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#29759 - 08/01/04 06:56 PM Strobe Light for Survival Kit
Anonymous
Unregistered


I was discussing local crashes with some pilots in my area (Vancouver, BC) the other day. It turns out one downed pilot was found last month only because he used the flash on his camera to alert an RCAF SAR Buffalo aircraft which was directly overhead but could not see him. This happened at the tailing edge of dusk. It was the last search run SAR was doing for the evening when they caught the flash of his camera through the trees. In my area, it is not uncommon for aircraft to totally disappear when they crash into the trees on a mountain side.

I always carry multiple signal mirrors, but they are not very effective through a canopy of trees, especially late in the day on the shadow side of a mountain. This incident has got me thinking that I need to add a strobe to my survival kit. Does anybody have any experience in this area or have any suggestions?

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#29760 - 08/01/04 09:08 PM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
aardwolfe Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/22/01
Posts: 923
Loc: St. John's, Newfoundland
Some aircraft have powerful strobe lights installed that would, if undamaged, be much more effective.

I think that a handheld camera flash would be a pretty weak signal, but I would certainly use it if I had it. A detachable flash from an SLR type camera would be best, as it will keep going until the battery runs out. By comparison, the flash from a disposable camera would be much weaker, and could only be used up to 24 times (until you ran out of film). It might be worth buying a disposable flash camera and chopping it apart to see if there's a way to get the flash to fire after the film's been used up, though.

I wouldn't bother carrying a powerful strobe for emergency purposes myself; I suspect a PLB would be cheaper and lighter.

If you do have a camera-mounted flash gun, check the manual (if you can find it) and figure out how to get the most powerful flash out of it. If you just mount it on the camera and take a picture, for example, it may read the ambient light and reduce the flash output accordingly. With my Nikon flash, I would set it to manual and set the film speed to the lowest possible setting (although I don't know whether this would make any difference); then I would press the "test" button. (Note that even weak batteries - up to a point 0 will produce the same brilliance of output; it just will take longer for the flash to recycle in between.)

The only way you'd know for sure, I suspect, is to grab a partner and go out after dark and test it, to see how far away the flash can be seen. If anyone has kids in school, this might make an interesting science fair project.

Another thing I would try, although it likely wouldn't do any good, would be to build a mirrored reflector. Think of a cardboard box; remove the top, front, and one side and what are you left with? The back, bottom and the other side, each meeting the other two at a 90 degree angle. If you arrange 3 mirrors in this fashion, then a light shone at them will be reflected back toward the source, regardless of the direction (as long as the light is actually hitting all three mirrors). Yachts often have similar devices mounted as radar reflectors on the top of the mast, I understand; it's the same principle as the reflector on a bicycle. I was told when I was in the military that the French Resistance used these to signal a landing area for Allied pilots coming in at night; the pilot would hold a torch (flashlight) in his teeth and would be able to see its reflection on the ground. (Each Resistance member carried a single mirror, which - in theory - wouldn't raise suspicion if he were stopped and questioned. In practice, I think the Germans would have been very curious <img src="/images/graemlins/confused.gif" alt="" /> ) I suppose it's possible that a pilot flying towards such a contraption at night might be able to see his own lights reflected from the ground. It might be a way to test the visibility of your flash gun; e.g. if you can see the reflection of the flash from 1/4 mile away, then I suppose you can reasonably conclude that the flash is visible from twice that distance (as the light has travelled 1/4 mile in one direction and another 1/4 mile in the other).

I might try other things; for example, string up a mylar Space Blanket and try bouncing the flash off that to see if that's more visible at a distance than the flash by itself.

I think this was a case of somebody making use of whatever was available and getting lucky.
_________________________
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."
-Plutarch

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#29761 - 08/02/04 01:50 AM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
MartinFocazio Offline

Pooh-Bah

Registered: 01/21/03
Posts: 2148
Loc: Bucks County PA
I carry this:
http://www.princetontec.com/dive_aquastrobe.html
When we go out on the delaware or into other marine rescue situations, this thing is attached to my PFD and turned on at dusk.

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#29762 - 08/03/04 04:16 AM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
forester Offline
Journeyman

Registered: 07/04/02
Posts: 57
Loc: Oregon
I recently bought a Pelican Mini Flasher (I think for around $12). Though I haven't tried it out in the woods yet I was looking for something to tie onto my fireline web gear for working night shift on wildfires. Especially when working around equipment, it's nice to be seen. I imagine a Photon 3 might be just as visible.

Terry

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#29763 - 08/03/04 05:03 AM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
NealO Offline
new member

Registered: 11/18/02
Posts: 34
Loc: SF Bay Area, California
Quote:
It might be worth buying a disposable flash camera and chopping it apart to see if there's a way to get the flash to fire


The disposable cameras w/flash are a neat bit of technology. However, opening one up is not for the faint of heart - pun intended. They contain a small electronic voltage booster and a high voltage capacitor (read: caZAPitor) which discharges to power the strobe. The capacitor typically stores energy at 400-500 volts. It will spot weld flesh (fingers of experience) and potentially worse.

/Neal

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#29764 - 08/03/04 12:32 PM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
williamlatham Offline
Enthusiast

Registered: 01/12/04
Posts: 235
Loc: Stafford, VA, USA
Another issue to consider when playing with flash tubes is that they produce an extremely large amount of UV radiation (light) when the flash tube is removed from the flash housing. The flash window absorbs the UV. Do not look into the flash without this housing.

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#29765 - 08/03/04 02:24 PM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
Polak187 Offline
Veteran

Registered: 05/23/02
Posts: 1403
Loc: Brooklyn, New York
Pelican mini flasher is barely visible at 100 yards in the open. My dog has one when we go to the park at night. Yeah even my dog has a flashlight. <img src="/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" />
_________________________
Matt
http://brunerdog.tripod.com/survival/index.html

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#29766 - 08/03/04 02:27 PM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
Polak187 Offline
Veteran

Registered: 05/23/02
Posts: 1403
Loc: Brooklyn, New York
Look at this thread:

link

We basically talked about different strobes and what they got to offer.
_________________________
Matt
http://brunerdog.tripod.com/survival/index.html

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#29767 - 08/03/04 03:45 PM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
aardwolfe Offline
Old Hand

Registered: 08/22/01
Posts: 923
Loc: St. John's, Newfoundland
Good point, and thanks for the warning.

I wasn't thinking so much of fiddling with the flash itself, but with the wiring leading to it, to see if there was a way to bypass the shutter release mechanism in order to trigger the flash. But on sober reflection (not that I was drunk when I made the previous post <img src="/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" /> ) I probably wouldn't have the tools to do this in a survival situation anyway.
_________________________
"The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled."
-Plutarch

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#29768 - 08/03/04 04:00 PM Re: Strobe Light for Survival Kit
Anonymous
Unregistered


Doesn't have the tools, eh? Well, if EDC doesn't do it, what about a rock? Takes out the film when you smash the casing, but with a little finesse...

Not that I am promoting brute force when dealing with a potential life saving McGyverism.

Rena

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