Monday, May 16, 2022
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Complete Engine Failure; Are You Ready?


I had a blog ready to go but this amazing emergency response should be examined; too good to ignore. Put yourself in this pilot’s position, could you respond this professionally? What elements, planning and skill, made this work so smoothly?

This is a perfect example of professional flying after a catastrophic engine failure, handled gracefully. The pilot was calm and accepted the emergency (no denial, no panic). He was also skillful, heading directly to a nearby field (none of the usual delay, indecision, or 10-mile final). Additionally, this pilot was resourceful, soliciting the controller’s help (who was also a pro) and the result was a perfect landing at a nearby alternate.

Obviously, luck played a part in this successful outcome, great weather (though filed IFR), altitude to play with, and a nearby airport. But probably good planning, – “making your own luck” – was also involved.  This means staying

current on emergencies, planning the cross-country route over airports rather than over mountains, and keeping the piloting skills sharp to make this emergency look easy (notice the steady sight picture). Can you imagine the outcome here if this was solid clouds into the mountains (no ceilings)? Notice his technique of heading directly to the field and losing altitude overhead to enter a familiar abeam approach. This pilot was glider-rated (though he said it had been a few years since the recent glider experience).

Unfortunately, DPEs seldom see this reliable technique on flight tests, so CFIs are obviously not teaching it (another critical skill not in the ACS). For success with a glide, head directly overhead the field (glider pilots call this high key), and dissipate altitude in a spiral (remember those descending spirals in the commercial ACS?). Plan your descent and turns to enter a normal abeam position (low key) at the usual  1000agl. This has a calming effect and makes the “emergency” into a more familiar and predictable event. In most flight tests, nervous applicants often attempt an amazingly long final which prevents predictable sink analysis and provides no options when the glide is misjudged. A descent directly above with a standard pattern should initially be aiming for the middle of the field. This allows adjustments for altitude error by scrubbing off altitude last (with more flaps or a slip) when the field is assured.

Airshow monster Rob Holland lost his engine while flying home from a Florida airshow in his aerobatic MXS-RH. He describes his decision process and his technique landing on a closed private field in Episode 25 of “I Learned About Flying From That.” His MX descends at 3500 fpm and the (abandoned) runway was 1700′ X 25′ with Hurricane Harvey damage still littering the runway. An exciting event only Rob could pull off.

Buying some dual in a glider is great insurance for experiences like this. It is also big fun. After a few landings, events like this seem “almost normal.” Glider experience also builds maneuvering skills and sharpens awareness of the interactive effects of sink rate and wind drift. Every glider landing is a one-shot deadstick (game over, no replay) event. See Kai Gersten “Off Airport Landings” for some advanced techniques.

When an engine blows up – and this happens despite most careful maintenance – you want to be this guy, not a twisted pile of aluminum in the trees; great job! Fly safe out there and often.


Join SAFE and enjoy great benefits (like 1/3 off ForeFlight)! Your membership supports our mission of increasing aviation safety by promoting excellence in education.  Our FREE SAFE Toolkit App puts all required pilot endorsements and experience requirements right on your smartphone and facilitates CFI+DPE teamwork. Our SAFE CFI insurance was developed by SAFE specifically for CFIs (and is the best value in the business). #flySAFE

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