledge that aviation is more than simply something we just do—it is an entire way of life. We think, act and plan differently than those who have never stretched into the skies to peer down upon the world below. Because of that, we are a family tied by the bonds of flight rather than the bonds of blood, and we have similarities that cannot (and should not) be denied. One of those similarities should be our shared desire to be prepared for any situation.
Never forget that you’re only one low-fuel light away from being thrust into a survival situation. Think of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571—only a third of its original passengers survived being lost for 72 days as they clung to their last strands of hope and humanity in the frozen Andes Mountains of South America. I’m sure every passenger would have gladly traded his or her carry-on for a simple ferrocerium fire starter and a box of Meals Ready to Eat.
Take some time to start thinking about how you can prepare today so that you might have a tomorrow. If you’re ready for anything, nothing can surprise you.
The newly painted MH-60 Jayhawk. Photos courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard / Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg
As part of the centennial celebration of U.S. Coast Guard aviation this year, the service has painted a Sikorsky Aircraft MH-60 Jayhawk bright yellow, the paint scheme used in the late 1940s and early 1950s for both Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy rotorcraft. It’s a brighter take on the USCG’s usual livery of orange and white. The commemorative aircraft will be stationed at Coast Guard Air Station Astoria, Oregon, for the next four years.
USCG aviation began officially on April 1, 1916, after 3rd Lt. Elmer Stone and 2nd Lt. Charles E. Sugden were assigned to aviation training at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida.
In a related development, Jan. 14 marked the 74th anniversary of the first flight of the Sikorsky R-4, the Coast Guard’s first helicopter and the world’s first production helicopter.