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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You should always be prepared for engine failure during takeoff. Identify potential landing spots off the runway ahead of time.
Engine Problems On Takeoff
The three most important factors regarding an engine problem on takeoff are: 1) how high and how fast you’re going when it happens; 2) how complete the power loss is; 3) how much runway is still in front of you, if any.

Altitude and speed are everything in a takeoff emergency because they drive many of your decisions from that point on. Only on the rare occasion when there’s plenty of altitude and absolutely no doubt that you can make the turn, however, should you even think about turning back. It’s far better to orchestrate a good landing off field than to botch a turn back to the airport and hit the ground in an uncontrolled manner.

Here are some basic rules for an engine out on takeoff:

1. Get the nose down immediately to maintain glide speed.

2. If there’s even a little runway ahead, slip hard and go for it. It’s far better to roll off the end of a runway than to land off airport.

Once you have the airplane (and your wits) under control, change tanks and make sure the boost pump is on. Close the throttle and reopen it to give the engine a chance to restart (it’ll be windmilling). If it doesn’t start, and you have the time, move the fuel valve to “off,” but maintain airspeed and don’t take your eyes off the windshield.

If going off-airport, don’t try to stretch your glide, which is always tempting. Maintain flying speed and control right into ground effect and make as normal a landing as possible, considering the circumstances.

On every takeoff, always assume the engine is going to quit. At your home airport, pick a number of possible landing spots off the runway, straight ahead and off to the sides. If you’re taking off from a strange airport, as soon as you have enough altitude to see what lies off the end of the runway, find some friendly looking streets or fields to land on in case the engine quits.

In an effort to develop an emergency-ready mindset, let’s do a little mental exercise: at various times during every takeoff say to yourself, “If it quits right now, I’m going to put it there,” then pick out a spot. As the altitude increases, you keep asking the same question and pick different spots. After a while, you’ll do this so often that it becomes a habit to look for places to go; so, if things really do get quiet, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Another game is to climb to altitude and do simulated engine failures and see how far you can turn from different altitudes. At an even altitude, say 2,000 feet, slow the airplane to near stall and initiate a takeoff climb. Go up varying distances, say, 300 feet, then 500 feet, 800 feet, etc., and kill the power at each. Then make a left or right turn while holding glide speed to see how much of a turn you can make before you hit your original altitude. It’ll teach you a lot about your airplane and your options at various altitudes.


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