Saftey Within Arm's Reach?  

Saftey Within Arm's Reach?

by H. Dean Chamberlain

Some days being on a magazine staff is difficult, if not down right tough. The problem is we started working on the Spring-time articles two weeks before Christmas, and it is hard to talk about safety over the holidays when this article will not be used until after March. Plus I don't know how to ask Santa Claus for some of the following gift ideas. Then by the time this article is published, the gifts you gave have been delivered and the bills have started to come in, and it is too late to ask for or buy some of the following "pilot toys" if they were not on your gift list. Two things happened this week that we want to share with our readers that involve "pilot toys." Although I call them toys, they offer some very serious safety advantages, and, yes, like everything in aviation, they are somewhat expensive. The first thing that caught my attention this week involved an article I read in the latest Soaring Society Association's Soaring magazine about a sailplane pilot that was involved in a very serious accident.

The pilot received many, very serious injuries. According to the author, the medical people who treated the pilot said that if the pilot hadn't been in such good physical condition he probably would have died in the crash. In addition to his great physical conditioning, several things helped save the pilot. One was the pilot himself. Although laying in the cockpit with multiple breaks of his neck and with a broken back among other injuries, the pilot, once he regained consciousness, was able to reach his cellular telephone and call for help. Other factors contributing to his rescue were that other people had witnessed the crash, and they were also able to call for help. Another pilot was able to fly over the crash site and helped rescuers locate the crash site. All told, the pilot was lucky. He survived the crash, and help got to him very quickly.

But I think the author made a very good point in his article when he commented on the fact the pilot was able to reach his own cellular telephone and call for help. The author, like many of us that fly with a cellular telephone in our flight gear, said he kept his cellular telephone stored in the back of his sailplane in case he had to land off airport. He said he did not expect to have to be able to reach it in an emergency to call for help. The fact that the pilot involved in the accident was able to call for help as part of his own rescue we think is an important safety reminder for all pilots.

If you carry a cellular telephone or a handheld aviation transceiver, or both, can you reach one in the event you have to do it in the aircraft whether in flight or after a crash? Whether you have an electrical failure and have to get in contact with air traffic control or you are involved in a survivable accident, can you reach your telephone or radio while you are strapped in your seat? The same is true of survival equipment. It is something to think about. You may not be able to move more than your arm. If you can't reach something, it is as good as not there.

A word of caution though. Whenever operating any type of signaling device around an aircraft crash site, you must always make sure there is no risk of an explosion because of fuel spillage around the crash site. It doesn't do you any good to survive the crash just to die in the ensuing explosion and fire, especially a fire you caused yourself.  Please also remember that the Federal Communications Commission regulations prohibit the use of cellular telephones in flight. The reason is cellular telephones are designed to only activate the appropriate receiver within a designated "cellular" area. At flight levels, the telephone could disrupt a wide area of cellular operation. But in a life-threatening emergency, you just may want to use your telephone.


The FAA participates in a Federal Government Interagency Committee on Search and Rescue Research and Development Working Group (ICSAR R&AMPD WG). The ICSAR R&AMPD WG is a subcommittee of the Government's full ICSAR that represents those Federal Government agencies with a national search and rescue (SAR) responsibility. One benefit of representing the FAA on the ICSAR R&AMPD WG is the opportunity to see and hear about new search and rescue technology. Which brings us to the newest pilot "toys." I wish Santa would have thought to bring me some of these items for Christmas.

 First the small print. Whenever FAA discusses a new product, FAA has to be very careful not to imply endorsement for any particular company's products. But at the most recent ICSAR R&AMPD WG meeting, two products were demonstrated that have a potential SAR value.

 The first product was a handheld satellite GPS communicator. The unit allows data communication via low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites anywhere in the world. Since each unit has its own email address, you can send and receive email messages around the world. The company that offers the service is ORBCOMM which uses a commercial Magellan satellite receiver. In addition to email messages, ORBCOMM offers a voice relay service that customers can subscribe to that uses human operators to relay messages to anywhere in the world with telephone service. Subscribers to the service can also call in for any stored messages. The voice service is designed for those messages where someone may not have access to their email account. In that case an operator will try to call and relay the message. Since the satellite communicator has built in GPS capability, it can also send your present position to anywhere in the world you want it delivered by email. So say for example, you make an emergency off-airport landing out in the back country, you can communicate your position and intentions by satellite to your home or anyone with email access or using the telephone service to anyone with a telephone. And since the communicator is two-way, they can also send you messages. Now think how convenient such a system would be in a crash in the outback. Now you can see the potential for such a system. Now when you go beyond cellular telephone service range or even beyond line of sight range of a radio, you can still communicate by satellite.

 In addition to the ORBCOMM service, there are small portable satellite telephone systems in operation as well. So, if you haven't been reading the trade publications, there are some great ways to communicate today using satellites.

 Another way to communicate using satellites is by having a cockpit data link such as that developed by ECHO FLIGHT that uses the ORBCOMM satellite system of LEO's in partnership with ORBCOMM to provide data link information to general aviation (GA) aircraft. Although the airlines and large corporate aircraft have had such systems for years, technology now is permitting small GA to install such systems for the price of only several thousand dollars. The service can provide near (not) real time weather radar maps from the National Weather Service, as well as real time tracking of your aircraft using a built-in GPS engine.

 Each data link receiver has a built in email address so messages can be sent to your specific aircraft. With the right equipment, your aircraft can be tracked from takeoff to landing. The system also permits the selective message of specific flight parameters.

 In the case of an accident, it is possible for someone to know your location within the accuracy of the GPS unit virtually anywhere in the world. There may be some areas in the world without complete satellite viewing, but those areas are being reduced as more satellites are launched.

 These two services, satellite communication and satellite-based GA cockpit data link, have the potential to reduce the SAR response time as well as making life easier for those that fly. Add in your cellular telephone, a handheld aircraft transceiver, a 406 MHz emergency locator transmitter, and you have the ingredients to make being lost virtually impossible anywhere in the world.

 Aren't toys grand?
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