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    « Video Virals and Viral Marketing: How the Hudson River Video went Viral | Main | Engine Failure after Takeoff: What to Do & How to Train—Part II »


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    Danny V

    I was once told "When the engine quits, the airplane belongs to the insurance company."

    Put your life (and that of your passengers) first and the plane second.

    David St. George

    The turn-around like all things requires, as quite accurately stated, for this decision to be made before committing to flight. In our school this is part of the pre-takeoff "head up and locked" safety briefing. The exact conditions are analyzed and stated just like in a twin. "Any problem on the runway we will stop, below XXX land straight ahead, at 1600MSL (always use MSL for this) I will turn XXX into the wind and land back (we have 7,000 ft of runway)" Two years ago in a Skyhawk (with a 250 hr engine...the "danger area" for engines) we had a complete failure and the CFI with student executed a 180 from 600 ft (as they had briefed) and landed uneventfully (diaper change). This will never be in the stats. In case you think this is common here, in 55 yrs of flight training (with sevenplanes and CFIs) we have only had one wreck (no one injured). It pays to be prepared.


    Had a similar thing happen at Corona recently, too - scary stuff! It's a good discussion to have, though, because when you don't have altitude, you don't have time, and I could definitely see myself thinking "back to the runway" without reasoning through just how dangerous that can be... especially since at Corona there are trees on either end of the runway, and if you come up short you're toast. Thanks for the article!


    A recent crash at Santa Monica (KSMO) took the life of one of the operators of the fan site www.airliners.net .

    Lost power and tried to turn back, low wing stall, didn't have a chance.

    Juan Leon

    Hello Max,
    I am the Chief Flight Instructor at a Cessna Pilot Center in Atlanta. I've been flying and instructing for more than 30 years and have ATP type ratings and experience in three jets. (I guess I qualify as an advanced student.) We use your Max Trescott's G1000 Glass Handbook in our classes at our CPC and enjoy it very much.

    I have had the discussion of the "turn-back to the runway" with many students and try to bring a slightly different perspective into the picture. As you know, on crew airplanes, a before-takeoff briefing is done on every flight. One of the elements is what will be done in an abort or in an emergency just after liftoff. I especially emphasize this with multi-engine students, taking into account weight, density altitude and computed single-engine performance. With the single-engine crowd, I try to emphasize that you should verbally or mentally brief an engine-failure prior to takeoff Depending on the weather, terrain, performance limitations, etc. you should plan above what altitude you will attempt a turn-back. If it happens at a lower altitude, you will land straight ahead. By reviewing this just prior to takeoff, you will hopefully overcome the instinct to turn back to the airport at too low an altitude.

    In terms of actual altitudes, I tell my students that my personal minimums after 8,000 hours of experience are 1,000 feet above the field. At any lower altitude, I will pick the softest spot straight ahead or within 30 degrees of the current heading.

    I firmly believe that the safest course of action is for a pilot to conduct a self-briefing prior to each takeoff and decide what his plan will be. If it happens, hopefully he or she will fly the plan. Just my two cents worth to an interesting discussion.

    Bicknell Eubanks, ATP

    Thanks Max,
    I too have lost friends to the "impossible turn". I was taught by an instructor who would ask seconds after liftoff where I was going to land in case of an engine failure. He instilled in me the instinct to look straight ahead and thirty degrees left or right for a place to put it down if the engine quit. We flew from a 2,800' by 25' runway so turning back was never an option even at a safe altitude (unless we were on downwind). This was in 1973 and now 36 years later I vividly remember his firm shake of the yoke whenever I was going to do something contrary to what I had been taught.

    You are right, the "what ifs" should begin long before the aircraft is boarded.

    Another potential killer is when there are two pilots in the front seats. The PIC must state unequivocally that he/she is in control in an emergency. That way there can be no confusion and if the other pilot disagrees it is much safer to discuss the point on the ground.
    Bick Eubanks, ATP


    I always encourage students to pull up their departure and arrival airports in something like Google Earth or a flight simulator before their flights. This lets them look at the terrain in 3 dimensions, and visualize where the obstacles would be in the event of an emergency.


    I like to check out the NTSB accident database for airports I fly to. It's a great way of discovering any recurrent problems at the location (tricky obstacles, animal incursions, difficult approaches, ect).

    I'm always amazed at the number of people who try to turn back below 500 ft with no engine.

    I'd rather go controlled off field than lose control turning back.

    Max Trescott

    Wow, great comments from everyone! Danny V, I've often said the same thing. David St. George, how are you doing? In terms of "being prepared," I've gone so far as to walk a couple of the school yards near KRHV to I could figure out the optimal way to use them if I ever have to.
    Doug, were you the one who lost the engine? Matt, sorry to hear that the Impossible Turn claimed another person in your area. Juan, I use the same 1,000 feet number. No way I'm going to risk getting killed to save any airplane. Bick, I think I'm going to start asking people immediately after takeoff where they're going to land--good practice. Eric and Steve, Good Ideas!


    Once before flight my CFI told me we are going to practice power loss on takeoff. He asked me to think about it, plan what I'm going to do depending on altitude etc. After takeoff I was constantly expecting that CFI will pull the power. We climbed to pattern altitude and i was realy suprrised that nothing happend. Then my CFI told me something like this: did you get that feeling??? You should takeoff this way every single time! It was i think great lesson

    Danny V

    Pulling up the airport on Google Earth is a good idea but make sure your students keep in mind that the images may not be the latest. There are plenty of housing and industrial developments that are still shown as barren land on Google Earth because they haven't had a chance to update yet.

    Peter King

    Hi Max:

    You have raised a good and important topic this month. While I am sure you are hearing from all sides on this issue, I can’t but help to chime in.

    It freaks me out to remember practicing the impossible turn while soloing at San Carlos. Ah, those were the days. Knowing what I know now, I would never allow my students to do that—much less teach them how to do that in the way I was taught (shown twice at low altitudes).

    When it comes to assessing risk and making tradeoffs between two risky activities, decision making becomes very tricky. It is easy to fall into the arm-chair quarterback trap, and in this case, I don’t think there is one simple answer that applies to all pilots. I believe that pilots should have as many techniques in their arsenal as possible, but that it takes time to develop those. The impossible turn is a valuable technique, but it is also a risky technique best used by more experienced pilots.

    The particular risks of the impossible turn are:

    • Stall/spin during the turn
    • Under/overshooting the runway

    These risks can be mitigated through training and decision making techniques, many of which you’ve already outlined. When teaching this technique to more experienced pilots, I make sure to cover:

    • Decide where you are going to land the airplane on engine failure before you takeoff. Which way would you turn if the engine failed (into the wind). This should be briefed before you take the runway.
    • Set minimum altitudes below which you will not allow the impossible turn. I use a three tier system:
    1. Straight ahead
    2. Allow a 90 degree turn
    3. Allow a return to airport (impossible turn)

    The altitudes depend on the aircraft. For a 172, I might allow a 90 degree turn at 700’ and a 180 at 1,000’. For a Cirrus or Columbia, the altitudes are more like 1,000’ for a 90-degree turn and 1,500’ for a return to airport. The nice thing about this approach is that it allows you to consider gliding back to the airport environment after you have turned crosswind.

    • Practice making the turn at altitudes that will allow recovery from a stall (i.e., above 3,000’ AGL). Primary emphasis during this practice is airspeed awareness and control—get and keep the nose down! Bank awareness and control is critical as well—no more than a 45 degree bank.

    • Practice downwind landings. Primary emphasis on this is the difference in sight picture, and again airspeed awareness and control. A downwind landing requires a low, flat approach which feels too fast. The natural tendency is to go too slow. Trust the airspeed indicator!

    • After establishing proficiency in the above, simulate the impossible turn in a somewhat less risky manner by flying upwind at pattern altitude and then doing a power-off glide to land downwind. Instructor note: Be careful of accumulated heat in brakes.

    Without this specific training and practice, the impossible turn should not be considered an option.




    Danny, that's a very good point, but I'm mostly concerned about the terrain features; building developments can complicate things, but for the basics - is there a hill, or water, or high-tension power lines? - it's an invaluable tool. Recent developments are often less of a problem where I fly (Seattle & Everett areas) as most of the land is already quite developed.

    Thankfully your caution can be made very clear when viewing the maps, as google prominently displays what year the imagery is from.

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