Friday, July 08, 2005


Flying Lesson #35: Engine-Out Practice

The weather was beautiful today. After several weeks of hazy hot muggy days, today we had over 10 miles visibility, and temperatures below 90. I was lucky to have my lesson today; the past few days have had terrible weather due to TS Cindy, and the next few days will have terrible weather due to Hurricane Dennis.

The instructor suggested that I go out and fly solo in the practice area today for the first time, but I decided I'd rather have some additional practice in one of my weak areas: engine-out simulations. This is something I did poorly in my stage check, and with which I have never felt comfortable, so I wanted to nail down what my problems were and fix them.

So, what does a pilot do if the engine quits? "Crash and die" is not the correct answer, but is unfortunately something that too many pilots do. Engine failures are very rare—most pilots never experience an actual engine-out—but knowing how to handle them is obviously worth studying and practicing. The procedures differ from airplane to airplane, but generally the procedures go something like this:

  1. Trim the airplane for best glide speed. This is the speed at which the airplane will glide the longest distance with no power. In the Piper Warrior, this speed is 73 knots.
  2. Pick a suitable place to land. Ideally, you'd want to lose your engine when an airport runway is right in front of you, but if it doesn't work out that way, you can pick a road, an open field, or any other area that looks landable.
  3. Check the engine instruments and try to get the engine restarted. In the Warrior, the procedure is to switch the fuel selector to a usable tank, check the ignition key position, check the primer knob, put the throttle in start position, turn on the fuel pump, set mixture to full-rich, and turn on carb heat. If the propeller has stopped windmilling, turn the ignition to START. If you have lots of altitude, you might also try each magneto independently or try switching to the other fuel tank.
  4. Communicate the emergency situation. Set the transponder code to 7700, make a Mayday call on emergency frequency 121.5, and turn on the ELT (emergency locator transmitter).
  5. When committed to making a landing, shut off the fuel, the ignition, and the master electrical switch. Make sure all seat belts and shoulder harnesses are fastened securely, and ask passengers to remove glasses and any sharp objects. Open the door so that it won't get stuck shut.
  6. Land the airplane as safely as possible.

The order of the steps is important. You want to establish best glide first, to give yourself as much time and as many landing options as possible. Then you need to figure out where you are going to land if you can't get the engine restarted. Then you want to start troubleshooting the problem with the engine before wasting time talking to people who really can't do much to help you. It's important to have the procedures memorized, as you will not have time to pull out the checklist in an actual emergency.

We've been doing simulated engine-outs throughout my flight instruction, and I have no problems remembering and executing all the steps of the procedures. What I do have a problem with is step 2: Pick a suitable place to land. Most of the sites I choose turn out to be bad ones, and when I do make a good choice, I screw up the approach such that I would undershoot or overshoot the site. In the event of an actual emergency, chances are that I would end up landing in trees.

So today, the instructor just kept cutting the throttle, watching what I did, and telling me what I did wrong or what I should have done instead. My first couple of attempts were terrible, but I did get better, so the advice and practice are paying off. I'm getting a better feel for how far and how fast the plane glides, what a good landing site looks like from a couple thousand feet in the air, and how to set up a good approach without power. With each scenario we practiced, things seemed to happen a little more slowly, and I was able to predict the results better. A little more practice, and I think I'll have it nailed.

In the meantime, my instructor has suggested that during my solo flights in the practice area, I stay close to Georgia SR 400, a long wide highway that runs from the airport up through the practice area. If I have an engine problem, I'll know exactly where to land. Staying close to 400 also has the benefit of making it almost impossible to get lost.

Logged today: 1.2 hours dual in N4363D, with 1 takeoff and 1 landing. Cost: $233.

Wowzers is your instruction costly where you are flying.

1.2 dual hours here at home for me costs about $180, and that's Canadian funds, after taxes and everything.

That's less then $150 USD.

Anyhow, that aside, you are at the lesson which will be my next dual. I've done quite a few engine-out simulations from within the circuit, but have only touched on such while in the training area. We have never actually executed a lesson for such, but my instructor has out of the blue asked me "If we lost our engine, where would you land right now?" on occasion.

It should be an interesting lesson, although here in southern Ontario we have no shortage of suitable forced approach fields. From 4k AGL in our training area, I could probably pick about 20 fields, and at least one turf airport immediately in the area as well. :-)
The sad thing is that my instructor often cuts the thorttle when I am right over Air Acres, a private airstrip that would be a great place for an emergency landing. I always know that I am near it, but can never find it when the "engine fails". This makes me feel really stupid.
I find grass strips tough to find to this day, and I've made a habit of looking for them whenever I have a second to look out the window to what's below.

If you follow my own blog, I had a hard time finding the grass strip I flew into on my last dual only shortly after actually taking off from it moments before.
Make it a habit to always know where you would land if the engine quit. That way you have one fewer steps to complete if it really did.

I had a job once that involved a lot of fairly low level flying around one particular area. I picked out all my forced landing spots and then on my day off I drove out and inspected them to see if there were any wires, holes or other hazards I'd missed. One of them had a steep slope that hadn't been evident from the air.
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