Survival

From The South Ramp --Hank Bruckner:

June 1998

Summer time, when the livin' is easy. At least, the morning commute is lighter. Other than it being hurricane season, it's a great time to fly interisland. Winds are lighter, seas are calmer, relatives visit, and the days are longer. It's also the time your GACH editorial staff takes a break until September. So, we'll see how much we can cram into this issue.

It was easy to blame the Gremlins. It seemed to be just one of those days when little things go wrong. Little, seemingly unrelated things, like switches that didn't work the first time I tried them, then did. Then, my headset quit working, at least in that airplane (tested fine everywhere else, later). Did I forget to mention a false fire indication after engine start? Then Center had a 300-foot discrepancy on our altitude reporting which mysteriously healed itself later. Everyone seemed to be operating on a different schedule than mine, so nothing was coming together right. Finally, right after contacting Center, the frequency turned to garbled carrier tone. With some difficulty, the controller got us an alternate frequency. We hailed him on that, were handed off to approach, only to have that frequency also go garbled. Another backup frequency revealed that there was a nordo (NO RaDiO, for you young'uns) airliner en route to Honolulu, and all traffic was being vectored out of the way. Finally we were handed off to tower, only to have that go garbled as well. Being careful not to ask what else could go wrong (why challenge the mischievous spirits?), I wondered at what point does mere coincidence yield to conspiracy? Of course, the Gremlins really weren't to blame--at least not for all of it. Seems the airliner really wasn't nordo; rather, they had a stuck mike. Every time they switched frequencies, they blocked the new one. The radios on a 747 are a lot more powerful than the ones in most general aviation aircraft, and so is the carrier signal from a stuck mike. The timing just happened to coincide with our frequency switches. Coincidence? I think so. As far as the other things, they all had their causes, too. As tempting as it is to just chalk it up to some external entity beyond our control or understanding, 'taint always so. Sorry, Gremlins. Didn't mean to malign you. Now, which one of you is messing with the ADF in my Seneca?

Flying east at sunrise can be absolutely breathtaking. Picture being level at 5,000 feet. between cloud layers as the sun suddenly explodes in golden magnificence, with gleaming shafts lighting up the cloud sculptures in a visual spectacle. Now, picture trying to land at Moloka'i with the sun almost perfectly aligned with the runway and low, right in your eyes.

Flying along at 6,000 feet over the Alenuihaha Channel in a Cessna 152 would hardly seem to be the place to pick up a Titanic dose of carburetor icing. After all, you are at near full throttle, and have about three quarters of your ponies huffing, puffing and sweating profusely. So, it is quite a shock when the engine dies. Fortunately, for the aviator involved and his student, a quick application of carburetor heat eventually restored life to the engine, though not before ditching options were reviewed. Seems it really was quite a load of ice and took nearly ten minutes to clear. Carb ice in Hawai'i. Fact is, it can happen here in Paradise. If your engine suddenly loses power, carburetor heat should be high on your priority list. If you are flying behind (or next to) a fuel-injected engine, then alternate air would be an early must-do item. Chances are slim a fuel-injected engine will develop induction icing in Hawai'i, but your flow of engine-breath could still be blocked by a collapsed scat hose or filter.

We are blessed with some very fine controllers at Honolulu. Occasionally, their problem-solving is put to the test. We were number two to take the active, behind the offending aircraft (I've changed the call sign to protect the guilty), and a Cessna was on approach to 4R, though still some distance away. Tower: "Piper 4321, cross four right, position and hold, four left." Piper 4321: (no response). Tower: "Piper 4321, cross four right, position and hold, four left." (Still no response.) Two calls later. Tower: "Piper 4321, cross four right...never mind. Hold your position, Piper 4321." Piper 4321: "Roger" and then proceeds to cross 4R, holding short of 4L. Tower: "Cessna 1234, change runway to four left, cleared to land four left. Piper 4321, hold your position!" The Piper stops, turns around and re-crosses 4R. Tower: " Piper 4321, STOP RIGHT THERE!" The Piper stops, makes a right 270-degree turn, and is now facing down 4R. Tower: "Piper 4321, you are cleared for takeoff four right, NOW!" Problem solved.

Speaking of controllers, Darlene Penrose, the Plans and Procedures Specialist at HNL is being reassigned to the mainland. Darlene always went out of her way to help with special requests and to improve understanding among pilots. She was never less than totally professional in every way. We'll miss you, Darlene. Thanks for all your help.

We just concluded our annual U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Air Operations Workshop at Barbers Point. I look forward to this annual event largely because of the Shallow Water Egress Trainer (SWET) that the Coast Guard puts us through. It consists of a framework in the shallow end of the pool upon which is a seat on a swivel mount. You strap in with a five-point harness, and, when ready, the operator swivels you into the water, upside down. You then practice a controlled release and egress. While it doesn't come close to duplicating the decelerative violence of a ditching, it does allow you to experience hanging from your seat belts upside down under water, and is a marvelous confidence builder. The harness is patterned after a military five-point with a central twist-off release, but the egress principles remain valid for any aircraft:

    1. Wait for all motion to cease.

    2. Grab your seat (the airplane seat, that is) with one hand.

    3. With the other hand, release your seat belt/shoulder harness.

    4. With your free hand (the one you just released your belts with), grab your next reference (door handle, door frame, arm rest) and pull yourself out. Do not kick or you may injure someone behind you who is at least as interested in egress as you are. Since a fixed-gear aircraft is likely to flip once it hits the water, you are likely to be upside down. It is extremely important that you do not release your seat belts until you have a firm hold on something. You never want to release your grip with both hands at once or you may bob up into the back of the airplane, away from your exit.

    5. Once clear, inflate your life vest (you are wearing one, aren't you?), look for your other passengers, get into your life raft (you do have one, don't you) and get yourself rescued.

Current advice is to fire off a flare as soon as you are clear of the airplane, followed by another as soon as the first one dies out. Save the rest for signalling after sighting an aircraft or surface vessel. How to get yourself rescued? Well, first, make sure you file a flight plan that includes a description of your survival equipment in the remarks column. The Coast Guard will search for you at night if they have reason to suspect you can be seen (flares, strobe light). A strobe light is extremely visible at night to searchers, especially the person wearing night vision goggles. Next, activate your EPIRB (you have one of those, right?). Then, make yourself as big a target as you can. You can obtain commercially a very light floating streamer that greatly enhances your chances of being seen. If you go down in daylight, even if overcast, break out your signal mirror (you do...?) and sweep the horizon if no specific targets are visible. History suggests it's better to stay together (especially if there's more than one of you), and not split up to go for help. Eddie did go.

Know, and make sure your passengers know, how to get out of your aircraft--how the seats and doors operate. You, and probably anyone who flies with you should be able to get out by feel and memory alone. You may be injured or unable to open your eyes because of gasoline in the water, or, it might be dark (now that we have to do dual night cross countries for private and commercial). Remember that relative position won't change: if the door latch is on your right near the arm rest, it will still be there even if you are upside down. Of course, the door(s)/canopy should be opened prior to impact, but they could slam shut again during the sudden stop. Personally, for over-water flights I consider a single-engine, single-door airplane (PA-28 series, some Musketeers, for example) to be a two-person airplane only. The folks in the rear seat just don't have a great history of getting out. While your plane may float for hours, it is more likely to sink in under a minute.

All occupants should also know what survival equipment is aboard, where it is, and how to operate it. Conventional wisdom says that you'll get out of the aircraft with what you have on, so remember that all that stuff behind the back seat is destined to be just flotsam and jetsam--that is, after it is through hurtling across the cabin. Assign specific equipment to specific occupants, especially the life raft. We don't want to alarm and frighten our passengers unnecessarily, but it is our responsibility to make sure they know what to do if things go really sour.

Other than flotation, what minimum equipment should you have? At the very, very least, a signalling mirror (plastic, not glass), a waterproof strobe light and a whistle. Flares are good, and an EPIRB should be high on your list. A Dayglo metallized Mylar space blanket is a good, small, light item for your kit, and fresh water isn't a bad idea, too. Small water pouches are commercially available to stuff in your kit. A knife can be extremely useful, especially to free up tangled lines and straps when time is of the essence. Everything in the kit should have a lanyard attached to it so that you don't drop it at the most inopportune moment. Parachute or venetian blind cord is light and strong. The kit itself doesn't have to be elaborate. A good fanny pack might do just fine.

Let's rewind the tape here, to before the actual splashdown. Anytime you fly over water, you should have a ditching heading in mind. That means, you should know wind speed and direction, and the direction of the major and secondary swells. Unless the waves are about a foot high, you'll want to land parallel to the major swell, accepting a cross-wind. Up to a point, of course. If the wind is over 35 knots (what are you doing out in that kind of wind?) you should consider landing into the wind, regardless of swell, if your aircraft's landing speed is low. The foam from breaking waves begins to blow in streaks from about 28 knots on. These steaks will be well marked as the wind reaches 35 knots. You'll need to be at least 1,500' AGL to be able to read the ocean well. Below that, all you'll see is a jumble of waves with no system apparent. That a night ditching would be more difficult is a gross understatement.

Once you know you are going to ditch, make your calls (121.5 is very important), and prepare yourself and your passengers for what is to come. Straps should be tight, life vests donned (should have been, already), loose objects secured (ditto). Someone up front (unless you also have a rear door, like Cherokee-Six-bodied aircraft, and-36 and-58 series Beechcraft) should be hugging the raft. Of course, the lower you start, the less time you have. You should know the manufacturer's recommended ditching configuration and speeds, if given. If not, you want to land as slowly as possible, while still under control. Flaps may be indicated, but they may also increase the down-pitching motion in some aircraft upon contact with the water, especially low-winged planes. In others flaps may hinder egress (C-206/207's rear door won't open with flaps deployed). Get set up on your heading and try to land on top of the swell (remember, it is also moving), but anywhere is OK except into the face (water is incompressible, unlike airplanes and people.) The airplane may skip, especially if it has folding feet, and you'll need to keep flying to the bitter end to ensure any subsequent contact is in the right attitude. The AIM has some good poop on the subject of ditching, and it's well worthwhile rereading it, but the most complete info is in the National Search And Rescue Manual. Any landing you can swim away from is a good one...

I wrote last month about the new policy at Century Aviation at Kahului to restrict access to the FBO to the select few that arrive in big corporate iron. I was perhaps too understanding in my tone. Fact is, everyone I've talked to, without exception, who flies into OGG and uses the southeast ramp, resents being good enough to buy gas yet not good enough to use the facility. Several pilots are flight planning to avoid having to refuel in Maui, just for that reason. It seems that the solution would lie in finding out who was trashing the place, and dealing with them, rather than take it out on all the rest of us.

Congratulations to Greg Marshall for winning the Great Southern Air Race in his Lance (#18). Greg has finished high (actually low) before, but that first victory must be sweet--and well earned. Stay tuned for the opportunity to race, right here in Paradise.

June is a critical month for Flight 2000 as Congress wrestles with the budget. Due to the high cost of implementing the test program, there is considerable pressure to omit Hawai'i from the test, and just do Alaska and Oakland. If you recall, the original concept was to equip all commercial operators in Alaska, virtually all aircraft in Hawai'i, and select operators at some other Mainland location. The latter will be Oakland, and if you want Hawai'i to still be included (meaning that you would get some nifty gear in your aircraft, free), you'd best let someone in Washington know how you feel. It may boil down to just how much influence Senator Dan wields. If Hawai'i remains in the budget, things will go forward, though delayed from six to eighteen months from the original plan. If not, then you can make plans to get that GPS on your own and live without TCAS, at least for a long time.

A reminder: this is our last issue until September. Plan on the Poor Man's (Person's?) Fly In at Port Allen on September 19th. Hope to see y'all at Hana and at Oshkosh. Have a memorable and safe summer.

Be careful out there.