In Survival Mode

OK class, now that you’ve all had a chance to read and discuss the ditching story I’ll add my two cents. (because that’s all it’s worth)

A lot of pilots, myself included, don’t really take seriously the possibility of having to ditch when they fly over the ocean. Which in one way is not surprising because of you really thought that there was a good chance of ending up in the drink you’d have to be a certain kind of crazy to do it in the first place. Most ferry pilots lie to themselves when justifying their decision to fly a small plane over a big pond. They tell themselves things like: “The airplane doesn’t know it’s over water” “I’ve done this many times and never had a problem before.” “The government wouldn’t let us do it if it wasn’t safe” and “I’ve got hundreds of hours in small piston aircraft and have never lost an engine.”  I can’t use the last one because in 7000 hours I’ve lost three piston engines in flight, the last one just last year over a combination of desert and water, at night.



Good thing I had two engines that night.                                                                                           Dropping oil pressure and rising oil temp = BAD

If a ferry pilot is going to be honest with himself he has accept the fact that there is a real chance that he might go down on every flight. Most pilots just sort of half heartedly give a nod to their survival equipment and how they would really use it in an emergency so I’m going to touch on a few items I bring with me and hope never to use.


 Like the guys who went down on the way to Hawaii most, but not all, pilots flying over the ocean carry a raft with them. But most of them don’t really have a plan or training on how to use one. There are some basic things to consider when it comes to rafts. Number one is what kind of raft are you going to bring? When I first started ferry flying my boss at Orient Air had a whole locker of rafts that us pilots could choose from and most of us grabbed the smallest one available. why? Mostly because when you were done delivering the plane you had to shlep a ton of crap back to Minnesota with you. Survival suit, life raft, HF radio, ferry tank fittings and hoses, spare tools, any other survival gear you brought with you, not much back then, and then of course all your clothes you brought with for two weeks on the road. Dragging all that stuff through airports, hotels and taxies was a pain in the ass so you cut down on space and weight where ever you can. But when I finally saw exactly how small and flimsy the supposedly 4 man raft I’d been carrying for years was I was really glad I didn’t have to use it. Hell, the damn thing didn’t even have a cover on it. That raft might be OK in the Caribbean but worthless in the north Atlantic. Now I choose the biggest one I think I can get out of the plane with, usually a 6 man with a cover.  Next thing to think about is where is it going to be in the cabin during flight. Where are you going to put it when you have to ditch, what’s going to happen to the raft when you experience the sudden stop of hitting the water at 80 knots? Where is it going to go? If you’ve ever been in a car accident you know that everything that used to be in the back seat is now in the front. I call it the “snow globe effect.” If you do manage to find the raft you still have to get out of the plane how to get out of the plane with it. Remember, the plane might be sinking, in heavy seas, upside down, at night. did you remember to prop open the door before ditching? what if you have to kick out a window (very hard to do) do you try to hold it by its sides as you wiggle out? Put your hand through the tether and risk accidentally deploying it before you’re completely clear of the fuselage? Tough questions because if you loose it you’re dead.

If you do manage to find the raft and get out of the plane with it do you know how to inflate it? When are you going to inflate it? How are you going to hang on to it after it’s inflated? because if you let go of it and it drifts even a few feet away you will never catch it, even if you’re Mark Spitz (yes, I’m that old). OK let’s say you do everything right, do you know how to get into the raft? Do you know if your raft has a rope ladder hanging under the door? I didn’t. How about if you’re injured? Can only use one arm? Most pilots never even think about these things let alone get proper training in real world conditions using the real thing. Luckily I’ve been through survival suit and life raft training twice in Iceland. And just to make things as realistic as possible I did it in the middle of winter, both times, not my first choice.


 Not as easy as it looks. Actually it’s pretty damn hard.

Ok, so you managed to survive an ocean ditching in a fixed wing aircraft, found your raft, managed to hang on to it as you got out of the sinking upside down death trap, inflated it without letting go and somehow dragged you waterlogged rear end inside like a dead fish. CONGRATULATIONS! You are now stranded in a small rubber raft, thousands of miles from land or any hope of rescue. Wet, cold, and alone. So what’s next?

3 Replies to “In Survival Mode”

  1. You are correct that your best friend is a PLB. I (almost) always carry one. I agree that space blankets are pretty useless most of the time but they are so small and light I usually carry 2 along with a cheap rain poncho as extra crap I’ll never use.:) I’m working on a few more posts about the survival equipment I carry when flying so stand by!

    1. Roger, Wilco.

      Poncho – good idea, ferry flying seems to have an odd attraction for me. Adrenaline filled, dangerous, seat of your pants flying! I ought to get an CPL / Frozen ATPL.

  2. It’s fine, I’ll go all Bear Grylls and catch fish and drink my own pee.

    On a side note, it’s quite amazing the number of glider pilots that go flying in the mountains without any thought about going down.. and they don’t even have an engine, a few bad decisions and you’re in a bit of trouble! If flying in the Alps I carry a PLB (strapped onto my parachute), first aid kit in the glider, and a fair bit of warm kit. Space blankets are pretty useless – they are good in space where the main heat loss is due to radiation, but not when it’s cold and wet. Windproof jackets are a better bet. But your main friend is a PLB. But a fair chunk of glider pilots are not prepared! Shame really.

    What do you carry when flying through the mountains?


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