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

Dear James
Regarding Matt R.’s letter, I have been a survivalist and self-sufficient minded person most of my adult life. I live at my retreat in a prime western state. I have been reading your site for the last 18 months. I have learned some new useful information (never too late to teach old dog new tricks) from your site. I have also purchased quite a few supplies from your advertisers.

For most scenarios my home/retreat is a perfect place to be if the SHTF and I can just stay home. However I do not like to have all my eggs in one basket. I have three very different SHTF plans. One of my contingency plans is to get out of Dodge using aircraft. I keep a Cessna 206 in my back yard. My back up location is remote and has a place to land the plane. I was surprised by the pilot [in the subsequenty-posted letter] who so negatively responded of the use of aircraft as a get out of Dodge mode of transportation and strongly disagree with a lot of what he said.

I made my living for the last 30 years as a bush pilot, flying everything from Piper Super Cubs to DC-6s. I have flown over 12,500 hours as Pilot in command operating in the USA, Canada and Africa.

Cessna 172 Aircraft as a G.O.O.D. Vehicle
A 172 would not be my first choice in a plane to get out of dodge but the C-172 could carry the pilot along with one passenger and 300 pounds of gear nonstop for 400 miles. For some scenarios a C-172 or similar aircraft could be a life saver. [JWR Adds: I agree. It would be great if every pilot that reads SurvivalBlog owned a Pilatus Porter, but alas, we live in the real world, where budgets demand compromises. OBTW, one fairly inexpensive upgrade is having a spare set of extra large “Tundra” tires. These will greatly expand the improvised airfield possibilities of many high-wingers..]

I would not rely on any one plan to work if SHTF but for 1 of 3 contingency plans a small aircraft could be just the ticket. During a local disaster or to get to your well stocked retreat a C-172 or similar plane could save the day and be the best transportation option.

A 172 will land very short, a lot shorter than it can take off. In a worst case scenario for one trip to get to your retreat the pilot may not care if the plane ever takes off again. I have landed and taken off on thousands of beaches, roads, gravel bars, ridge tops and every other unimproved surface that you can think of. There are a few books, videos and specialized classes for bush flying that a pilot can learn from but it takes years to become proficient in off field bush flying. But even the average pilot has many options to land off airport. Just be honest with yourself and fly within your ability. The biggest hint I can give any pilot for off airport landings is check out the landing sites from the ground before attempting a landing. Fly over your retreat and look for possible landing sites, then land at the closest airport drive/walk to the prospective landing site, check the approach, escape routes etc. before you ever attempt to make a landing. If you are not 100% positive you can safely land do not attempt it and go find another spot. It would be better to walk an extra 10 miles to your retreat than be ½ mile from your retreat with a broken leg!

Auto Fuel in Aircraft
Auto fuel will work fine in any piston aircraft and most turbine powered aircraft for a limited time. Many Piston aircraft including 172s can legally use Auto fuel for private use. There are three issues with using auto fuel in piston aircraft.

First you need to make sure the auto fuel is clean and free from all water and particles. This is easy to do, just buy a MR Funnel (around $50) that has the micro screen filter in it and run the fuel throw it. If you have any concern let the fuel settle for ½ hour then run it through the filter a second time.

The second issue in using auto fuel is the engine life over the long term. Auto fuel will/may reduce the engine life of piston aircraft engines. How much will the life of the engine be reduced is hotly debated among experts. 0% -50% reduction in the life of the engine is the range the different experts claim. Piston aircraft engines are designed to go 1,400 to 2,000 hours between overhauls so even losing 50% of the engines remaining life should not affect a plane in a SHTF situation where you have to get out of Dodge.

The third issue is auto gas with ethanol is hard on aircraft hoses and gaskets and seals and will reduce the life of a bladder type fuel tanks. Again this is a long term affect and for a few flights and should not affect the safety of a flight. But if you let auto fuel with ethanol stay in the aircraft system it could cause big problems in certain aircraft.

To be legal the use of Auto Fuel in any aircraft the specific plane must have been approved for auto fuel and you must follow the STC. In a true emergency a few fights using clean auto fuel in a aircraft will have no affect. In many Third World countries that I have worked Avgas was not always available so we would occasionally be forced to run a tank or two of auto gas in our piston aircraft.. If you are using auto fuel in a plane that has 8.5-1 compression pistons keep the mixture a little rich and run the max power setting 5% below normal and you will be fine.

I operated DHC-2 Beavers and Piper PA-18 Super Cubs a on a steady diet of auto gas for years. The Piper Super Cub uses the same engine as most 172s. On one occasion I have even used auto fuel in a Twin Otter with PT-6 turbine engines.

If the plan is to use a plane to get out of dodge the biggest problem pilots may face is navigation. These days most pilots rely on nav aids and never practice using only a chart (map), compass and stop watch. In the last 15 years I have not checked out one single commercial pilot or flight instructor that could use a map and compass well enough to pass my company’s standards.

If you plan to use a plane in a SHTF situation be prepared for all navigation aids including GPS to be off line. I suggest using a Map and compass and practice that a lot. In a SHTF situation if you count on nav aids you are very foolish. Most pilots that have learned to fly in the last 20 years are not able to navigate worth a hoot using only a Map and compass and are way too dependant on nav aids. I suggest anyone planning to use a plane in a SHTF situation pre fly the route as often as possible while times are good. Take a chart and highlight the whole route. Make notes as to what the actual compass heading is that you need to stay on course. Have a check point every 5 miles and learn to recognize them. Have the average time it takes between check points written on the chart. Fly this route at both altitude and low level as the check points will look totally different. Practice your route without nav aids so you get use to using the compass and stopwatch.

Avoiding Small Arms Fire
As for getting shot out of the air by small arms fire that is unlikely. The part of the world I now work our planes get shot at a lot by small arms fire. It is rare that a plane ever gets hit. If you are 5000’ above the ground small arms fire will not hit you. The danger is the climb out and the descent. A very steep spiral or figure 8 descent will drastically reduce your chances of getting hit. A power off setting during a descent is very quiet and will not attract attention from very far. It can be hard on the cylinders because of shock cooling but in a SHTF situation do you really care.

The most vulnerable time to get hit by small arms fire is takeoff and climb out. The trick here is to wait for a clear night and perfect VFR conditions. Take off early morning just before first light so you will be at altitude just as it is getting light. People with small arms cannot hit what they cannot see so if it is a SHTF situation remember to leave all the aircraft lights off.

Another technique that can be used is to stay as close to the ground as possible ([as little as] 25 feet AGL) [in flat country] for the flight. This limits exposure and does not give people on the ground much time to react, locate and fire at you. Using the low flying method you must never fly near the same route twice as the second time you fly that route people on the ground will recognize the sound know a plane is coming and will be ready. A second low level run is far more likely to get you shot. I do not recommend this for most pilots and do not attempt the low level flying unless you have been trained for low level operations.

James, Please Keep Up The Good Work! You are providing a fantastic service and giving a tremendous amount of good sound advice. – Old Dog