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Emergency Bailout Procedures, Part II
Emergency Bailout Procedures, Part II
Safety Wise

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July 2001

Emergency Bailout Procedures Part II

By Allen Silver

(Reprinted with permission)

This month we continue the 3-part series on emergency bailout. This month covers the most feared event in the life of an aerobatic pilot - jumping out of his airplane.


As you recall in Part 1, we covered all aspects of preflighting your parachute system as well as preflighting your mind. The positive, confident attitude we began to develop will become extremely important, in this part, as I take you through properly donning your parachute, bailing out of your disabled aircraft and deploying your emergency parachute system. For myself, an experienced skydiver, this is the fun part. But for most of you who can't understand why I would jump out of a perfectly good airplane, this will probably be the most challenging aspect both physically and mentally of executing your emergency bailout procedures.

Now, we're ready to put on your parachute. First, I want you to loosen (if necessary) and unhook the chest and leg straps. Put on your parachute like a vest being careful not to pick it up by the shiny, metal handle (the ripcord) or by grabbing just the risers where they come out of the container. Unless the risers are tacked in place you could pull the lines out of the container.

I suggest you fasten the chest strap next. Do not over tighten it. The vertical portion of the harness (the main lift webs) must run in an approximate straight line from each shoulder to your waist so they can properly take up the opening shock. Over tightening the chest strap can cause a portion of this load to transfer to the chest strap and it may cause damage or failure during opening.

Next fasten the leg straps. How tight should they be? Adjust them while bent forward at the waist. A simple guideline to use is when you straighten up you will feel a considerable amount of pressure in the small of your shoulders. Men, this is a good time to make sure certain parts of your anatomy are situated comfortably and are not being pinched by the leg straps. The leg straps will feel looser when you sit in your aircraft, but does not mean they are too loose. You can tighten them again if you desire, but they do not have to be so tight they're painful, just snug. When adjusting your harness special care must be taken not to allow the free ends of any adjustable straps (such as leg & chest) to remain against the adjustable friction adapters. During opening shock, where everything stretches, they could accidentally unthread. To be safe I recommend leaving at least 2-3 inches beyond the end of the adapters. Tuck in all the loose webbing ends in elastic keepers or wherever the manufacturer tells you. This will prevent them from snagging on anything, particularly on exit. Once in your aircraft NEVER loosen or remove your parachute. If you cannot adjust your harness properly have your rigger assist you.

Become familiar with all the adjustments your parachute has. If your parachute is worn by different size people it must be properly adjusted for each person to prevent you from possibly falling out of the harness. You will not fall out of a properly adjusted harness. Some parachutes, particularly the older military pieces of equipment, may have as many as seven adjustments you must be familiar with. Consult your individual manual for instructions or better yet, a qualified rigger, if you have any doubts.

If quick ejector snaps are used make sure you feel the lever snap over the detent balls. Unless seated all the way, the lever can easily be snagged and opened. I want to emphasize the importance of this because it takes very little force to release a partially locked quick ejector snap causing you to be totally without a leg or chest strap.

I suggest that you get your parachute on and off outside your aircraft. Why? We are creatures of habit and in case of an emergency when the adrenaline is flowing and you must bailout, you may do what you are accustomed to doing. For example, after a normal flight you may be accustomed to opening the door or canopy, releasing your safety belts, taking off your parachute and exiting your aircraft. By putting your parachute on and taking it off outside your aircraft you eliminate the possibility of leaving it in your aircraft when you may need it the most. If your aircraft is built (or you are) in such a manner that donning your parachute inside your aircraft is easier at least be very aware of the potential problem.

Don't just get out of your aircraft after your through flying. I strongly recommend that you practice your emergency bailout procedures prior to your first flight of the day. Why? Because your first flight could be your last. Now, don't stop here. At the completion of each flight when everything is shut down is a perfect, stress free, time to practice your emergency bailout procedures. This allows you to simulate jettisoning your door or canopy, undoing your safety belt(s) and exiting your aircraft. There have been several incidents where pilots had difficulty releasing their door or canopy. Make sure the release mechanism is properly lubricated and operates smoothly, especially if you fly in a dusty environment. Now I'll discuss emergency bailout procedures in greater detail.

Every pilot and type of aircraft will require a unique set of procedures. If your aircraft has escape procedures become familiar with them and commit them to memory so you can do them in the dark and in any attitude. If your aircraft has no escape procedures make up your own checklist and practice them.

I'm sure there are many others, but I can think of four major reasons to leave an aircraft: a midair collision, a structural failure, a severe control problem or a fire. In a situation warranting a bailout you must react quickly. This is where your practicing will pay off. This is not the time to start thinking of the proper procedures. Having formulated an escape ahead of time could save your life.

Two things that might help you if and only if you have the time and still have some control are to gain as much altitude (AGL)

as possible and to slow your aircraft down to

Emergency Bailout Procedures Part II

continued from page 4

make bailing out easier. But you may not have this luxury. Others say close your throttle and mixture just prior to exit to lessen the slipstream during bailout. This is fine if you have time, but when in doubt bailout immediately. The parachute works fast, but you still need time and altitude for it to work properly. You will need 2-3 seconds for your parachute to completely open.

First jettison the door or canopy if necessary, them unfasten your safety belt(s). Note: NEVER unfasten your safety belt(s) first. You may be slammed into the canopy or other portion of your aircraft and be injured or rendered unconscious. You may find yourself upside down and jammed into some corner you never thought possible. The safety belt(s) are designed to hold you in place until you're ready to exit.

After unfastening your safety belt(s) be prepared for one of four things to happen: 1) you may be pulling 1 (g) just like sitting in your aircraft on the ground, but not likely, 2) you may be pulling positive g's making egress very difficult, particularly if you have on an older, heavier military style parachute, 3) you may be pulling negative g's making you into a human cannonball, or 4) a combination of 2 and 3.

In any event be prepared for a difficult exit where you will need both hands to crawl and claw your way free of your disabled aircraft. You must be free and clear of your aircraft before pulling the ripcord to prevent the aircraft and parachute from entangling.

If you are unsure of your altitude (AGL) you must find and pull your ripcord as soon as you're clear of your aircraft (about one second or approximately 20 feet). The key is to get clear of your aircraft and LOOK for the ripcord in case it came free from its pocket. Looking also prevents fumbling and pulling on other parts of the parachute system and wasting valuable time, which happens more often than people think. Don't worry about which way the aircraft is spinning as to which side you exit. Just get clear and pull the ripcord.

If you wear glasses the wind will probably blow them off during exit, so you will want to practice finding your ripcord without them on. Another suggestion would be a snug fitting strap and/or other method, such as a flying type helmet on over them. There are also goggles you can wear over your glasses such as skydivers use. Another option is to carry (on you) a spare pair of glasses in a secure place, such as a small waist pack. If you wear a waist pack put a signaling mirror and whistle in it to aid in your recovery. Survival equipment in your aircraft is fine, but you may not be able to recover it.

Generally, an accepted method of pulling the ripcord is to firmly grasp it in your right hand with your left thumb hooked in the handle. Pull the handle as if you're trying to punch both fists through a wall. In other words pull as if your life depended on it. Consult your manual for their procedures or ask your rigger. Remember to pull hard, fast and fully extend your arms. If any ripcord cable remains in the protective cable housing, pull it out and toss the ripcord away. One, this will make sure you actually pulled the ripcord and two this will prevent it from tangling with the deploying parachute if your tumbling. If you injure yourself on exit you may have to pull the ripcord with one hand only. Don't give up. Remember to LOOK, FIND, REACH & PULL. This is a procedure you can perfect with the help of a qualified rigger. Many riggers color code your ripcord handle with a bright, contrasting tape to aid you in locating the ripcord handle, on the first try. Remember, you may have only one try at finding and pulling the ripcord. If they haven't done this you can easily do it yourself or have them do it at the next repack.

As the parachute deploys keep your legs firmly together to help prevent the parachute from going between them and possibly entangling or causing severe injure to various parts of your anatomy (especially you men).

If you are absolutely sure you have plenty of altitude (AGL) it is all right to fall for a few seconds. I recommend about 3-5 seconds before pulling. This will tend to distance you from your disabled aircraft and will help prevent the possibility of it coming around and hitting you or entangling with your chute. BUT, if you are unsure of your altitude LOOK, FIND, REACH & PULL as soon as you are clear of your aircraft (about 1 second). Be careful not to accidentally pull your ripcord in the aircraft. It may cause the parachute to entangle on the tail or other aircraft surfaces. Some people say to take a hold of the ripcord before you exit, but I strongly recommend waiting until after you are clear of the aircraft. Because, you may need both hands to assist you in escaping your disabled aircraft.

Now that you're free and pulled the ripcord how long will it take for your parachute to be fully deployed? Your parachute should be fully open in about 2-3 seconds. That means if you're 6 inches or 6,000 feet above the ground once your parachute is open, it's open and in its slowest descent mode. Your parachute will not need an additional loss of altitude to slow down. So, the only real difference between 6 inches and 6,00 feet is that at 6 inches you don't have as long to enjoy the scenery and your were very lucky. What may vary in the 2-3 seconds it takes for your parachute to open is your loss of altitude. If you exited your aircraft in a horizontal plane you may only lose approximately 150 feet of altitude in 2-3 seconds. If your aircraft is diving straight towards the ground you may lose approximately 700-800 feet in the 2-3 seconds it takes for your chute to open. The time is consistent, not the loss of altitude. If I had to give you an average distance for your chute to open in 2-3 seconds I would say about 300-350 feet is probably average.

It would be nice to say everything is done and you can just hang around enjoying the ride and the view, but you're a survivor and survivors do not give up. There is still work to be done.

The final installment will discuss steering, avoiding obstacles and proper landing procedures. You've come this far and I don't want you to blow your landing and recovery. You are not going to have the luxury of a missed landing approach and be able to go around.

Literally, let me leaving you hanging until next time. Take care and blue skies. As always, if you have any questions or parachute needs, please feel free to call or write. I can be reached Monday through Friday 8am-4pm (PST) at (510) 785-7070.

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