When things get gloomy, I reach for my Smith & Wesson
By Paul Jansen
It is the simple things that are the easiest to overlook. I never switch on my ignition until I am sure my portable GPS is with me in the cockpit. Or that the covers for the Pitot tube and my engine air intake vent are in the pocket beside me. But I used to neglect checking whether I had a flashlight within reach.
Two recent events changed this.
First, a good friend and experienced pilot related how one day the weather closed in so rapidly that it became dark before he could find the switch to the instruments’ lights. He had to fumble around the cockpit panel before he located it. Many pilots who fly in Southeast Asia with its turbulent monsoons have experienced such rapid changes in weather.
The other incident involved a trainee pilot whose plane crashed into a mountain slope and was stuck in the treetops. Because it was balanced so precariously, rescuers had to wait till morning to begin extricating him from the plane.
Both men could have done with the comfort of a reliable flashlight.
There are many other occasions when a pilot will need one – even in daylight. For instance, when the harsh daylight leaves an afterimage on your retina, which makes looking for something in shadow, like the condition of your flap linkages, almost impossible.
I have used a variety of flashlights and have always compromised on some element or other, weight over brightness, length over longevity, and so on.
But I may have found the ideal companion: the Smith &Wesson Galaxy 13.
This compact 18cm long, 3.8 cm wide torch weighs just 6 ounces. The “13” comes from the number of LEDs it features – 10 white and 3 red. Two switches allow you to select red, white or a combination of the two. In fact, there are additional combinations: just 1 red or 3 red lights alone or together with the white.
The white LEDs are quite bright and are sufficient for all my current and potential needs. The red LEDs are necessary for when I need illumination but do not want to destroy my night vision in flight. Although I do not fly after sunset presently, I will soon be doing so and my Smith & Wesson should come in handy then.
The LEDs have several advantages over filament bulbs, chief among which are that the filament in the bulbs burn out faster, is susceptible to breaking when dropped, and because it needs to heat up before producing light, consumes more energy. On this last point, filament bulbs for flashlights are said to have a life span of about 15 hours.
The Galaxy 13’s LEDs will not break when the flashlight is dropped, and are said to last more than 100,000 hours.
The Galaxy 13, which costs about US$37, uses 3 AAA batteries. They fit into a removable barrel, which makes changing them a snap. And because they do not have to expend a lot of energy to produce heat (as required by filament bulbs), they last much longer (about 30 hours) in the LED flashlight.
All these features are important. But often, people pick things for visceral reasons.
So it was with the Galaxy 13 and me. One look at it and you will know that it comes from a company which prides itself on achieving the elegant solution. The matte black corrosion-resistant anodised aluminum casing is flawlessly machined.
But it possesses more then mere good looks. Rings at both ends with notched edges prevent it from rolling around when you place it down and point it at your target. It is also balanced so that you can stand it on the back end and have an uplight without needing to jam it into something.The 2 switches are located within easy reach of your thumb while your hand wraps around the non-slip crosshatched grip.
I must admit that its provenance also had a large part to play in my choice.
Smith & Wesson is renowned for the quality of its small arms. Named after Americans Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, it began in Connecticut in 1852 as a firearms manufacturer.
The official history notes they worked on a pistol which could use a fully self-contained cartridge. This was unsuccessful and they sold their company to a shirt manufacturer named Oliver Winchester.
Later, Mr. Winchester used their design to produce his own weapons and became famous as the founder of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.
Undeterred by their initial failure, Messrs Smith and Wesson came up with a small revolver which fired the first fully self-contained cartridge which they patented. They also patented the revolver. These were the seeds of their later success as world leaders in handgun manufacturing.
The company is proud of the fact that one of its guns, the .44 Magnum Model 29 revolver, featured prominently in the movie Dirty Harry starring Clint Eastwood. “Harry” was an iconoclast who preferred arming himself with a gun which made its debut in 1956, rather than equipping himself with something new.
This was grist for the mill as I considered the Smith & Wesson Galaxy 13. It was clear to me that a company which prided itself on manufacturing products on which lives clearly depended daily, was not going to drop its guard down on the rest of its product line. It has a reputation to protect.
Which is why I bought five Smith & Wessons. One for myself and one each for four friends who were wayfarers on my journey to a Private Pilot’s Licence.
Copyrght: Paul Jansen 2011. All rights reserved.
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