What if all goes wrong? Egress training

For those of you who are frequent flyers, have you ever wondered how it would feel if you had to use one of those life-vests stored under your seat around your neck, what happens when you pull that red tag? How do you get onto that life-boat anyway? For those who are private pilots (especially on floats), ever wondered how to get out of that thin layer of aluminum / plastic in case of a water landing gone bad? And is that window on the side big enough anyway to get through?

Shortly after getting my float plane endorsement,  I had the opportunity to attend a one-day Egress training session hosted by Bryan Webster near Ottawa to answer these questions and more.

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I had a vague idea of what to expect before attending this training. But after going through the day, I can only recommend this to any private pilot (even if you don’t fly on a float plane) as well as for those who fly a lot in GA airplanes and are sometimes over water.

The day starts with the equivalent of ground school, to learn the basics, understand the theory. We’ve spent some time discussing the importance of egress training, and the high-level view of what to do. Bryan took the time to go through the statistics related to water ditching… not a pretty picture. One of the fun and very interesting part of this part was when we all had an opportunity to put on a yellow un-inflated life vest and did pull the red trigger. I actually was one of the “lucky ones” who had a working model, and it is getting really cold very quickly when all that air is let out of the tiny bottle that quickly.

Following the theory came the practice. No, we didn’t go flying, but we did jump in the pool. Bryan has developed multiple “torture boxes” to get as real an experience as possible when completely disoriented. I for example learned that all single engine piston Cessna windows are the same size, and that I easily fit through them.

The first exercise is actually outside of the water and teaches you that you should take the habit to have a tactile representation of the cockpit and not only a visual one. If you are upside down and immerged in salt or muddy water, your eyes are really not the most useful thing, and knowing how the exist handle feels and how to get there by following things you can feel will be a life-saver.

Then comes the water. First thing was to have some first hand experience with the life-vests. As we all pulled the red trigger earlier, we had to blow in the tubes to inflate the vests. Luckily for us, the pool was really warm. Following a try to swim with the life vests inflated, we also learned more about how to get on a raft / life boat… a lot harder than they make you  believe in movies, especially as they don’t always inflate on the right side and you might have to flip them over.

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Then comes the torture box… or should I say the “representation of a GA airplane cockpit”. You volunteer to go and sit in a small box that will be flipped on its head while under water, and your mission, if you want to survive, is to get out of it before you run out of air in your lungs. OK, Bryan is there to monitor that it never gets to that stage, but you still will get a lot of water up your nose going through this exercise. Somehow, looking at the first picture above, I seem to enjoy the experience. I actually did go through the torture box multiple times to make sure things become as automatic as possible. Just be aware, Bryan loves increasing the number of spins as your experience in getting out increases, to make sure you are even more disoriented than last time.

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I make it sound horrible, and the nose-drinking of pool water sure isn’t fun, but learning how to get of that box in a safe and controlled environment is absolutely amazing. You have an opportunity to learn the right reaction to have, to teach your instincts what to do in case this was for real one day (which I hope will never will).

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We continues the session with another larger model of the torture machine, to learn different types of exists while under water. And for those with a cold, the GA airplane torture box is an amazing way to get your sinuses cleaned multiple times.

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At the end of the day, you will have learned how you would feel in case you really had to ditch in water, you have a good sense of how disoriented you are under water after stopping upside down, and will make sure to never let go the frame of the plane / a fixed part, know without looking the configuration of your plane and how to open that window to get out as quickly as possible. You will also make sure to keep your seatbelt fasten as long as possible, e.g. until the exit window / door is open, so that you keep a fixed frame of reference with your mental representation of the cockpit.

You will find additional videos on the dunkyou.com web site and will find all the details about this course, its upcoming locations and much more. Looking back at this course and at my recent sea-plane rating, going through egress training should almost be mandatory for anyone flying float-planes regularly, and it should be highly recommended to GA pilots of all experiences (the Rockcliffe Flying Club members communication is how I learned about this course in the first place, thank you Jean). If you are a passenger frequently flying over water, you should also seriously consider this lesson.

Thank you Bryan for everything I learned. Let’s hope I will never need it.

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This entry was posted on Saturday, April 14th, 2012 at 0:05 EST and is filed under flying. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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