Skids Up No. 2: Dress to Egress

Survival is the “preservation of one’s own life under conditions of immediate peril.”  To preserve one’s own life under adverse conditions requires the ability to live through extreme conditions of emotional and physical shock, and hardship for an indefinite period of time.

Priorities of Survival

In the majority of the world, extensive search and rescue organizations exist. In developing countries, though, they may have nothing available at all. The local assets available should be part of your pre-mission planning and preparation. However, the possibility still exists that a person may be forced to spend 24-72 hours in a remote area while a SAR operation is organized and implemented, or bad weather clears. Even in the United States, the average rescue time can vary greatly:

Flight Plan Average Time from Last Known Position (LKP) to Rescue

  • Instrument Flight Rules (IFR), 11 hours 30 minutes
  • Visual Flight Rules (VFR), 18 hours
  • No Flight Plan, 62 hours 30 minutes

(Source: FAA)

The priorities of survival focus on the most important actions:

  1. PROTECTION – Protection from the elements, weather, insects and further injury.
  2. LOCATION – We want to be FOUND and be RESCUED.
  3. WATER – Collection and preservation of water.
  4. FOOD – Not an immediate priority, but necessary to prevent hypoglycemia and malnutrition.

These guidelines, however, do not take into account the most important action in any aircraft survival situation – That is to, first, evacuate from a damaged aircraft using emergency egress procedures. Once evacuation is complete and crews have performed a quick medical evaluation, they can turn their attention to the priorities of survival.  This blog addition will look at the fundamentals of our flight clothing, and how it addresses the need of PROTECTION. 

´Dress to Egress´


In this picture, you can see me dressed in my standard gear; set up for a training exercise here in Guatemala. The ambient ground temperature is 34 degrees Celsius, HOWEVER, the flight to the training site involves flying over a mountainous region with the doors open at an altitude of 5000 feet AGL. It is cold. I also usually wear the maxiofacial screen attachment for the flight helmet.

So, what is the term ´Dress to Egress´? It is part of the first priority of survival (Protection), and it is to wear the correct clothing required to have on you in the event of a crash landing. The key terminology here is ´wear´. If you are cold walking to your aircraft, then you are dressed incorrectly. There is, however, a balance between dressing correctly and over-dressing, so that you cannot accomplish your actual job. For those of us involved in aviation, that generally means long underwear, boots, helmet and flight suit. All of the paraphernalia we wear and carry will be covered in later blogs, so today we will simply look at the basic flight apparel.


In HEMS or SAR work, you have to wear a helmet. Unlike commercial passenger carrying helicopters, we do not have to keep the client pleased with how we look (i.e. Why do they wear helmets, and we don’t?). Blunt trauma is the leading cause of death in helicopter accidents. So why not wear one? There are many different options available, as discussed in the HLTH Podcast Episode 11 ´Gearing up for Transport w/Todd Hope´, so I will not go into depth here. They range, though, from simple conversion kits for standard aviation headsets (such as the David Clark Model pictured) to factory manufactured purpose built helicopter helmets.


Also, remember to correctly fasten the chin strap, or it is not a helmet – It becomes a hat and can fall of in a crash. Practice emergency egress wearing it, as you will forget a simple, but life saving procedure as shown here in this NTSB video:

(Flight Helmet Cords Can Impede Egress: Understand the hazard of direct-to-airframe cord connections):

Flight Gloves

Why wear gloves? Apart from the obvious purpose of keeping your hands warm, or to absorb sweat in hot climates, they are primarily for your protection against:

  • Fire – Many aircrew have successfully escaped the aircraft only to be engulfed in the flash fire that follows.
  • Injury protection against poorly fitted cockpits / flight deck fixtures, fittings and screws.
  • And they help in finger retention for those who persist in wearing rings.

Dependent on country of origin, the most common are the US style Nomex and kid leather variants. (British flight gloves tend to be all kid leather.) Gloves with holes (as in the picture of my hand) or with finger ends cut of, obviously provide less protection and need to be replaced or repaired.


Flight suits

These came to the fore during World War 1. Various types of one and two-piece outfits were developed among pilots to ward off the chill caused by prop wash and the cold of low-oxygen high-altitude flying. Leather quickly became the preferred material due to its durability and the protection against oil thrown off by the simple rotary and inline motors of the time. In 1917, Australian aviator Frederick Sidney Cotton’s developed the revolutionary “Sidcot” suit. This flying suit, with improvements, was widely used by the British RAF until the 1950’s. The famous fighter ace ´Baron von Richtofen´ was wearing a confiscated Sidcot suit when he was shot down.

Most modern flight suits are made from a blend of Nomex material. NOMEX® IIIA is a blend of 93% NOMEX®, 5% KEVLAR®, and 2% P-140 fibers manufactured by DuPont. NOMEX® is a meta-aramid fiber that doesn’t ignite, melt, or drip, and it retains its mechanical properties at elevated temperatures. KEVLAR® is a para-aramid fiber that has high tensile strength and is used to reinforce NOMEX®. P-140 is a static-dissipative fiber.

Most companies tend to utilize the flight suits based on United States military design. These are usually available in two different thicknesses; summer weight and winter weight (e.g. CWU 27/P or CWU 64/P). If you are constantly too hot (or too cold), check what type you have.

Sleeves need to rolled down fully to prevent the exposure of skin at the top of your gloves. A little known fact is that the ´collar´ is actually designed to be worn up (think ´Elvis´) to provide fire protection to the nape of your neck.

Many providers now offer flight suits in two pieces. These have the benefit of you being able to remove the top half, if stranded unexpectedly overnight somewhere (so you don’t have to walk round looking like Top Gun all night), and are obviously easier for ´calls of nature´.

So what do you carry in all those pockets? The first item you should consider is a knife – not for slaying dragons, but predominantly for assisting YOU getting out of the aircraft in an emergency.

US military style flight suits are fitted with a knife pocket (and lanyard) located on the left inner thigh. This was to house a simple lock knife; however more modern knifes can be included:


For those that do not have the knife pocket (or wear British flight suits), then an option that is available is the UK military aircrew ´J-knife´. It is housed in a sewn pouch on either the left or right thigh and attached by lanyard. It is accessed distally, so that you can retrieve whilst seated more easily. It has an annoying point that you can extend to emergency deflate life jackets (or cut yourself).

So what else can fit in there?

Items worth considering are:

  • Fire lighting steel, butane lighter
  • Mosquito Head net (can double as small fishing net)
  • Dry tinder for firelighting
  • Unlubricated condoms for water collection
  • Whistle
  • LED Microlight
  • Paracord

And remember, the mandatory aircrew survival items – credit card, phone charger, and sunglasses!


Boots are a highly personal choice. Dependant on your program and local regulations, these may need to be of a certain standard and construction. Before starting with a new program, it is always worth checking beforehand. For example, on our aircraft, we do not permit steel toe caps (stems from us all being ex-military where steel toe caps were prohibited). Have you ever tried either going through Customs or swimming with full flight gear and 2 extra pieces of metal attached to your feet? We tend to wear desert boots. The aim is to be comfortable for the duration of your shift, while, in the event you end up making a forced landing, you can walk anywhere.

In the next blog, we will look at survival kits; what to put in them and how best to carry them. – Analysis of injuries among pilots killed in fatal helicopter accidents. – The cost-effectiveness of air medical helicopter crash survival enhancements. An evaluation of the costs, benefits and effectiveness of injury prevention interventions.

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