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Training and Safety Tip: Emergency memory to the rescue

It’s no secret that I hold acronyms and similar memory tricks in low regard, and there are two reasons for this.

An emergency locator transmitter is removed for service during an annual inspection. Photo by Mike Collins.

First, I find that many people who store information in their heads don’t take the time to understand what they’re storing. For example, many a CFI candidate can rattle off the four levels of learning as: rote, understanding, application, and correlation. But they can’t tell you the difference between application and correlation because they (ironically) resorted to learning the acronym RUAC by rote without taking time to actually grasp the levels of learning.

Second, I find many people who use acronyms deploy them in something akin to an autopilot. For example, a pilot can religiously call out “GUMPS” on the downwind without mentally processing and completing each step, only to end up landing gear-up and wondering what just happened.

But there’s an exception to the rule, and one memory trick that I do like. It is one you can deploy regarding the regulations in FAR 91.207 (c) and (d) that pertain to inspection and battery life requirements of emergency locator transmitters.

First, the facts, then the trick. (I’m still worried some of you will deploy the trick without understanding the facts.) You must inspect the ELT every 12 calendar months. Well, actually, you can’t do it unless you are also a certificated airframe and powerplant mechanic. But as pilot in command, it is your responsibility to ensure it’s been done before flight, or you are flying an airplane that the FAA does not consider airworthy.

Next, the regulations require the batteries of these 1970s-era devices—that broadcast plaintive beeps for help on the standard emergency frequency of 121.5 MHz—to be replaced under two circumstances: if they’ve been used for more than one cumulative hour or if they have reached half their battery life. Exactly how you’d know either of those things is a subject for another day.

Now, here’s the trick: The numbers in the frequency correspond to the inspection and replacement requirements: 12 equals 12 calendar months, 1 equals one cumulative hour, and .5 equals 50 percent.

I like this one because it’s an effective two-way memory trick. It connects two things student pilots need to know: the emergency frequency (operationally necessary) and the regulatory requirement (important for passing the oral portion of the checkride). All it lacks is a way to remember that the newer ELTs dual-broadcast on 406 MHz as well as 121.5 MHz.

I guess you’ll have to resort to rote learning to memorize that.

William E. Dubois

William E. Dubois is a widely published aviation writer and columnist. He is an FAA Safety Team rep and a rare "double" Master Ground Instructor accredited by both NAFI and MICEP. An AOPA member since 1983, he holds a commercial pilot certificate and has a degree in aviation technology. He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor in the 2021 AOPA Flight Training Experience Awards.
Topics: Flight School, Training and Safety, Student
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