Pilot Products

January 1, 2008

Gear to survive: Be fully prepared with these products

What follows is a small sampling of various survival products available on the market today for the general aviation airplane and pilot. Although many survival items are geared to high-end operators or the airlines, and are thus heavy and expensive, more affordable options are coming to the market that make fully equipping yourself and your aircraft a no-brainer.

SPOT Satellite Messenger

Introduced in the middle of last year to the hiking and camping market as a personal safety device, the SPOT Satellite Messenger is an ah-ha! moment for general aviation. The handheld messenger connects you to the outside world with a GPS signal, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Weighing in at a svelte seven ounces, SPOT identifies the user’s position with GPS and sends via satellite that position to a distribution point. A Web-based application makes it easy to indicate up to five e-mail addresses and telephone numbers where, when activated, the distribution point will send a cell phone text message with GPS coordinates and an e-mail with a link directly to Google Maps with the unit’s current position.

SPOT offers four different reporting modes—911, Ask for Help, Check In, and Track Progress. When the user selects the 911 option, the position is sent to a private emergency response center, which immediately responds with search-and-rescue assets. The other three options are for non-emergency situations. The Ask for Help mode sends a message telling those whom you’ve designated that you’re in need of assistance, and the Check In and Track Progress features simply send messages with coordinate updates. In the case of Track Progress, it’s done every 10 minutes while the function is activated, allowing others to track your route (shown in Google Maps below).

At roughly the size of a large cell phone, SPOT is easy to stow in a flight bag or keep in the airplane, and though not crash-tested, the hardened exterior is durable. It was straightforward and easy to use in testing, and the accuracy of the reports was good within a few feet. Although the satellite coverage area is vastly better than cellular, there is one major issue. Perhaps the most useful location for the technology—Alaska—is partially left in the dark. There’s also no coverage in Hawaii. On the up side, SPOT will work in Europe and over the North Atlantic.

Price: $169.99; $99.99/year for service; $49.99/year for Track Progress
Contact: www.findmespot.com; 866-651-7768

2-Man Survival Pack

No survival plan would be complete without a proper survival kit. Opinions abound on the minimum gear that should be included, and often the answer depends on the season and where you do most of your flying.  Sporty's Pilot Shop has taken out the guesswork with their upgraded 2-Man Survival Pack. All the items in the survival kit are contained in a backpack weighing 12 pounds. Some of the many things you'll find inside include basic first aid material, including bandages, first aid cream, and antiseptic towelettes; food materials such as a 1 quart canteen, two 3,600-calorie food bars, and water purification tablets; light sticks, candles, a signaling mirror, and a strobe light for signaling; a two-person tent, two space blankets, and two emergency sleeping bags; matches and starting sticks for fire; and a utility knife, rope, and compass.

Price: $159.95
Contact: www.sportys.com; 800-776-7897

Single Cell Life Vest

For anyone who routinely flies over water, a life jacket is a necessity, even if the regulations don’t require one. The Single Cell Life Vest now offered by Sporty’s makes carrying one easier thanks to its lightweight design, compact storage, and ease of use. Just like the flight attendants demonstrate on the airlines, you simply pull the cord of the vest to inflate it. And, as they say, the vest can also be inflated manually via a tube. To add visibility to the bright yellow vest, an emergency light begins to flash when it is immersed in water. The vest folds to 7 inches by 6 inches by 2 inches and weighs 14 ounces. Despite its light weight, the vest is rated to provide 37 pounds of buoyancy, more than enough for the average adult.

Price: $49.95
Contact: www.sportys.com; 800-776-7897

Fingertip Pulse Oximeter

Many who are stricken with hypoxia never even know it. Instead of avoiding mountain flying and always buzzing around below 5,000 feet (the altitude at which the FAA recommends oxygen use at night), consider a fingertip pulse oximeter. Many on the market cost hundreds of dollars, but a new unit being sold by the AvShop offers significant savings with all of the functionality. Simply place the small “clamp” on the tip of your finger, and the digital display shows your oxygen saturation levels and heart rate. A must for mountain pilots and great insurance for the rest of us, the oximeter is easy to operate and accurate within two percent on oxygen saturation and within two beats per minute on heart rate.

Price: $99.99
Contact: www.avshop.com; 866-928-7467

Quick Hits

One of the more important tools when waiting for rescue can be a signaling device. Instead of a mirror or small flashlight, check out the AE Xenide Personal Searchlight. The AE Xenide is a flashlight on steroids. Putting out 10 times more lumens than a standard flashlight, the AE Xenide would be excellent for detailed night preflight inspections or signaling rescue personnel. It’s also extraordinarily strong and heavy, making it useful for any number of survival tasks. Though a bit excessive for the cockpit, filters are offered to tame the light’s intensity for use during a night flight. As an added bonus, the light is rechargeable, negating the need for batteries.

Price: $395 to $435 depending on wattage
Contact: www.aelight.com; 541-471-8988

Other than food, fire is probably the most important survival tool. Revere Supply’s Gale Force Stormproof Butane Lighter can create the latter to help with the former. It’s better than a standard Bic or Zippo in that it withstands winds of up to 80 mph. It also burns at up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and is refillable.

Price: $19.95
Contact: www.avshop.com; 866-928-7467

Unless otherwise stated, products listed have not been evaluated by AOPA Pilot editors. AOPA assumes no responsibility for products or services listed or for claims or actions by manufacturers or vendors. However, members unable to get satisfaction regarding products listed should advise AOPA. To submit products for evaluation, contact: New Products Editor, AOPA Pilot, 421 Aviation Way, Frederick, Maryland 21701; telephone 301-695-2350.

Ian J. Twombly

Ian J. Twombly | "Flight Training" Editor

AOPA Pilot and Flight Training Editor Ian J. Twombly joined AOPA in 2003 and is an instrument flight instructor.