Two Letters Re: The Cessna 172 Bug Out Plan

In response to the recently-posted writing contest article The Cessna 172 Bug Out Plan, by Captain Zoobie:

1. Unleaded gas works perfectly well in Cessna 172s. (Just use some leaded fuel once in awhile to lube the valves). Even with an open window, fumes from gasoline containers in the cockpit will likely be unbearable, especially at altitude! (You have to vent them or they might burst as you climb, the original poster should know this.)

2. If you want to be able to get out in an emergency, you should hangar your plane at a small airport and get out before authorities have time to come out and shut it down. Any larger airport will likely have the runways blocked with vehicles, and you might even get shot down by small arms fire if you try to escape.

3. In a real emergency, there will likely be a nationwide no-fly order in effect immediately, as on 9/11 and thereafter. If you want to escape with a no-fly order in effect, you’d better be able to fly at treetop level, and it would be best to know where radar stations are so you can stay over their horizon. If you fly at 8,500 feet, you are likely to get shot down. In any event, true preparedness would include a way to get down, get to a stashed vehicle, and then get away from the area before authorities show up looking for the ‘terrorist’ who defied the no-fly order. And if it’s your own airplane, they’ll know where to look for you. Quickly.

4. Add in one passenger, and the whole weight equation changes. It is better to have a place you can fly to where your stuff is stashed, and that you can drive to if weather is bad. A couple old vehicles at the destination with full tanks of fuel wouldn’t be a bad idea either, for use as a fuel cache or escape, depending on conditions.

Conclusion: The airplane as a bug-out tool can be useful if there are warning signs of impending nuclear attack (don’t rely on government or news to warn you explicitly), or if society breaks down enough that authorities won’t have the resources to stop you. Otherwise, it falls under the heading of ‘the more complicated and high-tech your emergency plans are, the more likely something will go wrong when you need them most’.

I’m a pilot, too, and love to dream about using an airplane to bug out. But the reality of it is, it’s probably only going to be useful if it’s used before TSHTF. Weather, conditions at the departure and destination points, potential hazards en route, ability to even get to your airplane, and running afoul of the air defenses of our military are just a few of the things that can foil this escape strategy.

Thanks for a great blog, – Anonymous John


I think Captain Zoobie has a good beginning on a plan to use his Cessna 172 as a bug out vehicle, but there are a few things I would like to add.

* Beware of density altitude.

I live in the Sierra, and the nearest air port is Truckee (TRK). The airport is at about 5,900 feet MSL, but on a hot summer day the air can thin out so that the density (equivalent) altitude is 9,000 feet! When the air is that thin, you have 15% less power, 15% less thrust, 15% lift, etc.. Experienced pilots have killed themselves (and family members) because they underestimated the effects of density altitude. If there is any chance that Capt. Zoobie may do some mountain flying, I recommend he get dual time with an instructor who is well versed in mountain flying. Also, there is a gem of a book “Mountain Flying Bible ” by Sparky Imeson. This is an excellent introduction to issues he will need to know about.

* Do a trial run packing the aircraft.

There is no substitute for practice. This also includes packing the aircraft and determining if all of that gear will actually fit. I would also suggest taking notes on the packing process if it turns out there are special ‘hints’ he should remember for next time.

* Is the useful load really 900 pounds?

It’s been awhile, so my memory may be faulty, but I thought the 172 had a useful load closer to 700 pounds. In any case, the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) for the model in use is the gospel. Keep in mind that while the maximum load is legal, and structurally safe, the handling response will be degraded and he should avoid situations where rapid or violent control inputs are necessary (such as spin recovery).

* Ham Radio Repeater Networks

I’ve recently discovered that there are 2 meter ham radio repeater networks in areas I would not have imagined. If Captain Zoobie has a 2 meter band handheld, he can probably get very good intel on what’s going on in the area, before he exposes his aircraft to danger. It
would be handy to laminate a list of repeaters, frequencies and PL tones that he will be traveling near. 73 and Best of Luck, – Bear in the Sierra