Over the last two days at work I feel like I’ve significantly increased in my preparedness for life in the Alaskan wild — although I am still undoubtedly oblivious to the many things that can and will go wrong. Nonetheless, B3 Aviation was probably one of the most interesting courses I have ever taken.
We went over basic aviation terminology, like point-to-point (flying from one place to another), high reconnaissance (such as aerial surveys or herding), and special use (any sort of off-airport landing). Most of my work will be point-to-point and special use. I learned how to use a flight plan and flight tracking, as well as the types of technologies in the plane and procedures used to relay information back to central dispatch in Denali, plus the importance of briefings and knowing the controls of the plane in case something happens to the pilot.
As per government regulations, we are required to wear a full fire-retardant flight suit, survival vest, helmet, and gloves for any special use flight, such as the one I’m doing next week. The survival vest contains three methods for making a fire; a knife; flotation device; compass; whistle; rope; mirror or laser signaler; and basic first aid supplies. The idea is that in the event of a crash, all you will escape with is what you are wearing, so the vest can theoretically keep you alive for a couple days. The on-board survival kit, if that makes it through a crash, contains a more extensive selection of the same items, plus rabbit snares, a 20-gauge shotgun, and fishing lines. Only in Alaska!
As you would expect, even in ideal circumstances about the minimum amount of time for a rescue to arrive is 4 hours — and that’s IF they know your exact location and weather conditions are good. If a flight plan is not filed or the flight isn’t tracked, it can take anywhere from 38 to 86 hours or more for help to arrive if they can find you.
But the biggest take-home message from the whole training was to keep a calm and positive attitude, for both the pilot and the crew members. In fact, our trainer emphasized that on any flight we should see ourselves as active crew members and not just passengers, be willing to refuse a flight if we feel unsafe, or take control of a situation. Even though you can never be prepared for what a crash will be like, the most essential tools you have are your attitude, your decision to live, and your ability to take responsibility for yourself.
I’m more excited than ever now to get on my first bush plane next week. For all the flying I’ll be doing this summer, I definitely feel like I have a better grasp now for what to expect and how I can fulfill an active role on each flight.