Emergency equipment and survival gear is essential for safety of flight for all soaring flights.
Survival Gear Checklists
Checklists help the pilot to assemble the necessary equipment in an orderly manner. The essentials for survival include reliable and usable supplies of water, food, and air or oxygen. Maintenance of an acceptable body temperature, which is difficult to manage in extreme cold or extreme heat, is also important. Blankets and appropriate seasonal clothing help to ensure safe body temperatures.
Food and Water
An adequate supply of water and food (especially high-energy foods such as energy bars, granolas, and dried fruits) are of utmost importance during cross-country flight. Water from ballast tanks can be used in an emergency if free of contaminants, such as antifreeze. Water and food should be available and easily accessible during the entire flight.
Pilots also need seasonal clothing that is appropriate to the local environment, including hat or cap, shirts, sweaters, pants, socks, walking shoes, space blanket, and gloves or mittens. Layered clothing provides flexibility to meet the demands of the environment. Desert areas may be very hot in the day and very cold at night. Prolonged exposure to either condition can be debilitating. Layered clothing traps air between layers, increasing heat retention. The parachute canopy can be used as an effective layered garment when wrapped around the body to conserve body heat or to provide relief from excessive sunlight. Eye protection, such as sunglasses, is more than welcome if conditions during the day are bright, as they often are on good soaring days.
Communication can be electronic, visual, or audible. Radios, telephones, and cell phones are electronic methods. Signal mirrors, flashlight or light beacons at night, signal fire flames at night, signal smoke during daylight hours, signal flares, and prominent parachute canopy displays are visual methods. Shouting and other noisemaking activities are audible methods but usually have very limited range. A whistle provides a good method for making sound.
Coin, cash, or credit cards are often necessary to operate pay phones. Charged batteries are required to operate cell phones, two-way radios, and emergency locator transmitters. Batteries are also necessary to operate flashlights or position lights on the glider for signal purposes. A list of useful telephone numbers aids rapid communication. The aviation transceiver can be tuned to broadcast and receive on the emergency frequency 121.5 MHz or any other useable frequency that elicits a response. The ELT can be used to provide a continuous signal on 121.5 MHz and/or the newer 406 MHz SAR system. A 406 MHz beacon on a downed aircraft activates either automatically or manually. The ELT transmits a digital identification code to the first satellite that comes into range. The satellites receive the signal and relay it to a ground station. If there is no ground station in view, the satellite records the digital signal in its onboard memory and downloads it to the next ground station. The ground station processor measures the Doppler shift of the signal and calculates its position; this calculation is usually accurate to within 1.5 nautical miles on the first satellite pass and is refined further with each pass. If the beacon has an integrated GPS or is connected into the onboard NAVCOM, the position is imbedded into the initial digital data stream.
After the ground station has completed processing, it transmits the identification and position to the United States Mission Control Center (USMCC). The USMCC attaches the information contained in the 406 MHz beacon registration database for that particular ELT and generates an alert message. If the location lies within the continental U.S., the alert is sent to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The AFRCC then takes the registration data and attempts to ascertain the aircraft’s disposition. By calling the emergency contact numbers, or by calling flight service stations with the N-number, they can quickly determine whether or not the aircraft is safe on the ground.
Since most activations are false alarms, the ability to resolve them over the phone saves the AFRCC (i.e., U.S. taxpayers) millions of dollars. More importantly, it saves SAR assets for actual emergencies. If the AFRCC in unable to verify the aircraft is safe on the ground, they launch a Search and Rescue mission. This normally involves assigning the search to the USAF Auxiliary Civil Air Patrol and may include requesting assistance from the local SAR responders or law enforcement personnel.
The unique digital code of each 406 MHz beacon allows it to be associated with a particular aircraft. The registration contains information, such as tail number, home airport, type and color of aircraft, and several emergency points of contact. This provides rapid access to flight plans and other vital information. This can speed the search effort and can be the difference between life and death.
The parachute canopy and case can be employed to lay out a prominent marker to aid recognition from the air by other aircraft. Matches and a combustible material can provide flame for visibility by night and provide smoke that may be seen during daylight hours.
Aviation charts help to navigate during flight and help pinpoint the location when an off-airport landing is made. Sectional charts have the most useful scale for cross-country soaring flights. Local road maps (with labeled roads) should be carried in the glider during all cross-country flights. Local road maps make it much easier to give directions to the ground crew, allowing them to arrive as promptly as possible. GPS coordinates also help the ground crew if they are equipped with a GPS receiver and appropriate charts and maps. Detailed GPS maps are commercially available and make GPS navigation by land easier for the ground crew.
Compact, commercially made medical or first aid kits are widely available. These kits routinely include bandages, medical tape, disinfectants, a tourniquet, matches, a knife or scissors, bug and snake repellent, and other useful items. Ensure that the kit contains medical items suitable to the environment in which the glider is operating. Stow the kit so it is secure from inflight turbulence but would be accessible to injured occupant(s)after an emergency landing, even if injured.
Stowing equipment properly means securing all equipment to protect occupants and ensuring integrity of all flight controls and glider system controls. Items carried on board must be secured even in the event that severe inflight turbulence is encountered. Items must also remain secured in the event of a hard or off-field landing. No item carried in the glider should have any chance of becoming loose in flight to interfere with the flight controls. Stowed objects should be adequately secured to prevent movement during a hard landing.
The parachute should be clean, dry, and stored in a cool place when not in use. It is imperative to keep the parachute free of contaminants to ensure the integrity the parachutes material. The parachute must have been inspected and repacked within the allowable time frame. The pilot is responsible for ensuring that the parachute meets with the required FAA inspection criteria.
Oxygen System Malfunctions
Oxygen is essential for flight safety at high altitude. If there is a suspected or detected failure in any component of the oxygen system, descend immediately to an altitude where supplemental oxygen is not essential for continued safe flight. Remember, the first sign of oxygen deprivation (hypoxia) is a sensation of apparent well-being. Problem-solving capability is diminished. If the pilot has been deprived of sufficient oxygen, even for a short interval, critical thinking capability has been compromised. Do not be lulled into thinking that the flight can safely continue at high altitude. Descend immediately and breathe normally at these lower altitudes for a time to restore critical oxygen to the bloodstream. Try to avoid hyperventilation, which prolongs diminished critical thinking capability. Give enough time to recover critical thinking capability before attempting an approach and landing.
For high altitude flights, such as a wave flight, the oxygen bailout bottle becomes a necessity. It should be in good condition and be within easy reach if a high altitude escape becomes necessary from the glider. Pilots need to be properly trained for an event requiring abandonment of a glider at a very high altitude, the use of oxygen, and proper use of a parachute at high altitudes.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) generates accident reports anytime a reportable soaring accident occurs. Any interested person can visit the website directly at www.ntsb.gov and look at the NTSB query database page to view summaries of both glider and towplane accidents. It is very important for all pilots to educate themselves on past accidents. In particular, they should look at the cause of the accident and how it could have been prevented. All too often accidents are caused from pilot error or equipment failure that, if trained and educated properly, the pilot could have reacted differently and saved a life, usually their own. The Soaring Safety Foundation is an excellent resource for pilots to educate themselves on glider safety and the website provides pilots with lessons learned information, as well as on-line safety learning. The Soaring Safety Foundation website is www.soaringsafety.org.