By Jim Lavalley

As an Aviation Life Support Equipment officer in the Army, I was responsible for all kinds of survival gear, including a standard fixture on every Army pilot’s vest: the Aviation Survival Knife. This knife, replaced by the Aviation Survival and Egress Knife (ASEK) in 2004, was designed in the 1940s and procured by the US Army for its aircrews in the 1960s. The aviation survival knives are still durable and useful tools. Collectible older versions from the Vietnam Conflict era fetch up to $200 or more online. The knife has numerous fans (including me), who praise it for its ability to hold an edge and its workhorse utility.

My knife is typical of the most common variant, manufactured by the original Camillus Cutlery Company of New York in 1981. There are three components that complete the item: the knife, a leather sheath and a sharpening stone. The knife I have is just shy of 10 inches long overall, with a 5-inch blade. Older versions may have a slightly longer (5.25-inch) blade. The blade is parkerized to reduce reflections and has a wide “blood groove.” The top of the blade is serrated along 2.5-inches. Designed to cut through aircraft aluminum, it also works as a simple wood saw. The top, wickedly-curved edge of the blade can be sharpened all the way to a very sturdy point. The easily-gripped handle is made up of leather washers around an electrically insulated steel tang. The pommel, designed to hammer aviation glass for escape, is a large hexagonal steel nut that adds quite a bit of heft. The flat rectangular steel finger guard features two holes to thread parachute cord for making a spear.

ASEK Knife Sheath Stone forweb

As for the sheath, mine is rather worn from years of washing while it was attached to the survival vest. Made of riveted leather, it’s a simple affair that features a snap securing strap, two slots for a belt and a pocket for the sharpening stone. The stone itself is fine grit, about 1-inch wide by 2.25 inches long. It sharpens the blade adequately, but I prefer to use a steel hand sharpener to put on a quick edge. I’m sure that knife sharpening gurus can recommend kits and oils that will work wonders on an edge, but I’ve never been that patient about honing.

As an all-around tool, my aviation survival knife is hard to beat in terms of usefulness when I’m out in the woods. I’m not afraid that the blade will break from heavy use. As a surplus item, it’s a sure winner, but a little research can determine if it’s a collector’s item or like my knife, an affordable tool with a military heritage that anyone can purchase several of for themselves and/or as gifts for other surplus-lovers.