Seat-belts & shoulder harnesses – Thank them later…
Written & submitted by Bryan Webster Since the early beginning of aviation history it was proven that seat-belts save lives. After a number of early bird men had been catapulted great distances in front of their most recent wreckage seat-belts were designed and installed. Along the way advanced innovations such as shoulder harnesses became common, especially in the faster more powerful machines that entered the aerobatic world of flight. Then emphasis was placed on quick releases and five point harnesses for immediate evacuation post crash. As aviation grew they became the standard for all who raced pylons or flew low in commercial operations plus on all military missions.
To put the concept in simple terms think of aircraft as an automobile with the gas pedal stuck at highway speeds and no brakes, because that is what you have once leaving the ground in any aircraft. Today good quality seat belts are mandatory on all aircraft, and shoulder harnesses are available in a variety of installations to suit any airframe on the market. The single strap across your chest is acceptable but could be inadequate for any forward high-speed impact. When compared to the single strap over each shoulder and secured from behind your head the crossover shoulder harness proves inferior. One day when you are in level flight holding the controls picture a sudden stop, then decide if your face is adequately protected from a high-speed impact.
When flying with no shoulder harnesses installed or unwilling to wear them when they are available, the individual leaves themselves open to the possibility of unnecessary serious facial and head injuries. To appreciate this understand when an aircraft accidentally enters water and noses down for example it stops completely in the length of its own airframe with incredible G forces. On impact the lap belt is designed to help hold you in the seat, but your body will fold at the hips leaving your upper torso unprotected from impact as the forces of kinetic energy go to work. One theory is prior to a crash place the seat cushion or jacket between you and the control column, and it’s a good plan although the shoulder harnesses should keep you from reaching anything in front of you anyways.
There are many different harness styles available for your aircraft from recoil to standard fixed on the cabin ceiling, so do your homework and find the installation right for you. Once a decision is made on the model be sure they easily release once you are in them, especially if the shoulder straps slide over your existing lap belts.
When seconds count either inverted underwater or at the end of a runway on your nose with smoke or possibly flames around, you will be glad this installation was well thought out for you and your passengers. Another safety option is carrying a simple seat belt cutter on-board, which should be within easy reach in the event of entanglement.
In my opinion all front seats in any aircraft should be equipped with quick release 5 point lap/shoulder harnesses to help lessen injuries during any incident. A sudden stop impact could easily result in an unconscious pilot or crew member, rendering them unable to help themselves or assist any passengers in the event of any emergency. In an underwater situation this is and has been lethal on numerous occasions here in Canada and around the world, where often the rear seat passengers if on board saved the unconscious pilot/crew. No matter what you fly or where, consider that seat belts and harnesses could be the best investment in safety you ever made. Statistics show lap belts in light aircraft are only effective in minor low-speed incidents. Properly installed shoulder harnesses reduce injuries 88% and fatalities by 20%.
Bryan Webster is a 12.000 + hour pilot actively flying on the BC coast today. In 1977 he was a passenger involved in a water crash while the pilot attempted to avoid power lines draped over the Fraser River east of Vancouver. He owns and operates Dunkyou.com & Egresstraining.ca– Aviation Egress Training Systems, headquartered in Victoria, BC, Canada. For questions or to enroll in the Aviation Egress Ditch Training Program contact – “Bry the Dunker Guy” at 1-877-GO-DITCH or per email: [email protected]