Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Engine Loss: How Will You React?

When an aircraft engine loses power, the pilot’s initial response can mean the difference between life or death

We don't want it to happen, but it can. An engine loss will cause surprise and denial, so you need to be mentally prepared with a plan of action. If a single-engine aircraft is still on the runway when the engine loses power, whether it be complete or partial power loss, the response is simple and straightforward: instantly throttle to idle and apply full braking. The POH should specify detailed steps for each aircraft, but the goal is to stop safely on the runway. Multi-engine turbine aircraft that have the capability may be required to depart single-engine after a certain point during the takeoff roll, but otherwise, stopping safely on the runway is always the best choice.

Once airborne in a single-engine plane, it's a different ball game, and success is dependent upon the pilot's execution, as well as the aircraft's altitude and location. Landing options in the flat farmlands of Kansas are significantly different than at an airport in the urban sprawl of the L.A. basin. Having a prepared plan for every airport from which you're departing might someday save your bacon.

The usual recommendation is to land straight ahead, up to 45 degrees off runway heading. This methodology has four distinct advantages: First, the winds should be similar to those at the departure airport. Second, the landing will usually have a headwind component. Third, it requires minimal turning. And finally, it's a simple, straightforward procedure to follow during a period of high stress.

The challenge is to choose the best touchdown locations (plural) throughout the departure phase of flight. If you're in VMC conditions, it's less of a challenge. If you're IMC or it's night, it's time to concentrate. You've probably heard the old saying about what to do if you lose an engine at night? Turn on the lights, and if you don't like what you see, turn them off again. There's a fundamental truth in that axiom. The important thing is to control the aircraft until it's stopped.

What To Look For
Since most flight operations happen at an aircraft's home base, have you given thought regarding where to land should the engine become recalcitrant? Have you considered the escape options on the reciprocal runways, as well as the other runways at your airport? And, what do you do about researching airports when you're planning cross-country flights?

Let's agree on a moral imperative. It's implicit in your choice of location and execution that you do your best not to harm anyone on the ground. With that in mind, a football field or a school yard may look inviting, but there could be people on the field. Maybe a lot of people, and with a failed engine, there won't be engine sounds to warn those on the ground of an aircraft's impending arrival.

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