Plane & Pilot
Friday, February 1, 2008

When The Propeller Stops Propelling


Engine-out emergencies: Planning and training are your best defense


propeller openerThere aren’t many mechanical contrivances that are more reliable than an aircraft engine. At the same time, there aren’t too many mechanical contrivances upon which our physical well-being is so clearly dependent. The good news is that engine failures almost never happen. The operative word being “almost,” it has to happen only once to ruin your day. If you keep your wits about you, however, and you plan for the possibility of an engine failure, you greatly increase the probability that you’ll survive the unscheduled reunion of airplane with earth.
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propeller openerThere aren’t many mechanical contrivances that are more reliable than an aircraft engine. At the same time, there aren’t too many mechanical contrivances upon which our physical well-being is so clearly dependent. The good news is that engine failures almost never happen. The operative word being “almost,” it has to happen only once to ruin your day. If you keep your wits about you, however, and you plan for the possibility of an engine failure, you greatly increase the probability that you’ll survive the unscheduled reunion of airplane with earth.

The foregoing comment about surviving an engine failure assumes that several concise guidelines will be followed:

• First, and most important, you must keep your head and continue to fly the airplane rather than giving into the little voice inside your brain that’s screaming, “Get this thing on the ground right now, at any cost.”

• To cope with a power failure, you need to plan for it every single second that you’re airborne. Don’t wait for it to happen to start thinking about it.

• Study the various systems in the airplane so you understand their operation. This gives you a better chance of diagnosing the problem and getting the engine restarted.

• At least a little of your preflight planning should include a “postcrash” survival section. Plan for the worst-case scenario and be prepared to survive afterward. It would be a bummer to survive an off-field landing on a winter day only to perish because you had nothing but a Hawaiian shirt to protect you.

Preplanning for emergencies can’t be overemphasized. In most cases, the planning and training is all that keeps an emergency from becoming a disaster. It’s a wildly stressful situation, and you can’t depend on your brain to think your way out of it. Training makes up for your inability to think.

Training and practicing for an engine failure instills instincts that don’t require logical thought to respond correctly. That being the case, let’s examine the most likely emergency scenarios in the different flight regimes (takeoff, cruise, etc.), and develop a series of procedures to be physically practiced and mentally considered every time we strap in.




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