Survival Equipment For Your Homebuilt

Chuck Firth

Originally published May 1996

This was a presentation no one should have missed. Tech Sergeant Bryan Kasmann of the USAF Survival School at Edwards was our featured speaker and gave us a short course in post-crash survival techniques. We've all thought about it, we all know it's possible, and we've all wondered what we'd have to do to get our sorry tails out of a really bad situation. Sergeant Kasmann has a few ideas that might help.

Sergeant Kasmann has been a survival instructor for five years, the last two at Edwards. He's taught techniques for aircrew survival, aircraft egress, and POW evasion. He also runs a little three day field course for tough guys with a crying need for ego deflation therapy. (I did a Navy version of one of these 20 years ago and I suspect the menu, accommodations, and entertainment are still four star. Believe me, it's a gut check.) For a personality, he recommends paranoia pre-select for guys in his line of work. That should let you know the kind of preparation and training he recommends.

Survival, according to Sergeant Kasmann, is a learned skill. Part of the skill set is being aware of the climate, terrain, and lifeforms in the area where you intend to fly. Climatic factors to consider include temperature, moisture, and wind, and your survival gear should include adequate protection for each. Interestingly, he points out that your airplane is not set up to protect you, so other means are necessary.

Terrain, as we all know, can vary greatly in Southern California, and you'll need to be prepared for anything. Have you ever gone up on a hot day in just your shirt sleeves and found yourself over mountainous terrain? Would you have been able to survive a night in those mountains if necessary? That's his point. Finally, lifeforms include plants and animals, some of which can be helpful and others a problem. Plants, in particular, can be a source of water, something you'll need before any food an animal could provide. Some knowledge of plants and animals obviously can be a big plus in making it out of a crash site alive.

In a survival situation you have five basic requirements. These include health and medical needs, signal and recovery, personal protection, sustenance (water most importantly), and travel if absolutely necessary. If you're part of an aircrew, Sergeant Kasmann stresses the importance of leadership. Use the chain of command and set disciplines. In any event, you'll need to focus on priorities. He uses the memory aid STOP, which means stop, think, organize, and proceed, to keep the order straight. When you do proceed he strongly suggests a inventory of what you've got to work with. This includes survival kits and anything in or attached to the aircraft that could be useful. Wire for lashing up a lean-to, mirrored glass for signalling, and anything that could potentially hold water as examples. And don't forget the baggage compartment. Clothing can be made into bandages, help with protection from wind and rain, and even be used to lay out a ground signal.

So what can you do to prepare? Several things. First, fly in clothing approved for flight. You need to dress adequately for the outside environment and make certain your clothing is fire resistant. Sergeant Kasmann recounted the aftermath of a Canadian C-130 crash in winter weather just eight miles from base. Although close to their departure point, rescue took almost 30 hours. Unfortunately, many aboard were unprepared and died of exposure. Second, know the egress procedures for the airplane. You may not have much time to get out and you need to grab as much as possible on the way out. Third, know the location and use of aircraft survival equipment. Last, Sergeant Kasmann also suggests having a personal survival kit to supplement whatever might be in the aircraft. It should be easily accessible, or worn as a vest or in a pocket of your clothing. He prefers carrying the personal kit and disbursing or scattering the contents, and as such recommends a vest. Scattering makes it more likely at least some of the gear will survive the crash and less likely you'll pilfer it before hand.

Ok, you've found yourself down and you've got to survive for hours, days, or even weeks with only what you've got or can use in the airplane or in the area. Remember, STOP. Stop, think, organize, then proceed. What do you do? Don't pamc, or at least get it under control quickly. If you or someone else is injured, treat the injuries. Do a head to toe exam. Stop bleeding, splint bone breaks, cover and protect burns, and treat for shock. Also, make sure the injured are protected from the environment. Get them out of the wind and rain, and try to stay as dry as possible. Maintain body temperature. Now, what else? Do your inventory. Find out what you've got to work with. Do this while someone else takes care of injuries if possible. Also, drink water. You'll need at least two quarts a day and water has a calming effect and aids in shock prevention. And, start thinking of shelter. Remember, the airplane is not your first choice. A lean-to, behind rocks, or under overhanging brush are examples. Don't forget to use what is in or on the plane. Skin panels or fabric, insulation, seat covers, etc. Ok, what else? Set up signals. Lay out ground markers, have signal mirrors available, or be ready with flares or smoke. Flashlights can be useful and so can chemical lights but be sure they're not past their expiration date. Anything else? Well, you've taken care of four of the five basic requirements. The last, travel, is something to consider carefully. It's best to stay with the aircraft but if you have to travel, go down hill. Generally, down hill leads to something like a road or stream you can then follow to help. Remember however, you'll be much harder to find away from your aircraft.

Think you'll be able to do all that? You will if you prepare and keep your personal knowledge of survival skills high.

Learn more about Survival Kits from Doug Ritter.

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Revised -- 3 July 1998