Pilot Products

Survival of the fittest

February 1, 2010

Flying over woods, mountains, lakes, or plains? You’ll want this gear.

Unfortunately things can and do go wrong in airplanes. Making it out of any situation demands the best training and calm under pressure. But the right gear doesn’t hurt either. Think just because you’re not flying over sparesly populated mountains means you don’t need to carry the basics? Think again. Even the sardine pack of the East Coast has vast areas of dense woods and requires some amount of survival equipment. We’ve compiled a sampling of what’s going to get you out of trouble when it comes knocking.

SPOT 2

Inexpensive tracking and access to GPS-derived position for search and rescue is a reality thanks to the wildly popular SPOT. The new SPOT 2 keeps the features of the old version while adding upgrades pilots will love. The check in and track button has been separated, allowing pilots to easily send a text or e-mail message to loved ones either once or every 10 minutes. But SPOT 2 really exists for the emergency feature, which when activated will send people looking for you immediately ( see “Saved by a Satellite,”). A new internal GPS makes finding you that much easier.

Price: $149.95; $99.99 a year activation
Contact: www.findmespot.com

Reviewer comments:
Bob Knill, AOPA application support engineer
Private, instrument, 300 hours.

“I really liked it, and even though I was never in a life-threatening situation, it felt good knowing I had another set of eyes on me any time I wanted them.”

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Lightweight
  • Nice attention to detail with plastic covers over important buttons

Cons:

  • Text alerts didn’t work at first. Not intuitive for AT&T users to set up
  • Have to press buttons until they blink, but finger covers the blinking buttons

ACR Electronics SARLink

If you want serious search and rescue protection, you may want to turn to a personal locator beacon (PLB). They are robust, don’t require a yearly activation fee, and make finding someone as easy as walking to a coordinate. ACR’s SARLink is one of the best on the market.

Price: Suggested price $499, can be found much cheaper online
Contact: www.acrelectronics.com

Reviewer comments:
Patrick Smith, aviation technical specialist, AOPA Pilot Information Center
Commercial, CFI, 1,650 hours.

“I even explained its emergency operation to my wife, who is not at all technologically inclined. ‘Remove this cover, press red button.’”

Pros:

  • Registration is easy and took fewer than 10 minutes
  • Sturdy and rugged.
  • 406 and 121.5 capability means being found by satellite and ground searchers

Cons:

  • Manual activation requires crash to be survivable
  • Limited functionality compared to competitors

Space blanket

It gets cold out there sometimes. Having the space blanket gives you that extra little bit of protection from the elements, which could make the difference in a bad situation. This one from REI gets rave reviews and is worth the low price.

Price: $14
Contact: www.rei.com

Reviewer comments:
Ian J. Twombly, AOPA associate editor
Commercial, CFI, 1,050 hours.

“I could feel the warmth even on a cold night with no sun.”

Pros:

  • Light as a feather
  • Inexpensive, but with good construction
  • Versatile—use it for the hangar, preheat, and more

Cons:

  • Not heavy enough for extended time away from shelter

Timberline Alaskan Series combo pack

So you may not be dressing your own meat for survival or hacking your way through a jungle, but there’s something to be said for having a good knife set on board. This is especially true for those who might camp often or really need the right tool at the right time.

Price: $89.95
Contact: www.sportys.com; sold as the Ultimate Bush Pilot Tools

Reviewer comments:
Alton K. Marsh, AOPA senior editor
ATP, CFI, 2,800 hours.

“You could drive a truck over these and it would be the tires that suffer, not the tools.”

Pros:

  • Very tough construction
  • Small enough to fit into a survival pack
  • Good hand grips

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Intended for survival, not crash extraction (although possibly useful for it)

H3R RT A600 Halon fire extinguisher

Face it: You should have a fire extinguisher in your airplane. the RT A600 from H3R represents one of the best that you can get. In fact, it comes standard on many aircraft today, so what are you waiting for?

Price: MSRP $168, can be found cheaper online.
Contact: www.h3raviation.com;

Reviewer comments:
Craig Brown, senior technical specialist, AOPA Pilot Information Center
ATP, CFI, A&P, 9,800 hours.

“The weight is practically negligible..”

Pros:

  • Only 1.6 pounds
  • Easy to mount in a cockpit

Cons:

  • Halon means scary labels about evacuating the area after discharge
  • May require an A&P signature for installation