Two Letters Re: Escape From (Fill in Your City Here), 2009

I liked JC in Oklahoma’s reply to Escape From (Fill in Your City Here), 2009 but with all due respect, I would not cut someone else’s lock. Most gates that I have seen around where I live, have a chain with a lock. I would advise cutting a link out of the chain and attaching your lock, like a replacement link. This way you keep the owner somewhat happy and still accomplish the task of passing thru the gate as well as being able to cross back through.

Now I need to get out and check what routes I might use to leave in a hurry. – Jim B

My father-in-law just bought a Cessna 172 [single engine light aircraft] and that got me thinking about this. An option folks might consider is getting out by air. Depending on the nature of the emergency, escape by light airplane might be a very viable option for those who learn to fly and stay current enough to be relatively safe (that is to say, maybe not totally legal but good enough to pull off a single long trip in good weather). I say relatively because in a SHTF scenario, some things just don’t matter quite as much. I’d much rather risk my life flying while not totally current than wait in my single-story house for a fallout cloud to arrive.

It has been almost twenty years since I took the bulk of my flying lessons. (I had logged 45 hours total and needed only my last cross-country and a check ride when I ran out of [flight training] money) but I’ve flown a number of times since and have no doubt I could get from here to a thousand miles from here if the weather was good and I could carry or otherwise obtain enough fuel.

I figure a guy has two options for getting a plane if TSHTF. The first, and ideal, option is to have a cultivated relationship with the flight school owner or operator. If TSHTF, you call him at home and rent the plane. The second, and it is doubtless you (Jim) won’t like it, is to “borrow” a plane using a key you cut the last time that you rented it. Cycle through renting all of the planes during your instruction and you’ll have your choice of aircraft… Of course taking a plane without permission is theft, but the intention is to return the plane. If it’s life or death I’ll deal with the ethical questions later. Remember, these are flight school planes rented to students, not “another man’s food” and if it really did hit the fan, people aren’t going to be lining up for flying lessons today anyway. [JWR Adds: While I cannot condone theft, I should mention that is common practice, particularly with flight schools at small airports, to have all of the yoke or throttle locks keyed-alike, for the convenience of the instructor pilots. Also, most throttle shaft locks are not very robust. In an emergency, a pair of bolt cutters can be used to remove a lock. And furthermore, on many aircraft models, the throttle knob is held in place with one or two Allen head set screws, or made of molded plastic, and can therefore be cut, crushed, or otherwise removed, allowing a throttle shaft lock to then be slid off.]

There are a couple logistical considerations here. One is fuel. Some light planes can burn autogas (car gas) but many require leaded Avgas. In either case, you’ll need to be prepared to carry enough fuel to get you where you need to go. It is doubtful that in any situation that requires that you ‘borrow’ a plane that fuel pumps will be operational at your intermediate stops. Even if the automated pumps work, the credit card networks could be down. You might be able to siphon gas (more theft) from other parked planes bring. a self-priming siphon!) but to be safe you’re going to have to carry full gas cans. Research into lead substitutes might be useful, though I’m unsure if any suitable products exist. Better perhaps to concentrate on planes that can burn automotive gasoline.

[JWR Adds: Tetraethyl lead (TEL) is sold under the trade name Octane Supreme 130 (and other names, sold at some General Aviation flight centers, FBOs, and at automotive speed shops.) It can be used, but it must be carried in a container that has a perfect seal, even with pressure changes. Do NOT carry it in an aircraft passenger compartment. Parenthetically, there is “TEL Tale” in the biography of Charles Lindbergh. A leaky cap on a large can of TEL stowed behind his seat once almost killed him, while on a flying tour of South America. (He very nearly passed out and crashed.) Keep in mind that when used in ground vehicles, TEL will foul oxygen sensors very quickly, and of curse cannot be used in vehicles with catalytic converters. Its use would also violate Federal Clean Air standards, so it would not be legal for use on public highways. Keep in mind that TEL can be used to extend the useful life of “elderly” stored stabilized gasoline, as well as of course mixing your own high-octane blend from stored low-octane gas, so I recommend keeping a couple of bottles on hand.]

The second logistical problem is payload, and it is greatly affected by the fuel problem. Most light planes cannot safely carry a full load of passengers and bags plus a full load of fuel. If you’re carrying jerry cans of gas, don’t count on taking much in the way of baggage and there’s no way you’ll be able to fill every seat with a passenger. Most of the weight and balance calculations with regard to fuel, passengers and baggage can be worked out ahead of time though, so you’ll know what you can pull off. In the end this will only work for someone who has pre-positioned their supplies [at their retreat.

This approach has advantages: Zero traffic jams. Zero river crossings. Zero chance of being looted on the highway. Again, I’m only suggesting this as a last-ditch SHTF way to get out of Dodge. I would not steal food if doing so could potentially cause someone else to starve. Same thing on a weapon, vehicle or any other item. But in my mind the the equation is simple here: My life is worth more than a flight school’s airplane. In the end this is an extremely unlikely scenario, but it’s an arrow in your quiver and a fun one to prepare for. – Matt R.