Sunday, September 23, 2012

Engine Failures and Emergency Landings

I am really saddened by all the fatal plane crashes I have read about this week. I think this is a good time to stop for a moment and reflect upon our flying practices. These emergency situations can happen to all of us. Are we prepared? Do we know what we are going to do if they happen to us? If the answer to these questions is "no" or "I am not sure", then you need to stop, and take a moment to figure out as many situations as you can in your head, and know how you are going to handle all of them. In your mind, put yourself in as many situations as you can, and think of the safe way to land your plane so that you walk away safely. I have done this thousands of times. So many times, that it has become engraved in my brain and has become instinctive to me. Do not be caught off guard not knowing how to handle an emergency. Know how to handle engine failures on takeoff, know how to handle having to land in trees, know how to land in water, know what is the safe altitude for turning back to the airport on engine failure on takeoff and what altitude is not safe. Know what conditions make it more dangerous when turning back to the, high winds, turbulent conditions, tall buildings surrounding the airport, electrical wires around the airport, tall trees around the airport. These are the things that we need to "see" when we are ready to take off at an airport. Know your surroundings. On every takeoff be thinking..." Where am I going to land if my engine fails now". That question runs through my head on every takeoff I make up to 1000 feet, because I know that at 1000 feet, I can return to the airport, if necessary, assuming I make my takeoff with at least close to max climb, which I do on all takeoffs. One thing that a friend told me years ago that stuck in my head, he said that our planes fly fast, and if we have an engine failure, we should be thinking trading speed for altitude. Altitude is your friend. So, let's think about how to handle some pretty nasty situations. For example, what are you going to do if you are forced to have to land in the trees? Here are a few suggestions: 1) Crack a door open in your aircraft and put a shoe in it to hold it open. This is done because planes become severely damaged when hitting hard objects and it may be very difficult to get out if the door is stuck shut. 2) Never let your plane hit head-on with a tree. Always aim in between trees. Easier said than done. But something to keep in mind. 3) If you are forced to land in trees, stall your aircraft into the trees. In other words, if you have to crash into trees, make your plane hit them as slow as it can. Stall it into the top of the trees. 4) Make sure than the fuel mixture is closed.... turn off the fuel. Turn off the master switch. You know that if your fuel tanks are ruptured, there will be a chance of a fire. Don't add to that situation by having electrical systems on and fuel running to a hot engine. Turn it all off. Practice this on the ground so that you can do it quickly without having to look for everything. What about landing in the water? Well, the same procedures hold true. Crack a door with a shoe in it for easy exit. Turn off all the fuel and master switch. If you have inflatable life jackets on board, put them on now while you have altitude to do so. DO NOT INFLATE THEM INSIDE THE PLANE. Stall your plane just before impact with the water so that it enters the water at the slowest speed. Think of a leaf floating down to the ground. The leaf is basically stalled all the way to the ground. We can stall our planes just above the water surface and hit the water at our slowest speed. Be prepared that your plane may flip over on its back. Know what you are going to do to exit the plane if it is over on its back. If you have passengers, everyone should know their exit plan upon contacting the water surface. Your plane is going to sink relatively fast if it is a metal plane. Time is of the essence. How about turning back to the airport when an engine fails on takeoff? Folks, this is one of the most fatal moves that most pilots make when confronted with this type of emergency. What altitude can you turn back to the airport? What are the factors that are involved with this? HAVE YOU PRACTICED THIS MANEUVER AT ALTITUDE? I can say that I have practiced this maneuver at altitude many times, and I have practiced it in the simulator for landing larger planes on engine failure. It is not as easy as it seems. Your best option is to find a place to land with 20 degrees right or left of the nose. But if you have practiced the maneuver, and have the altitude to return, here are some suggestions that may help. 1) Trade speed for altitude. Get your plane at best glide speed immediately. If you have extra speed, pull up to bleed the speed for altitude, making sure that you can stabilize the plane at best glide speed without stalling the plane. 2) Maintain best glide speed and standard rate of turn back towards the runway. Do not make steep turns back to the runway. 3) Make sure that you contact the airport of your emergency and your intentions to return. 4) Turn the fuel mixture off. 5) Maintain best glide all the way to the runway. 6) Do not add flaps until you are assured that you have made the runway. I would even consider leaving the flaps up for landing. 7) If you are flying a retractable plane, do not lower the gear until you are assured of making the runway. 8) Once the runway is assured, lower the gear, check for 3 green lights, then turn off the master switch. It just makes me really sad to see all these accidents and fatalities. I do not know if they were preventable, but I do know that if we take the time to go through as many emergency procedures in our heads, on the ground, we can be more prepared if they ever happen to us. Fly safe folks!

-- Buzz
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