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Aircraft Survival Kits: Get Properly Equipped

by Jeremy Cox 1. November 2009 00:00
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With winter rapidly approaching, isn't it time for you to make sure that you are properly equipped for the absolute worst case scenario, i.e. a forced landing?

It is very hard to believe that in this age of Global Positioning Systems, Satellite Emergency Locator Transmitters, that an aviator as skilled and as experienced as the ill-fated Steve Fossett could disappear so completely, for so long. Glenn Miller, Amelia Earhart also comes to mind when grappling with this topic. Having a suitable survival kit on board would not have helped Mr. Fossett; no-one knows about Miller and Earhart.

Regardless of the circumstances of each disappearance, unless you exclusively only fly over urban areas, the winter here in the U.S.A. anywhere north of the 35th parallel, is a killer to anyone who is unprepared and unequipped for freezing conditions. In fact, if you ditch anywhere in the seas that surround this land, at any-time of the year, including July and August, you will eventually suffer from hyperthermia, slip into a coma and perish soon thereafter, if rescuers are not close at hand to pluck you from the water. A sobering thought, but absolutely true.

Many readers of this article will probably not be willing to allow their limited payload allowance to be eaten-up by carrying a universal-world-wide survival kit that includes a full medical and surgical kit, tent, Meal Ready to Eat (MRE) provisions, stove, shark repellent, signal flares, etc. plus an inflatable life raft which can amount to a hefty dead-weight of 150 pounds or more. Instead it is practical to at least bring together a small collection of 'must-have' items that are tailored to enabling you to survive if the worst possible situation forces you down into the wilderness that you normally traverse from above.

Environments and Climates
First, let's divide the various types of terrain found in this country, into separate categories:

  • Maritime
  • Desert
  • Wilderness

Next let's discuss the Köppen 'five' climate classification system. This was first developed by the Russian climatologist Vladimir Köppen in 1884.

Class A: Tropical
Temperature of the coldest month: > 18°C. This climate is where the most water- and heat-demanding crops (for instance oil palm and rubber) are grown. The climate is also ideal for yams, cassava, maize, rice, bananas and sugarcane. Sub-classes are:
Af - No dry season, at least 60 mm of rainfall in the driest month
Am - Monsoon type. Short dry season but sufficient moisture to keep ground wet throughout the year.
Aw - Distinct dry season. One month with precipitation < 60 mm.
i - Isothermal subtype. Annual range of temperature < 5°C

Class B: Dry
Arid regions where annual evaporation exceeds annual precipitation. Even the wettest variants of this climate are characterized by a marked dry season. The climate is, therefore, mostly unsuitable for the crops that require year-round moisture. The main crops are usually millet, sorghum and groundnuts. Sunshine is usually high, which leads to high productivity where a sufficiently long rainy season or irrigation ensures a sufficient water supply: rice, sugarcane and maize are also common crops under this climate.
The two main subclasses refer to the dominant vegetation types: BS (steppe climate) and BW (desert). They are further subdivided as h subtype (subtropical desert with average temperature > 18°C), k subtype (cool dry climate of the middle latitude deserts), and k' (temperature of the warmest month < 18 °C).

Class C: Temperate
Average temperature of the coldest month < 18°C and > -3°C , and average temperature of warmest month >10°C. The main crops are the temperate cereals such as wheat, barley and Irish (white) potatoes. An important variant of this climate is the Mediterranean climate, characterized by the olive tree, and also very suitable for grapes. The main subdivisions include:
Cw - Winter dry season. At least 10 times as much precipitation in wettest month of summer as in driest month of winter
Cs - Summer dry season. At least three times as much rain in wettest month of winter as in the driest month of summer, the latter having less than 30mm precipitation.
Cf - At least 30 mm precipitation in the driest month, difference between wettest month and driest month less than for Cw and Cs
Additional qualifiers are a (hot summer, average temperature of warmest month > 22°C), b (cool summer, average temperature of warmest month < 22°C) and c (cool - short summer less than four months >10°C). Note that the "raw" temperate climate extends into what is actually BS and BW, as the "Dry" B type is superposed on the other types where only temperature is used to define the climate.

Class D: Cold
Average temperature of the warmest month > 10°C and that of coldest month < -3°C. This climate grows essentially the same crops as the temperate climate, but seasons tend to be shorter and limited at the beginning and end by frost.
This climate type comprises mainly the Df subtype (at least 30 mm of rain in the driest month, difference between wettest month and driest month less than for Cw and Cs) and Dw (winter dry season - at least 10 times as much precipitation in wettest month of summer as in driest month of winter). Other codes used are: a (hot summer, average temperature of warmest month > 22°C), b (cool summer, average temperature of warmest month < 22°C), c (cool, short summer less than four months > 10°C) and d (average temperature of coldest month < -38°C).

Class E: Polar
Average temperature of the warmest month < 10°C. No crops are grown under this climate. The two main subdivisions - ET (tundra, average temperature of warmest month > 0°C), and EF (no month with temperature > 10°C) - are sometimes qualified by d if the average temperature of coldest month < -38°C.

Your chosen kit must be tailored to the environment and climate that you will be operating within.

Survival Kit Must Haves (all-environments)
The smallest and most manageable component of any survival kit is a survival knife. A multi-tool is a decent choice, but after very little effort using a search engine on the web, it is easy to find one that features a drop point stainless steel blade with a serrated top edge. A textured hasp handle that houses a miniature survival kit which includes a multi function skinning knife, can opener, throwers, slingshot, matches, compass, sewing kit, fishing kit, band-aids, tweezers, and a signalling mirror.

Your newly acquired survival knife must also be supplemented with a sun-hat, a small nylon or dacron rope (12 feet minimum), a solar blanket, a handful of condoms (they are excellent for holding and transporting water), a roll of water purification tablets, a roll of Oxytetracycline tablets (anti-infection/diarrhoea), a snare wire, and a candle, or two.

Any items added to your kit beyond these 'must haves' are only required, based upon the terrain environment that you will be flying over.

Maritime Survival Kit
To conduct flight operations overwater, out of sight of land it would be insane to be without, at the very least a life-raft on board your aircraft that has the capacity to accommodate every soul on board the aircraft. A life preserver on its own is just wishful thinking. Smart operators also either wear or carry full-body immersion suits for everyone as a supplement to the life-raft.

Desert Survival Kit
Water, water, water; oh have I mentioned water? A solar still would be a wise addition to this kit.

Wilderness Survival Kit
You might be well served to add a firearm to this kit. This is mainly for protection against man-eating predators, but it could also be used to hunt for meat as well. Be careful of state law, though. Most law enforcement people (outside of Alaska) will arrest you if they learn that you have a firearm on board your aircraft.

Commercial Survival Kits
The following are examples of commercially available Aviation Survival Kits (thanks to bestglide.com)

The NATO Approved Aircrew Survival Kit

Water Purifying Tablets


Water carrier condoms (2)

Flint & Striker

Fire tablets

Sewing needles

Small tin

Vinyl tape

Emergency Sleeping bag

Nylon cord



Suspender clips (shelter)

Fishing kit

Snare wire

Wire saw

Razor blade

Elastic band

Instruction sheet

Foil blanket


Weight: 450g (16oz)


Size approx: 7" x 4.5" x 2"


The USAF Approved Aircrew Survival Kit

Water bag

Nylon cord

Button compass


Flint & Striker

Hack saw blade

Fishing kit


Mini multi-tool


Sewing kit

Purification tablets

Safety pins

Single edge razor

Salt sachets

Purification Straw

Signal mirror


Snare wire

Wire saw

Grip lock bag


Survival instructions

Extra Water bag

Vinyl Tape

Waterproof Paper

Micro Light


Includes a light-weight mini mess tin with rubber seal and roll over clasps.


Weight: 10oz (290g)

Size: 5.25" x 4" x 1.25"

UK Special Forces Air Service (SAS) and U.S. Army Rangers Survival Kit

Nylon windowed pouch

Flexible tubing

Air-tight re-sealable bag

Fireball Flint

Green plastic bag

Hacksaw striker


Brass snares

Mayday signal mirror

Suspender clips

Tinder cards

NATO Survival Matches

Fine cord (20m)

Stainless steel multi-tool

Sail needles

Water bag

Needle threader

Water tablets

Commando Wire Saw

Tornado whistle

Fishing kit


Weight: 13.5oz


The Mission Aviation Fellowship Survival Kit


BG Survival Kit Bag - MilSpec Materials - Made in USA
(10000 Denier Cordura w/ 3/4 oz water repellent backing, YKK Self Healing Zippers, D Rings, reinforced seams, milspec webbing and hardware)



Medical and Protection


Triple Antibiotic Ointment - Foil Packs (.5-gm)/Bag


Povidone/Iodine Swabs


Band Aids Bandages, 1"x 3", Plastic


Tongue Blades, 3/4" x 6", Wood


Gauze Roll - Stretch Kling (2"x 4.1" yds)


Gauze Roll - Stretch Kling (1"x 4.1" yds)


Adhesive Tape, Waterproof, 1" x 10 yd


Lip Balm - Blistex - .5 gm packets


Steri-strip Wound Closure (butterfly bandages)


Non-Aspirin Tablets, 2 tabs per pkt


Aspirin Tablets, 2 tabs per packet


Electrolyte Tablets, 2 tabs per packet


Gauze Pads, 4" x 4"


Moleskin (3 x 4)


Liquid Soap - Sanitizer Soap, 2-oz Bottle


Sun Screen - SPF 30, 1.5 gm Foil Packs


Triangular Bandages


Emergency Bandage - Civilian Version


Eye Irrigate Solution, 1 oz.


Ben's 100, 1-1/4 oz., Inspect Repellent


Sawyer Extractor Snake Bite Kit



Food Gathering


Water Container - Collapsible 2 Gal


MP1 Katadyn Water Purification Tablets, 30 tabs per pack



Warmth and Shelter


BCB Tinder Cards


AMK Heatsheet 2 Person Survival Blanket


Plastic Match Holder - Orange



Signaling Equipment -- MAF Required:


Signaling Mirror -BCB NATO Mayday Signal Mirror (2x2)
(NATO Stock #6350-99-613-9818)


Whistle - Orange, NATO Distress Whistle
(NATO Stock # 4220-99-120-9470)


Dye Marker - Orion-Water and Land w/Lanyard


VS-17 Signal Panel (Military Issue)
(National Stock Number (US) 8345 00 174 6865)



Required Miscellaneous Items:


Inova X1 2.0 w/1 Alkaline Battery
(compact, 1.5 miles visibility, crush proof, water resistant)


Brunton Nexus Star Compass w/ base plate


Leatherman Micra Tool - Compact Durable Multi Tool


Wiseman (SAS) Ultimate Survival Guide


So, what is your plan to survive? Please let me know your thoughts. Also remember that any input that you care to make will be of great interest to all of the readers here at Globalair.com. So don't be bashful. Go ahead and write your comments and suggestions here. Please don't forget that whatever you write here, can be seen publicly by everyone that visits this page, so please be funny, be inspired, but most importantly of all, please be nice.

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Jeremy Cox


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