Mixture—idle cut off. Ignition—off. Master switch—off. Doors—unlatch. We've all memorized the checklist for an emergency forced landing without power, and we've trained for and taught the scenario. Are we prepared for what happens after the emergency landing checklist—after we've landed the aircraft? More importantly, are we preparing our students? Emergency equipment and survival gear is included in practical test standards ranging from sport to airline transport pilot.
I recently participated in the Surratt Winter Survival Clinic, designed by the Montana Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, to learn how to survive after an aircraft accident in mountainous terrain during the winter. My own “survival kit”—bottle of water, pack of crackers, Leatherman tool, flashlight, and cellphone—wouldn't provide much help in Montana's harsh winter conditions. Depending on the terrain and weather conditions, it could take days for rescuers to reach the accident scene.
We need to be prepared to survive with what is on us or in the aircraft until help arrives. Participating in a survival clinic provides the opportunity to practice tasks—starting a fire, building a shelter, signaling for help—and build confidence in how to handle a real-life situation—much like we train for the forced landing. It's important that the CFI know how to survive, not only in order to train students, but also in the event of an emergency during a training exercise. If you are stranded for days waiting for rescue, that student will be looking to you for guidance and reassurance.
James Heckman, who instructs and provides tours and charter flights over Glacier National Park, enrolled in the course because he wanted to add to his CFI toolkit, saying that he wanted “more things I can instruct upon.” Two students and a private pilot from Red Eagle Aviation, the flight school at Kalispell City Airport where Heckman instructs, attended the clinic with him.
“We're definitely flying over some adverse terrain,” Heckman said, explaining that after an accident he would be responsible not only for caring for himself but also for his students or paying passengers.
Training for the student is equally important. Daniel Hargrove, director of aviation at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mon., allows students to enroll in the clinic for elective credit. The college partnered with the Montana state government to reserve spots for its students in the clinic so they can develop survival skills beyond what they learn in a required two-hour college class.
Encourage your fellow flight instructors and students to attend a survival course or work with your flight school, emergency response officials, or other groups to host a clinic and give students some hands-on training in basic survival skills. If that's not feasible, create your own lesson on emergency survival. Teach your students how to use the survival kits in the flight school's trainers, or help them determine what to pack in their own portable one. Just like we develop scenarios for students during flight—deteriorating weather, aircraft malfunction, diversion, etc.—have them think through scenarios for different flight operations, types of terrain, seasons, and weather conditions. Ask questions to get them thinking: What would you use to build a fire or shelter? How would you purify water? How could you turn parts of the aircraft into survival equipment? This will help them determine what to pack in their survival kit; what might be sufficient for flying over Ohio's farm fields in the spring wouldn't work when flying over Montana's mountains in the winter.