Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Emergency Landing Prep

When a person goes to a flight instructor and puts his money on the barrel-head and asks, “Can you learn me to fly like a bird…a buzzard…a pelican….or perhaps a dodo chick?” it usually follows that you will get a nod of the head. If he is hungry enough, he will answer, “I’ll try.”

You will be handed a stack of books containing pictures of airplanes and chocked full of important information about aerodynamics, air density, FAA regulations, navigation stuff, weather forecasting, the constant struggle between lifties and draggies, and proper pronouncements of aeronautical terms such as ailerons, altimeters, artificial horizons, and magnetic deviations, carburetor ice, gremlins and what not! He knows full well that you aren’t going to hang around and learn this stuff unless you are put in an air-type-ship and given a demonstration of the fun of flying that gets you solidly hooked on this new and wonderful adventure.

You will be placed either in a plane with tricycle landing gear or a plane with the conventional placement of wheels on the bottom side of the air machine which, as you have learned, is called a Tail-Dragger. He will take the plane up in the air a ways and make gentle turns and shallow climbs and shallow dives, all the while giving forth with a rattle of explanations of how an airplane flies and how to control it. He will usually then let you place your feet on the rudder pedals and grasp the stick or the steering wheel and feel what it is like to control this noisy flying contraption.

All this is an introductory flight, so-called. After this flight, the real flight instruction will begin. If all is going smoothly and according to plan, within a few flights you will be able to crank the engine, taxi to the designated runway, do what is called a run-up which is where you will check the magnetos, the carburetor heater, set the altimeter and give the other instruments a look.

If the airport has no control tower, you look both ways for traffic and, if all is clear, you will taxi into position on the runway. You then look at your instructor and when he gives you a nod, you will push the throttle forward, keep the ship going straight down the runway with your agile toes on the rudder pedals, and when the plane begins to feel light on its feet - or wheels as it were - you lift it off the ground and fly away into the wonderful wild blue.

You already know to climb to 400 feet and make a 90-degree-turn to the left because that is the prescribed flight pattern for this airport. Just as you start a bank to left for the turn, the instructor suddenly pulls the throttle back to idle and hollers in an alarming voice, “This is an engine failure emergency! Where are you going to land?”

Of course, the whole exercise is to introduce to you the possibility that at some time in your future, this might actually happen and you need to be prepared for this eventuality. Usually after a short time, during which you will think OH GOOD HEAVENS WE ARE GOING TO FALL OUT OF THE SKY, he will push the throttle forward again and you resume normal flight.

Now while he has your undivided attention, he will launch into a series of actions that you must learn and practice so you will do the right things instinctively in case this sort of emergency should arise. Things like:

  • Don’t panic
  • Continue to maintain control by placing the aircraft in a normal glide attitude
  • Immediately begin looking for a likely place to land such as a nearby road or an open and level field or pasture or a sandy beach 

While you head for the chosen landing place, you learn to quickly scan the instrument panel to see if you can fix the problem. Maybe you need to switch gas tanks or maybe you need to introduce some carburetor heat. You might even try to re-start the engine if you have enough altitude. Again, above all, do not panic.

Keep cool. Fly the dang airplane!


  1. This is why I don't fly. I would ALWAYS panic regardless. :D

  2. This is why I don't fly. I would ALWAYS panic regardless. :D