- ISSUE 3/2006
- Insert from the Director General of Civil Aviation
- Copyright and Credits
- Dangerous Goods Carried in Toolboxes
- Guest Editorial
- To the Letter
- Recently Released TSB Reports
- Accident Synopses
- Maintenance and Certification
- Flight Operations
- Regulations and You
- CASS 2007 Call for Papers
- Civil Aviation Contact Information
- Full HTML Version
- PDF Version
- Obstacle Clearance During Takeoff
- Flight Following
- There's the Aerodrome Beacon And
- Power Parachute Steering Line/Riser Wrapped on Outrigger Arm
- It Won't Happen to You, of Course…But What if it Does?
A failure to understand some of the important aspects of aircraft performance can have a tremendous impact on flight safety. It is not hard to imagine a situation where a lack of aircraft performance knowledge could have catastrophic consequences.
Let's assume that you are the Captain of a Transport Category jet aircraft that is about to depart from Québec City on a flight to Europe. Tonight your aircraft will be very heavy. You are carrying a full load of passengers and are tankering extra fuel. The weather is 300 ft overcast, 1 mile in rain showers. As you taxi to position on Runway 06, you review the Québec Two Departure again: “Climb to ‘BV' NDB then track 064° outbound...” maintain 4 000 ft.
You advance the thrust levers and the aircraft accelerates down the runway. Your First Officer calls “V1,” then“rotate” and you smoothly pitch the nose up. As the aircraft lifts into the night sky, your First Officer advises, “positive rate,” and you reply, “gear up.”
Just after you become airborne, the No. 2 engine fails. Instinctively, you apply rudder to control the yaw and adjust your pitch attitude. You fly the aircraft smoothly and precisely. Your many years of training appear to be paying off. It flies just like the simulator, you quietly think to yourself.
As per your company's standard operating procedures (SOP), you engage the autopilot, select heading mode and call for the engine failure drill. You continue to follow the Québec Two Departure: “Climb to ‘BV' NDB then track 064° outbound...” As your First Officer proceeds with the drill, the ground-proximity warning system suddenly barks:“Too low, terrain.” This can't be right, you think, as your heart races. Your eyes dart to the vertical speed indicator. It indicates that you are in a steady climb. But the radar altimeter only shows 100 ft-and it is decreasing rapidly. You have no time left to understand what is happening.
How could this occur? Why would an aircraft that is being flown smoothly and precisely impact the ground? Aren't Transport Category aircraft supposed to have sufficient climb performance-even with an engine failure? Isn't obstacle clearance guaranteed if we fly the published instrument departure procedure? Most importantly, how can we ensure that an accident like this doesn't actually happen? These are important questions. In answering them, we'll review some of the important issues of aircraft performance.
It is vitally important for pilots and air operators to realize that the obstacle clearance provided by a published instrument departure procedure is based on all-engine aircraft performance. Following a published instrument departure procedure will not necessarily guarantee obstacle clearance following an engine failure.
To begin, we must understand the obstacle clearance requirements for published instrument departure procedures. These can be found in Transport Canada publication TP 308, Criteria for the Development of Instrument Procedures. TP 308 states that an obstacle clearance plane, with a slope of 152 ft/NM, is required. Aircraft must remain above the obstacle clearance plane and are expected to maintain a climb gradient of 200 ft/NM. In the event that an obstacle penetrates the normal obstruction clearance plane, a climb gradient greater than 200 ft/NM is specified. This is the case in Québec City on runway 30, where aircraft are expected to climb at least 290 ft/NM.
It is vitally important for pilots and air operators to realize that the obstacle clearance provided by published instrument departure procedures is based on all‑engine aircraft performance. In the event of an engine failure, the aircraft may not be able to achieve the required climb performance. Following a published instrument departure procedure will not necessarily guarantee obstacle clearance following an engine failure.
The aircraft's climb performance with an engine inoperative may not meet the obstacle clearance requirements provided in published instrument departure procedures.
The regulations require airline operators to limit weight during takeoff so that the aircraft will clear all obstacles during takeoff-even with a failure of the most critical engine. Subsection 705.57(1) of the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs), Net Take-off Flight Path, specifies that, “No person shall conduct a take-off in an aeroplane if the weight of the aeroplane is greater than the weight specified in the aircraft flight manual as allowing a net take-off flight path that clears all obstacles by at least 35 ft vertically or at least 200 ft horizontally within the aerodrome boundaries, and by at least 300 ft horizontally outside those boundaries.” (The “net take-off flight path” is the aircraft's actual or “gross flight take-off flight path”-that was determined through flight testing-decreased by a margin. For two-engine aircraft, the gradient is reduced by 0.8 percent. This margin is intended to account for less-than-perfect pilot technique and slight degradations in aircraft performance.)
Airlines comply with this regulation by considering the obstacles in the take-off path and verifying that their aircraft will clear all obstacles by the required margin. In addition to obstacles, this analysis considers all of the factors that could affect the takeoff: the characteristics of each individual runway-including the slope, pressurealtitude, ambient temperature and wind component. This information is used to produce special charts that are known as Airport Analysis Charts. (Some air operators refer to their Airport Analysis Charts as WAT Charts.)
Airport Analysis Charts specify the maximum allowable weights for takeoff under various conditions. This data is based on the aircraft following a specified engine-out path during the takeoff. The airline may choose to follow the published instrument departure procedure or they may choose a straight-out path, along the extended runway centreline, as their standard engine-out flight path.
In some cases, because of high terrain or other obstacles, following the published instrument departure procedure or a straight out path will not provide the required obstacle clearance following an engine failure. In these cases, “special” engine-out departure procedures-that allow obstacles to be avoided laterally-are provided. These special procedures include a turn (or a series of turns), as well as the specific headings or tracks that must be flown in order to avoid obstacles.
In our fictional engine failure during takeoff that we discussed earlier, the aircraft ran into the high terrain that is northeast of the ‘BV' NDB. This could have been prevented if the proper engine-out path-on which the Airport Analysis Chart was based-had been followed. This special engine-out procedure required the aircraft to turn right at the ‘BV' NDB, so that the obstacles could be avoided. (Instead we followed the published instrument departure procedure.)
It is important to understand which procedure has been used to establish the engine-out departure path. If an engine failure occurs, flight crews must know whether they should follow the published instrument departure procedure, fly straight-out on the runway heading, or follow a “special” engine-inoperative procedure.
Weight must be limited so that the net take-off flight path will clear all obstacles by at least 35 ft vertically (CAR 705.57). The“net take-off flight path” is the aircraft's actual or “gross flight take-off flight path”-that was determined through flight testing-decreased by a margin that is intended to account for less-than-perfect pilot technique and slight degradations in aircraft performance.
Increasing the altitude for level acceleration and flap retraction (extending the second segment of climb) is another method that is used to ensure obstacle clearance. Pilots must know if the engine-out procedure requires this technique. In addition, if a special engine-out procedure has a turn (or a series of turns), pilots should know whether they should delay flap retraction until after completion of the turn. (This is because of the effect of acceleration on turn radius.)
In an emergency, pilots are authorized to deviate from published instrument departure procedures in order to ensure obstacle clearance with an inoperative engine. (An emergency should be declared as soon as practicable, so that air traffic control is alerted and can take appropriate action.) These special engine-out procedures allow airlines to carry profitable payloads, and still comply with the engine-inoperative obstacle clearance requirements of CAR 705.57, Net Take-off Flight Path.
When obstacles such as high terrain are a factor, it is important to have a way out should an engine fail. Properly-designed engine-inoperative take-off procedures will ensure that the aircraft is able to achieve a safe altitude. These procedures should terminate with the aircraft at minimum radar vectoring altitude, minimum sector safe altitude or 100-mile safe altitude. The obstacle clearance requirements for takeoff described in CAR 705.57, Net Take-off Flight Path, must be complied with until the en route obstacle clearance criteria of CAR 705.58, Enroute Limitations with One Engine Inoperative, can be met. Net take-off obstacle clearance requirements do not always end at 1 500 ft above ground level (AGL) or at an arbitrary distance from the runway.
A diversion to an alternate airport due to poor weather or a medical emergency can pose unique challenges. In addition to having correct take-off data for airports that are normally used by the airline, it is recommended that arrangements be made for obtaining take-off data in the event of an unscheduled diversion. Pilots and dispatchers should know how to obtain accurate take-off data-which properly assesses obstacles-when an aircraft has had to make an unscheduled landing at an unfamiliar airport.
Good airmanship requires us to expect the unexpected. To fly safely, we must anticipate what can go wrong-and develop a plan. The engine-out departure paths, on which the Airport Analysis Charts are based, provide a plan that allows airlines to take off at heavy weights, while still ensuring obstacle clearance in the event of an engine failure.
TP 308, Criteria for the Development of Instrument Procedures
CAR 705.57, Net Take-off Flight Path
CAR 705.58, Enroute Limitations with One Engine Inoperative
TP 12772, Aeroplane Performance
Prior to joining Transport Canada, Captain Kostecka worked as a pilot and instructor for several Canadian airlines. He has flown over 12000 hr and holdsa Class 1 Flight Instructor Rating as well as type ratings on the A320, A330, A340, B757, B767, CRJ, DHC-8 and B-25.
The Transport Canada Aeronautical Information Manual (TC AIM), RAC 5.7, calls it “en route radar surveillance.” Most pilots and controllers I talk to, call it “flight following.” Whatever you call it, it's a service available to VFR pilots, and making use of it means that the air traffic controllers in the area control centres (ACC) are watching over your flight through the use of radar.
If you're on a VFR cross-country flight, the progress of your flight is monitored by flight information centres (FIC) for alerting services, normally done through position reports. However, if you're within radar coverage, you can call ATC and ask for radar flight following as an additional service. In this article, we'll talk about the benefits of radar flight following service, its limitations, and what's expected of you when you make that call.
First things first. If you don't have a transponder, ATC won't be able to watch your flight outside of terminal areas. The reason is that many radars across the country are secondary surveillance radar (SSR)-only, a lot like the traffic alert and collision avoidance system (TCAS). If your flight takes place outside of radar coverage, you won't be able to take advantage of this service. Your altitude and terrain must be taken into account when thinking about radar coverage. If you're behind a mountain, or simply too low, ATC won't be able to see you. The TC AIM contains more information in RAC 1.9 about where transponders are required, their operation, as well as a diagram giving you an idea of where radar coverage extends in Canada.
Another basic requirement, of course, is a radio. You'll need the radio to make the request for flight following. And once on the ATC's frequency, you're expected to remain there. It is understood that you may have other radio calls to make, including mandatory frequency (MF) calls, updates to flight plans and so forth. If you must leave the ATC's frequency, make sure you let them know that you'll be off the frequency and how long you expect to be away. Far too many pilots make the request for flight following, are radar identified, and then leave the frequency. ATC can't provide you with traffic information if you're not listening.
When being provided with flight following, ATC will provide information on known IFR and VFR traffic operating in your area. Navigation assistance may be provided upon request as well. Sometimes a pilot gets himself turned around, especially at night, and a simple request can be made to ATC for a position relative to a fix or location, or even a radar vector to get back on course. Even something so trivial as a groundspeed check can be obtained. While weather information may be provided in terminal areas, ATC has little or no weather radar coverage outside these places. Lightning data is available in the ACC areas as well, which means that even if ATC can't see the precipitation, they may have an indication of thunderstorm activity along your intended route of flight.
If you experience an emergency in flight while receiving flight following, your last known radar position may help speed search and rescue (SAR) to your location. ATC may also be able to benefit from VFR aircraft in communication with them. For example, if one of their IFR aircraft approaches your flight, ATC will know what you're doing, and will have verified your Mode C altitude. This may save them from wasting precious radio time if your flight really isn't traffic. If a conflict may occur, talking to both aircraft involved can increase the likelihood of an easy resolution.
For all the benefits, flight following has its limitations. Pilots must, as mentioned earlier, monitor the ATC's frequency to get the benefit of the service. Also, traffic without transponders cannot be seen by ATC outside of terminal areas. Some things you can't control as a pilot when asking for flight following are workload or equipment issues faced by ATC. For example, a radar outage may prevent you from receiving the service. Since the IFR ATC units are primarily responsible for the provision of separation and flight information services to IFR aircraft, services to VFR aircraft are secondary and workload may preclude the provision of flight following. A quiet frequency doesn't mean the controller isn't busy behind the scenes any more than a pilot being quiet on his radio while on final doesn't mean he isn't focused on landing his airplane.
One of the big things to realize when flying with flight following, is what class of airspace you're in, and what your responsibilities are within it. For example, if you're VFR in Class C airspace, you must adhere to the clearance issued by ATC. If you're in Class E airspace, your altitude and heading are your responsibility, and ATC has neither the responsibility nor the authority to assign either. If you're planning to change altitudes, or even destination, while being provided with the service, you should keep ATC in the picture so they know what you're up to. As a pilot, you are responsible for knowing what class of airspace you are in, and when you transition from one to another.
When requesting a radar vector for navigation assistance, you must also remember that, while operating under VFR, you are responsible for avoiding terrain, obstructions and IFR weather conditions, as well as other traffic. Remember that the rules of VFR flight still apply, including watching out the window.
While there is little specific information in the TC AIM regarding en route radar surveillance, the following paragraphs in the TC AIM will help answer some questions and provide more information:
- COM 3.14 Radar
- RAC 1.5 Radar Service
- RAC 1.9 Transponder Operation
- RAC 2.5 Controlled Airspace
- RAC 2.7 Low Level Controlled Airspace
- RAC 2.8 Classification of Airspace
- RAC 5.6–5.8, includes information on VFR in Class C and controlled VFR (CVFR) procedures.
Michael Oxner is a terminal/enroute controller in Moncton, N.B., with 14 years of experience. He is a freelance aviation safety correspondent for http://www.aviation.ca/.
Since the pilot had never flown into the destination aerodrome before, he planned the trip to end just before dark. Unfortunately, due to stronger-than-forecast winds and a refuelling delay at the last aerodrome, the pilot's takeoff for the last leg took place just after sunset. Right before departure, the pilot received a thorough weather briefing, checked the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) for lighting available at the destination aerodrome, and filed a flight plan for the three-hour flight.
The trip was uneventful, but with an overcast ceiling at 8 000 ft and no moon, it was dark…very dark. The small aerodrome was 10 mi. north of the town where the pilot was to attend a meeting. His plan was to follow the highway that passed just north of the town until he had the aerodrome beacon. When he was, by his calculations, about 30 mi. from the aerodrome, he spotted what appeared to be the aerodrome rotating beacon. He was sure it was the aerodrome, but the light looked different than any other aerodrome beacon he had ever seen before. There was a white flash, followed by another white flash, then a pause, and then the sequence repeated over again…white, white, and then nothing. He decided to fly toward the beacon for 15 or 20 min before transmitting on the aircraft radio control of aerodrome lighting (ARCAL) frequency to activate the runway lights. After 10 min or so, he noticed the light now presented a white, white, red sequence. He thought this a bit strange and planned to check with the aerodrome manager the next day. He made the appropriate calls on the mandatory frequency (MF), and when he was about 5 mi. from the beacon, he keyed his microphone the number of times indicated in the CFS and waited for the lights. When they didn't appear, he tried again…still no lights. No problem, he thought. He planned to overfly the field at mid-point, check the wind and runway, and try the ARCAL again. When he overflew the light, still without seeing the aerodrome, he was amazed to see, instead of the aerodrome, a 300-ft communication tower. Since he still had to find the aerodrome, he started a right turn to get back to the town, and he keyed the ARCAL once more. Much to his relief, runway lights soon appeared along with a very bright strobe light. He now had more questions for the aerodrome manager, and perhaps one or two for Transport Canada.
Why didn't he see the aerodrome strobe light, since he had passed 7 mi. south of it as he headed toward the rotating beacon? The answer is, because it wasn't on. Instead, it came on with the runway lights when he activated the ARCAL, and by that time, the aerodrome was behind his right wing and his concentration was focused on the beacon. More and more aerodromes are activating “ALL” of their aerodrome lighting with the ARCAL as an energy-saving measure.
For years, aerodrome acquisition beacons were white rotating lights, flashing between 20 and 30 times per minute. On the other hand, towers, chimneys, supports for wires across rivers and valleys, and any other manmade obstacle deemed to be a hazard to aviation, were, depending on their height and location, marked with red or white lights or strobe lights, or a combination thereof.
To further muddy the water, aerodromes certified for night operation may use either rotating white beacons or strobe lights as aerodrome beacons.
The regulation regarding lighting of obstructions is Canadian Aviation Regulation (CAR) 601.19 - Orders Regarding the Marking and Lighting of Hazards to Aviation Safety, and the standard pertaining to that regulation is CAR 621.19 - Standards Obstruction Markings, http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/civilaviation/regserv/cars/part6-standards-62119-2447.htm. Standards regarding aerodrome beacons can be found in Aerodrome Standards and Recommended Practices (TP 312):
5.3.3 AERODROME BEACON
18.104.22.168 Standard-The aerodrome beacon shall show white flashes. The frequency of total flashes shall be from 20 to 30 per minute.
22.214.171.124 Standard-The light from the beacon shall show at all angles of azimuth. The vertical light distribution shall extend upwards from an elevation of not more than 1°. The effective intensity of the flash in white shall not be less than 2 000 cd.
Note 1: Aerodrome beacon may be of two types, the rotating beacon or flashing capacitor discharge light.
Note 2: At locations where a high ambient background lighting level cannot be avoided, the effective intensity of the flash may be required to be increased by a factor up to a value of 10.
In addition to the two approved light types, some aerodromes certified for night operations may be exempted from the requirement to show an aerodrome beacon:
126.96.36.199 Standard-An aerodrome beacon shall be provided at each aerodrome intended for use at night, except when, in special circumstances, the beacon is considered by the Certifying Authority as unnecessary upon determination that it is not required by one or more of the following conditions:
a) the aerodrome is located on or near a frequently used night VFR route.
b) the aerodrome is frequently used by aircraft navigating visually during periods of reduced visibility.
c) it is difficult to locate the aerodrome from the air due to surrounding lights or terrain.
All of the above taken into consideration, an aerodrome certified for night operations may or may not require an aerodrome beacon. If a beacon is required, it may be on from dusk till dawn or it may be on only when the ARCAL system is activated, and the light may be a rotating beacon or a flashing capacitor discharge light (strobe). Since there are a number of variables with respect to aerodrome lighting, one should pay very close attention to the lighting section in the CFS when planning a flight.
Fairmont Hot Springs, B.C. (CYCZ),
|Lighting:||ARCAL-123.2 type K.|
|ARCAL opr A/D beacon|
The ARCAL installed at CYCZ is a type K system. It controls the aerodrome lighting, including the aerodrome beacon, through the appropriate use of the aircraft radio tuned to 123.2 kHz.
Returning to the white, white, red rotating beacon on the communication tower, CAR 621.19 - Standards Obstruction Marking specifies such things as, photometric output, beam spread, flash rate, flash duration, intensity control and synchronization as some of the characteristics that a lighting system should have. The standard does not specify types of light that may be used. That being the case, a rotating light on a tower is OK, provided it meets the standards listed in CAR 621.19.
Well, you say, that's all good information but…why white, white, red? A number of years back, a Canadian lighting manufacturer produced a light (rotating beacon type, producing 40 flashes per minute), which was intended as an alternative, not a replacement, for obstruction lighting. The traditional method of lighting before the “new light” was with a capacitor discharge (strobe) system. The light was evaluated at a number of Canadian locations, and any light that was fairly close to an aerodrome was generating complaints and concerns. Pilots were saying that the light was being confused with the aerodrome beacon. The solution was to make the third and sixth lens in the light red. The reason the pilot saw white, white, pause at 30 mi. was because he was too far away to see the light passing through the red lens. Since the change (a simple one) to white, white, red, there have been no further complaints.
Because of the various lighting configurations and activation methods, a very thorough study of the CFS and appropriate maps is strongly recommended; even more so if you are going into an aerodrome for the first time.
The following is based on a safety information letter from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB).
On August 27, 2005, a Six Chuter Skye Rider Powered Parachute (Aerochute) departed from a field with a pilot and one passenger on board. The parachute canopy did not inflate evenly during the take-off roll. After takeoff, the powered parachute climbed to about 50 ft above ground, entered an uncommanded turn to the left, and plunged to the ground. Both occupants were seriously injured, and the powered parachute sustained substantial damage.
The pilot encountered control difficulties immediately after lift-off, and at that time, it was observed that a stainless steel riser cable was looped around the left outrigger arm. The pilot and passenger attempted to slide the riser cable over the end of the outrigger to remove the loop; however, the cable was taut and could not be repositioned due to the air loads on the canopy. The left turn progressed to a tight left spiral, and the parachute collapsed prior to the cart impacting the ground.
Figure 1. Close-up of left outrigger and eye bolts, with the riser cables in the correct pre-flight position
The pilot held an ultralight pilot permit, restricted to powered parachutes, with an instructor rating. He had approximately 175 hr of powered parachute flight experience. The weather was clear and calm at the time of the accident, and the temperature was about 25ºC. The field was approximately 3 800 ft above sea level (ASL).
The wreckage was examined and no pre-impact mechanical discrepancies were identified. The powered parachute utilized aircraft-grade eye bolts to attach the stainless steel riser cables to the outboard ends of the outrigger arms. The nicopress thimble-eyes on the riser cables allowed the riser cables to move freely in the eye bolts. The steering lines were routed through hardware mounted inboard of the eye bolts (see Figure 1). Newer versions of the aircraft utilize a slightly more rigid system of shrouded nylon riser straps in place of eye bolts and cables (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Close-up of newer design riser straps in the normal in-flight position
With either system, a pilot must verify that the steering lines, risers, and suspension lines are correctly positioned above the outrigger arms on the pre-flight check, by “walking the lines” with the parachute canopy and suspension lines laid out behind the cart. Standard practice also requires that the pilot apply partial power to get the cart rolling slowly at the beginning of the takeoff run, and then conduct a “shoulder check” to the left and right as the parachute rises over the cart, to visually confirm that the steering lines and risers are correctly positioned above the outrigger arms. If a riser or steering line wraps around an outrigger, the wrap will effectively shorten the riser or steering line, which precludes proper chute inflation (see Figures 3 and 4).
Figure 3. Photo of the steering line wrapped around the outrigger, with the riser cables upright in the normal in-flight position
Figure 4. Photo of riser cables and steering line wrapped around the outrigger arm
The Operator's Manual emphasizes that during takeoff, the pilot is to perform a visual scan to ensure that the chute is overhead and centered, that the chute is pressurized, that the end cells on both sides are open, that the risers and lines show no tangles, and that the steering lines are free of tangles and properly positioned. It also contains a warning that a chute that is not fully and properly inflated before takeoff may result in total loss of control of the aircraft and serious injury or death. A pilot must abort the takeoff immediately if the chute does not inflate normally.
Power parachute owners commonly install and use mirrors to check canopy inflation, and a large round convex mirror had been mounted on the cart, directly ahead of the front seat. Six Chuter Inc. does not endorse the use of a mirror as the primary means of conducting a steering line, riser cable, or canopy check for a number of reasons. The outrigger arms, steering lines and risers may not be within the normal field of view of a mirror, and a mirror image may be too small to provide sufficient detail to recognize the positions of steering lines and riser cables relative to the outrigger arms on takeoff. As well, a mirror image is reversed, which may contribute to the application of inappropriate control inputs while keeping the chute centered over the cart during takeoff.
A powered parachute canopy will not inflate properly during takeoff if a steering line and/or a suspension cable becomes wrapped around an outrigger arm. As demonstrated by the circumstances of this accident, a wrapped steering line or suspension cable can result in a loss of control after takeoff.
In the bad old days, when aviation was in its adolescence, arriving at a destination was not a sure thing. Engines were random contraptions, NAVAIDS tended to be trees, rivers and other sites that obstinately hid behind clouds or fog at inconvenient times, and the magic 1-800 number to reach the forecaster was not yet in service.
These hazards were well-known, and there were some lesser-known problems that also produced impromptu sleep outs, so prudent aviators planning lengthy trips were careful to include survival gear among their preparations. Why? First, the aircraft they were in had its limitations. Second, there was no vast fleet of search and rescue (SAR) aircraft standing by, and third, there was no way to promptly notify them if there had been.
But, this changed. Aircraft became more reliable, NAVAIDS improved and proliferated, and even though there is no “vast fleet of SAR aircraft” standing by, there is an adequate supply of them to pluck people from the wilderness relatively quickly. Thus, SAR philosophy has changed from: “prepare for a lengthy stay in the Great White North,” to: “we'll have you out in a few days, at worst.”
No longer do aircraft leave the ground with 90 percent of their cargo capacity given over to the survival gear that had a good chance of being needed. No longer do the crews sit in the cockpit all bundled up in bunny bags and mittens. With better heaters, fewer drafts and less chance of crashing, who needs all that stuff?
Well, you just might. According to one long-ago SAR pilot, the pendulum may have swung too far the other way. He retains his interest in aviation, and frequently visits smaller airports, watching aviators prepare for flights. Too often, he is appalled by their attire. Fashion, rather than protection, seems to be the goal, and some people routinely soar aloft in clothing more suited for Caribbean beaches than an overnight or longer stay in the Canadian backwoods.
What's your sartorial preference when leaving on a winter flight? A warm, fuzzy bunny-bag jacket, or something flimsy, with a designer label, showing how trendy you are? Some lounge-lizard loafers to knock them dead in the next fixedbase operator (FBO) lounge? You may wish to consider your wardrobe before launching. Sure, there is survival gear in the aircraft, but sometimes airplanes burn following unusual landings, the survival stuff goes with it, and you're left with what you have on your back and in your pockets.
In winter, what should be in your pockets? Matches, not only for starters, but also for fire starters. Someone who tried it several years ago opined that, after a crash, there was no way of having too many matches, and it's nice if those matches are in waterproof containers. A signalling mirror can help attract attention. Mitts, toques and boots with thermal socks may not look stylish, but they can ward off the frostbite that is an ever-present, deadly danger in the Canadian North.
“That's nice,” you say, “but I don't fly in the winter. What do I care about things to wear?” Do you think the long-ago SAR pilot doesn't have some thoughts about you, too? “I've seen people in swim suits and flip-flops leap into a little airplane and go flying. What are they thinking of?” Yes, indeed, what are they thinking of? Although the number of airplane fires is greatly reduced, the risk is still higher than you might think, and one layer of clothing-provided it's not the synthetic stuff that melts into your skin-can reduce burn severity.
Two layers are better, of course, but good luck in getting people to believe that. A jacket is essential, and it should have lots of pockets to contain the matches and bug repellent that are so essential in the relatively short season of poor sledding that characterizes the months from June through October. One summer survivor stated, only semi-jokingly, that to him, the bug repellent was even more important than the matches.
After a crash, forced landing or other misadventure, the first thing to do, after tending to major first aid items such as stop the bleeding and start the breathing is to: Notify SAR. How do you do that? Turn the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) function switch to ON. Yes, the crash should have done that, but turn it on, and leave it on. Never turn it off. Let the SAR tech do that.
Now, let's say the ELT was destroyed in the crash. Now what? You, of course, filed a flight plan, didn't you? And, you didn't diverge from it, did you? If you fail to arrive at your destination, the fine folk at NAV CANADA will notice your still-open flight plan. They will notify SAR, who will dispatch a search aircraft to the ominously named LKP-or last known point-and the SAR or Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA) aircraft will do a track crawl from there.
I can hear you now. “Oh heavens, that'll take forever. I'll just walk back to that little cluster of lights we passed about ten minutes ago.” Unless you can clearly see the cluster of lights, and hear the drunks arguing in the bar, stay put! Small as it is, your aircraft is much easier for a spotter to see than you are, even if you are waving your arms at helicopter liftoff speeds. And, if your ELT did work, that's where the rescue bird will go.
Within recent memory, experienced woodsmen have indeed walked out from remote crash sites. Why not you? They had more than the usual amount of survival gear on board, they were dressed for winter camping, they were uninjured, they knew exactly where they were, and most important, they were, in every sense of the phrase, experienced woodsmen. Most of us are not, so if you do find yourself out in the woods, looking at a failed aircraft, stay with it unless a grizzly bear roars out of a nearby lake and forces you to move.
Getting you out of the woods quickly requires that SAR be notified quickly. Currently, your ELT looks after that. Starting in 2009, when the last satellite equipped with 121.5/243.0 MHz “ears” plunges into the sea, your ELT will no longer provide prompt alerting or position fixing. Yes, it will still attract the attention of search aircraft that are equipped with 121.5 MHz homers, but your existing ELT, unless it transmits on 406 MHz, will no longer notify SAR of your problem.
Thus, you will have to become more diligent in filing flight plans, notes or itineraries. And you will have to become more diligent in following them, a feat which your lovely little hand-held GPS makes easy to accomplish…until the batteries die. Some pilots have suggested that, after 2009, it might be a great idea to appoint a “trusted agent” who can be relied upon to phone air traffic services (ATS), the local police or even a rescue coordination centre (RCC) to say that, “Buzz Spiraldive was on a flight from Hitherto to Somewhere Junction and was expected here at 1745. He has not arrived, and is now overdue.”
The more information the “trusted agent” can provide, the better, and they must-absolutely must-be armed with the correct phone number to call to get the SAR gears cranking. In slightly more than just 100 years, aviation has become a trusted means of transportation, but it's not risk-free. You have to manage the residual risk, and general aviation (GA) has more than its share of it. Preparing for a possible survival episode is a lot better than failing one.
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