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What’s in Your Airplane Emergency Kit?

Have you ever looked at the contents of your aircraft survival kit? Have you thought about what might actually be useful in an emergency, and what just takes up space and adds weight?

Most pilots probably don’t give much thought to the contents of their survival kit. It’s there in the back of the airplane – we check during the preflight - and that’s good enough, right? Maybe, but if you're actually stuck in the wilderness after a plane crash, you might wish you'd have given it more thought.

Not all commercially packed survival kits are created equal. And while those that we buy from the store are convenient, chances are good that if you were to find yourself out in the woods, you might find that the contents of these ready-made kits are often cheap and sometimes useless when it comes to actually surviving. Some of them come with a lot of fluff that you don’t need (tongue depressors?) and also lack critical items that you’d clearly want, like a good knife.

Next time you’re stuck on the ground due to icy weather this winter, make good use of your down time by reviewing the contents of your survival kit. Make sure the contents haven’t expired. Change out the batteries in flashlights and check that the ELT is operational and is in compliance with the FARs. Update your kit for any changes in flying habits you’ve made, making sure you take into account the routes you fly most often, as well as the other passengers you might be flying around. Just like your smoke detectors in your house, your aircraft emergency kit should be evaluated often.

Your aircraft survival kit should be tailored to you and your flying needs. You might need to consider weight, including only the very critical elements. You might need to consider water survival gear if you frequently overfly lakes. And if you’re flying in the Alaskan wilderness, your needs will be different than they would be if your flights were within 30 miles of your home airport in the Midwest. Think about your personal needs when putting together your survival kit. Here are a few of the basics that you’ll need.

ELT/PLB
The ELT and PLB are so important that they get their own category here. In the case of a plane crash, your chances of being located increase drastically if you have a working ELT (emergency locator transmitter) and/or a PLB (personal locator beacon). If you’re still flying with an old ELT that transmit on 121.5 MHz, consider getting a 406 MHz ELT. They don’t have the false alarm problem that the 121.5 MHz ELTs are known for, and they increase your chances of being found by a significant amount.

The aircraft you’re flying likely has an ELT installed, but it doesn’t hurt to fly with a PLB, too, which comes in handy if you want to leave the area on foot to try to find help. (It’s usually best to stay with the wreckage after an aircraft accident, by the way, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the terrain and area.) PLBs can be activated manually, and transmit on both 121.5 MHz and 406 MHz frequencies. These days, you can get a really good PLB for a couple hundred dollars – a small price to pay for a chance at survival.

In addition to an ELT, you’ll want to have these items in your emergency kit:

Survival Gear

  • Emergency Blanket
  • Canopy
  • Flares (or, better yet, and emergency strobe)
  • Duct tape
  • Knife
  • Firesticks
  • Rope

Food and Water

  • Food rations and other high-calorie protein snacks
  • Water bottles
  • Water purification tablets
  • Fishing kit

Medical Supplies

  • Bandages (various sizes)
  • Tape
  • Aspirin
  • Scissors
  • Personal Medications

Have you discovered any must-have emergency supplies? Share them with us in the comments!

5 New Places to Fly in 2015

Looking for a new place to fly? Wondering where to spend your next vacation? Part of the joy of flying includes exploring new places while avoiding airlines and long road trips. Here are five stunning places that will remind you why you fly and double as fun vacation spots for the whole family. If you haven't been to these places, put them on your flying bucket list for 2015!

  1. First Flight Airport (KFFA), Kill Devil Hills, Outer Banks, NC
    First Flight Airport should be an airport in every aviator’s logbook. A flight to KFFA will let you experience flight as the Wright Brothers first did at Kitty Hawk in 1903. The airport itself is part of the Wright Brothers National Memorial. It’s home to the Wright Brothers Memorial, which rests high on Kill Devil Hill, the Wright Brothers Visitor’s Center, the Flight Line, where large stones commemorate the Wright Brothers’ takeoff points, and a reconstruction of their living quarters.

    But that’s not all. There are plenty of things to do in the Outer Banks, so plan on grabbing a hotel or beach house and staying on the beach for a few days. The area offers a wealth of activities like golfing, fishing and hang gliding. View some of the area lighthouses or just relax and take in the sights.

    Airport Information: KFFA has a 3,000-foot asphalt runway. There are no instrument approach procedures, and it can be windy. If you need a larger runway, you’ll find a 4,305-foot runway six miles south at Dare County Regional Airport (KMQI). Stay aware of the restricted areas, MOAs and other low-flying operations like hang gliding.

    Pilot Services: AOPA has donated a pilot’s lounge that is reportedly accessible at all hours, but there is no fuel available here, so plan ahead to stop elsewhere.

  2. Sedona Airport (KSEZ), Sedona, Arizona
    Red rock country offers spectacular views and a relaxing atmosphere for a vacation. Sedona airport sits atop a gorgeous plateau of red rock, and flying in is a treat - as long as you are prepared for the potential downdrafts associated with the sharp drop-offs on approach and landing.

    There’s a nice restaurant with panoramic views at the airport and it’s a quick trip to the downtown area, where shopping and tourist attractions are plenty. Take a jeep tour across the red rocks or visit the Chapel of the Holy Cross, which is built into the side of a canyon and is an impressive architectural sight.

    Airport Information: KSEZ has a 5,132-foot runway. Look up the noise abatement procedures before you go, and expect turbulence around the airport. There’s a GPS approach to Runway 3. Its elevation is 4,736 feet, so keep density altitude in mind.

    Pilot Services: Full pilot services are available at Red Rock Aviation. The airport restaurant, Mesa Grill Sedona, is fantastic.

  3. McCall Municipal Airport (KMYL), McCall, Idaho
    McCall is a great airport to visit year-round. If you’re looking for a great ski resort, check out Brundage Mountain Resort, which has 46 trails on 1500 acres. In the summer, the area around McCall offers amazing hiking, camping, fishing and river rafting opportunities. For a quiet, peaceful vacation away from it all, McCall is the place to be.

    Airport Information: McCall’s runway is 6,108 feet. It sits at 5,000+ feet, so keep density altitude in mind. The area gets a lot of snow in the winter, and KMYL is only attended during the day, so night approaches during the winter can be tricky. There are RNAV(GPS) approaches to either runway.

    Pilot Services: 100LL and JetA are available at McCall Aviation, along with a variety of additional pilot services. Hangar space, preheating and de-icing services are available.

  4. Nantucket Memorial Airport (KACK), Nantucket Island, MA
    Nantucket Island has it all: Beaches, whale watching, lighthouses, shopping and restaurants. From the airport, rent a car or a bicycle and explore the island. It’s a great place to take the family for a few relaxing days in the heat of the summer.

    Airport Information: KACK has three runways, with the longest being 6,303 feet. There are multiple approaches available, including an ILS on Runway 06/24. There are noise abatement procedures in place. It can get foggy here, so expects delays. And don’t forget that you may need floatation devices on board for this trip!

    Pilot Services: A full service FBO is located adjacent to the terminal. It’s recommended that large aircraft call ahead to make arrangements. Bring your own tie-down rope and look up the landing fees in advance.

  5. Mackinac Island Airport (KMCD), Mackinac Island, MI
    History buffs will love Mackinac Island. Pronounced “Mack-in-naw,” the island separates the lower and upper peninsulas in northern Michigan, and is a great place for a day trip in the airplane. Cars are not allowed on the island, which keeps things peaceful. Hike, bike or take a horse-drawn carriage around the island and see historic sights, caves, springs, rock formations and wildlife. Check out Fort Mackinac, which was constructed by the British during the War of 1812.

    Airport Information: KMCD has a 3,501-foot lighted runway. There’s an RNAV(GPS) approach to runway 08/26 and a VOR/DME-A approach. No touch-and-goes are allowed here. If you need a longer runway, or are getting a hotel for a few days, try Pellston Regional Airport (KPLN), which has a 6,500-foot runway and more pilot services.

    Pilot Services: Call ahead for the landing fee. Tie downs are available, but no fuel or maintenance services are available. If you’re going for longer than a day, you’ll want to fly into KPLN for full pilot services.

Are you planning to fly somewhere new in 2015? Share your airport ideas with us in the comments!

12 Things You Didn’t Know About the Wright Brothers



Most of us know that Wright brothers Orville and Wilbur were smart guys who also had a thing for bicycles. But what else do we know about these two brothers that successfully launched America – and other countries – into the world of flying? Here are a few interesting facts about the fathers of modern aviation.
  1. Neither Wilbur nor Orville finished high school. A hockey accident left Wilbur badly injured and he fell into a depression, forgoing his plans to attend Yale. Instead, he stayed home and cared for his mother, who had tuberculosis. In the meantime, Wilbur’s younger brother Orville dropped out of high school his senior year to open a print shop.

  2. In 1889 Wilbur and Orville started their own newspaper. It was a West Dayton paper called West Side News, in which Wilbur was the editor and Orville the publisher.

  3. Orville and Wilbur’s father was a bishop who traveled a lot. Their mother was the parent they turned to for advice on their engineering and design pursuits. Being mechanically inclined, she would design and build small appliances and also built toys for the two boys and their siblings.

  4. Wilbur was mature for his age, and he preferred to hang out with his two older brothers. He was invited to join their social group called the “Ten Dayton Boys,” where activities included annual meetings, drinking, eating and singing.

  5. Wilbur was quiet and studious. Orville was mischievous, but shy.

  6. Orville played the mandolin. His sister Katharine, whom he was very close to, is known to have said, “He sits around and picks that thing until I can hardly stay in the house.”

  7. The brothers funded their airplane pursuits with bicycles. The pair went into business designing, building and repairing bicycles. They competed with many other bicycle shops, at first selling the popular brands and later designing and manufacturing their own.

  8. The Kitty Hawk location was chosen based on certain criteria that included a soft place to land, sustained winds, elevated areas to launch from and, of course, wide open spaces.

  9. The test gliders were left on the beaches of Kitty Hawk. After the test flights of the first three gliders, the aircraft were so beat up from their time at Kitty Hawk that the Wright brothers just left them behind on the beaches of Kitty Hawk. A wingtip was later recovered, and is the only piece found from the Wright brothers’ gliders.

  10. One wing was shorter than the other on the Wright Flyer On the Wright brother’s design of the 1903 Wright Flyer, the left wing was engineered to be four inches longer than the right wing in order to compensate for the engine placement on the right side of the pilot.

  11. The brothers tossed a coin to determine who would be flying the Wright Flyer during its first test flight. Wilbur won.

  12. Farmland was used for future flight testing in Ohio, as long as they moved the cows first. Tired of continuous flights to Kitty Hawk, the Wright brothers sought out the use of land from a nearby farmer in Ohio. They built a hangar there and began a mission to fly circular flights and make the aircraft more practical. The farmer requested nothing in return, except that they lead the cattle away before flying.

8 METAR Codes You’ve Always Wondered About

Aviation weather reports are pretty simple once you’ve been trained to read and interpret them, but the more often you fly, the more often you’ll see new and strange codes on METARs (aviation routine weather reports). Some of these are decoded below. A few of these are codes that you may have learned for your check ride but forgot about years later, and others are just plain rare or insignificant.

For more details on METAR codes and other aviation weather reports, check out the FAA advisory circular AC-0045-G, Aviation Weather Services. This particular advisory circular is very thorough, and even if you were previously educated on the codes below, you’re likely to learn a thing or two about Aviation Weather Services from this one.

Here are a few METAR codes that are commonly forgotten, misinterpreted, or never learned. How many do you know?

  1. BKN014 V OVC
    Most of us know that this means there’s a broken cloud layer at 1400 feet AGL. But what’s the ‘V’ mean? The ‘V’ here means that the cloud layer at 1400 feet is variable between broken and overcast. It’s a code that’s not that commonly seen.

  2. CIG 002 RWY11
    If you see the code above and there’s already a ceiling reported earlier in the METAR report, it means that there’s a second station on the field that’s also reporting visibility, and you’ll know this because the specific location will be included. This ceiling is only included if the ceiling at this second station is lower that otherwise reported in the METAR. Here, it means the ceiling is 200 feet at the ceilometer location near runway 11.

  3. SNINCR 2/10
    If the snowfall increases by one inch or more since the previous reported METAR, it’s indicated by ‘SNINCR’ followed by the amount. In the case above, the snow has increased by 2 inches in the past hour, and the total snowfall is 10 inches. This could be easily misinterpreted as a snow increase of 2/10 of an inch, so it's worth remembering.

  4. A01 and A02
    A01 and A02 are types of METAR stations. This code, which is often brushed aside as meaningless by some, distinguishes between a station with a precipitation discriminator (A02) and one without (A01).

  5. $
    The dollar sign at the end of a METAR indicates that the station has self-identified itself as needing maintenance. This one is pretty common, but not all pilots take the time to figure out what it means.
  6. TSB22RAB17GRB23
    This notation gives the time that special weather events began (noted by the ‘B’) and if they’ve ended, what time they ended (noted by an ‘E’). The text above means that thunderstorm began at 22 minutes past the hour, rain began at 17 minutes past the hour, and hail (GR) began at 23 minutes past the hour.

  7. PRESRR
    If the pressure rises or falls at a rate of 0.06 inches per hour, and the difference from the last reported pressure is 0.02 or greater, than the code PRESRR will be used, which stands for pressure rising rapidly, and the code PRESFR will be used to note pressure falling rapidly.

  8. PNO or CHINO LOC
    At the end of a METAR, you may often find an abbreviation ending with ‘NO’. These are most likely sensor status indicators. There are a few different possibilities for these sensor abbreviations. Above, PNO means that the “tipping bucket rain gauge” sensor isn’t working. ‘CHINO LOC’ means that the sensor for the secondary ceiling height indicator is not operating. As you can see, some of these aren’t necessarily intuitive, and will often require you to dig deeper to determine what they mean.

These are just a few of the commonly unknown METAR codes. There are many more, as you’ll discover by reading the advisory circular suggested above.

Which strange codes have you stumbled upon while checking the weather?

5 Winter Weather Hazards Pilots Should Pay Attention To


Photo: Scott Wright CCBY-SA 2.0

Winter has arrived early for some, with snow and ice abundant in northern parts of the country already! Cold-weather flying can bring smooth, calm air and great performance, but it can also bring ice and slick runways. If you’re an avid year-round flyer, then you’re probably familiar with the hazards associated with flying in the winter: cold engine starts, frost on the wings, structural icing, and slippery runways. Winter operations include preheating the aircraft, getting the frost off the wings before takeoff and avoiding icing conditions in aircraft that aren't approved for flight into known icing. There are even hazards involved with de-icing! Winter flying is enjoyable, as long as you stay ahead of these winter weather hazards:

  1. Cold engines
    If extremely cold temperatures, it’s wise to preheat the engine before flying. Besides sluggish oil, frost can build up on spark plugs and freezing cold temperatures can also cause instruments to freeze or be sluggish – all bad news for the airplane. Engine crankcases should also be inspected during the preflight to ensure there’s no icing due to vapors condensing.
  2. Frost
    Frost and ice found on your aircraft during the preflight can be removed. Frost and ice found during takeoff, not so much. Even a tiny bit of frost on the airframe can cause a significant loss of lift and the aircraft might stall at a lower-than-usual angle of attack. Never take off with frost on the aircraft!
  3. Icing

    As winter arrives and the freezing level gets lower and lower, pilots need to be prepared for structural icing. Without a properly equipped aircraft, pilots should stay out of areas where icing is forecast or likely. But sometimes icing occurs without notice, and it can occur rapidly. To stay out of trouble, make sure you always have an escape plan if flying in the clouds in cold weather. Ice build-up on the airframe causes loss of lift, increased drag and increased weight.

    If you enter icing conditions in an ill-equipped aircraft, your choices are to climb, descend or turn around. Much of the time, small aircraft will not have the performance to climb through a cloud layer, which is why it’s important to be able to gauge aircraft performance quickly if it’s reduced. It’s also very important to know where the cloud layers are. A pilot in a small airplane won’t want to try to climb if the cloud tops are at 30,000 feet. But if it’s a thin layer of clouds with, say, the base at 6,000 and the top at 7,000, you should be able to climb out of the icing conditions and get above the clouds.

    In most cases, you’ll want to turn around or descend below the clouds. And don’t forget that you can enlist the help of ATC and other weather services if you need assistance getting out of icing conditions.

  4. Runway condition
    During the winter, runways can be slick from frost or icy conditions, and they can also be wet from aircraft operating and winter vehicles removing snow. Know your aircraft’s performance and limitations with wet, snow-covered or icy runways, and make sure you give yourself plenty of extra landing space. Wet runways really do reduce landing performance.
  5. De-icing hazards
    It should go without saying that credit cards aren’t recommended for scraping ice off airplane windshields. But every year, I hear a story about this happening. Get the ice off the recommended way: A soft brush made for aircraft can get the snow off, and de-icing fluid can melt the rest. But de-icing procedures can be hazardous if you don’t know what you’re doing!

    Remember that melted ice can refreeze quickly, and you should always check flight controls and flaps, as well as hinges after de-icing, where water can drip and refreeze.

    De-icing fluid should always be handled with care. A quick check of wind direction before spraying will ensure you don't get Propylene Glycol in your eyes!

    Finally, make sure you’re using an appropriate chemical for your aircraft, and follow local airport procedures for de-icing areas and safety protocols.

Have your own winter flying tips to share? Let us know!