engine failure and emergency landings


Emergency Landings

Cancelling the flight makes the premiere example of a safe emergency landing. The next best is a precautionary landing made while you still have visibility, fuel, and an engine. This precautionary landing at least gives you choices that might otherwise be unavailable.

Planning your flight as an airport vicinity route is a part of every emergency preparation. You want to know where the airports are. Make your arrival at an emergency field/airport on as nearly a normal at-the-numbers position as you can.

Mechanical Engine Failure

A rapid and total loss of engine oil in flight is indicated by a loss of oil pressure WITHOUT an increase in oil temperature since there will be no oil in the vicinity of the oil temperature probe

One cause of engine failure is due to the failure of some engine component. The other three reasons involve loss of spark, air, or fuel. Ignition failure is seldom total because of duplications in the system. Lack of air is most common due to induction or carburettor icing. Proper fuel management most easily avoids the most common cause of engine failure. Fuel starvation is when fuel is available but not getting to the engine. Fuel exhaustion is when you are out of fuel.

Lycoming makes engines that may be equipped with a single drive shaft for both magnetos. The duality of the magnetos is useless in this event.

An aircraft is most likely to have a component failure during the takeoff and landing process. The use of maximum power and power changes seem to precipitate failures. Rapid power changes can cause a pre-existing component weakness to reach the point of failure.

Either can be prevented by:

Crew will determine fuel quantity, type, and quality.
Depart ramp on fullest tank or both.
Confirm both by feel and visually any fuel selector indent setting.
Find out what a selector does in other positions on the ground.
Select new tanks only in vicinity of airports.
Use chart to note places of fuel tank changes.

Other Engine Failures

Excessive in flight idling of the engine will cause the engine to cool to the point that fuel may not vaporize in the carburettor. This drastically leans the mixture and can fail the engine. A sudden throttle movement may make the problem worse. Precautions are to make ground check of idling setting, avoid abrupt throttle movements at all times. Keep the engine warm during glides by frequently opening the throttle for a few seconds.

The essential element of any engine failure is the amount of time you have remaining in the air. You must have a prepared plan to use and a checklist to make sure you follow the plan. The quickest emergency checklist utilizes the cross panel flow. This must be adjusted to each cockpit and aircraft type. The flow of one instrument panel will seldom work on another panel. The flow lets you complete the task flow quickly and even more quickly confirm completion by reference to the checklist.

Weather and its unpredictability is one major area where a pilot's lack of knowledge and proficiency is apt to cause trouble. Typical decisions that cause this difficulty are. "I'll take a look, and then decide type of flight". Trying to climb over or around building clouds. Trying to sneak under or around weather. You may get lucky but just, as likely you will run out of options. The true saying is, "It is better to be down here and wishing you were up there than to be up there wishing you were down here". Never fly into deteriorating weather conditions.

You will never be prepared for an engine failure. An engine failure will never occur at an appropriate time. It takes a minimum of four (4) seconds to become aware that the engine has failed and to wish that it hadn't happened. Don't do anything. 

Get the (# 1) checklist and use it. The pilot who does not have an emergency checklist immediately at hand often becomes just a passenger on the way to the ground.

You must know your aircraft speeds and just to be sure have them on your basic emergency checklist in different colors for the aircraft you fly. There are several engine-out glide speeds. The best glide speed is a lift/drag ratio for best distance. This is between Vx and Vy but will vary by weight. Adding 1/3 of headwind velocity to best glide speed give a penetration glide speed for best distance. The minimum sink speed keeps you in the air the longest.

(# 2) Select a speed and trim for it. Gain any altitude you can with excess speed. 

(# 3) Turn to your choice of field based on wind direction. If at high altitude turn toward lower elevations and make your choice at about 3000' AGL (above ground level). 

(# 4) Go through your engine restart procedure but first undo the last thing you did to engine operation before it failed. Check fuel, ignition and air to the engine. All three are necessary but the fuel system is most likely to fail. Magneto switch is the only ignition element available to the pilot. Throttle and carburettor heat are the air controls for the engine.

Engine restart checklists begin with the fuel selector, to the mixture and gauges. Then right to left the flow goes from carburettor heat to magnetos, to primer. Practice until you can hit each item with your eyes closed. Then confirm that all items have been completed.

After you have done all the normal things start being creative. Don't expect what you do to make sense but if it works don't ask why until Sunday. Consider that a primer that has worked loose can cause a rough engine. A partially open primer allows raw fuel to get into the engine intake without atomizing as required for proper combustion.

(# 5) Prepare the cockpit and yourself for the inevitable. Tighten, pad, and protect as best you can. Seats belts and doors. 

(# 6) Use your radio 

(# 7) Make your landing crash as slow and as controlled as possible. Fly the airplane. Deceleration impacts increase as the square of the speed. Impact forces at 60 kts are four times those at 30 kts. The cockpit will remain intact to 9-Gs. At 45 kts only 9.4 feet of deceleration will bring you to a stop. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to keep you and yours from rattling around inside the cage. (# 8) Prevent fire by shutting off fuel and electricity. When everything stops moving, get out.

The vast majority of engine failures never make Eyewitness News because a successful emergency landing is non-news. Only one out of every seventeen emergency landings results in a fatality. Most pilots will never experience such an emergency in their lifetime.

Dealing with Engine Failure

Dealing with an engine failure depends on a series of factors, pilot competence, type of aircraft, extent of failure, type of failure, altitude, and general weather/surface conditions. Focus must be on keeping the aircraft aloft and under control. The more altitude the more options you have in acquiring assistance. Emergency checklist is the essential safety aid to be consulted as to what to do.

Apply carburettor heat, open alternate air, switch tanks, turn on fuel pump, check primer pump, select magneto, even moderate vibration calls for immediate shutdown.

The standard emergency for engine failure on takeoff is to land ahead into the wind. Make no more than 30 degrees of heading change to locate the best landing place. An emergency landing into a 10 kt wind at a full flap stall speed of 35 kts gives you a survivable ground contact speed of 25 kts. However, there is another option possible if sufficient altitude has been gained before failure. (A good reason to always takeoff and climb at best rate, Vy) To determine this altitude it is necessary to practice at altitude. At 3000' on a North heading, simulate engine failure and have the student execute a right turn in a 30-degree bank to 240 degrees. Note the altitude loss. Do the same 240-degree turn to the left. Note the altitude loss. Now do both turns with 45 to 60 degree banks. Note altitude lost. Add 50% to the altitudes as a fudge factor for actual use.

From these turns you should decide that the steep turn loses the least altitude. Having determined this we now can add some factors for returning to a runway. If there is any crosswind always make the turn into the wind since it will bring you back to the runway. If there are parallel runways turn to the parallel since only 180 degrees of turn will be needed. Crossing runways may even need less turn. If the tailwind is 10-kts it will double the required runway for landing.

Best glide

Best glide is when parasitic drag and induced drag are the least. Induced drag decreases with airspeed, and is highest at low speeds as in slow flight. The best glide always occurs at the Angle of Attack that represents the best lift over drag ratio. This angle of attack is a constant, no matter how the aircraft is loaded.

By moving the CG aft, range) is increased, but glide is decreased. This means less downward lift required to counteract the CG and less load factor on the wings. The result is a lower angle of attack needed to maintain straight and level flight. The lower angle of attack allows airspeed to increase. With a faster airspeed we get an exponential rise in parasitic drag. This parasitic drag kills your glide.

At any AOA there's a parasitic drag, and an induced drag contribution to the total drag coefficient. Since the AOA is fixed at best glide, so, also, is the lift coefficient. There is only one factor that we can vary to adjust the lift to match any change in effective weight, the speed. Moving the CG aft, you reduce the second contribution, but leave the first unchanged. Whatever AOA, speed or lift coefficient you fly at, the overall drag coefficient is lower with an aft CG. If you fly the speed that gave best glide for the forward CG, you'll still get a better glide ratio with the aft CG. By flying a little slower you can get an even better glide ratio.

If the effective weight of the aircraft is decreased, while the angle of attack remains the same then the speed for that specific angle of attack must decrease. If the weight increases then the speed must increase to hold that most efficient L/D angle of attack. Adding ballast to a glider increases the penetration capability. The glide angle remains the same, but the speed to obtain that best glide angle increases with the weight. Your "glide angle" remains unchanged since as the weight increases your sink rate increases. Distance covered increases by exactly the same ratio.

Conventional aircraft carry a download on the tail for stability. Moving the CG moves aft reduces the download. This reduction in download acts like a decrease in weight. Since the download on the tail augments your pitch stability reduces your pitch stability margin. At some point the download reduction makes the aircraft difficult to fly. Approaching a stall quickly may make it impossible to get the nose to come back down.

Risk factors

An airport near mountains
Deficiency of RADAR coverage
Non-precision approach
Limited terrain lighting on approach path


Maintain terrain clearance altitudes
Descend only on published routes
Identify navaids before using
Cross-check your position
Night is the most dangerous time.


Most encounters with fire in aircraft end as non-events. Even the non-events would not happen if the pilot makes a no-go decision because of empty holes in the panel. Flying with a known deficiency is just looking for trouble. Preparing for an in-flight smoke/fire occasion should begin with carrying a handheld radio that will give you communications with the electrical system off. Having a small halogen extinguisher is additional insurance.

There are four kinds of aircraft fires, engine start, electrical, in-flight and post-crash. A different checklist is required for each type. In flight aircraft fires are far more rare than ground fires from engine starts. Next in frequency is an engine fire caused by failure of an engine compartment component. Insulation, adhesives and fabrics are the usual fuel once ignited by burning avgas and oil.

Basic fire procedure is to remove the source of combustion. In electrical fires you can shut down the master switch. Done quickly enough it may not have ignited other inflammables. Your best cockpit extinguisher is the Halogen 1211, which is soon to be unavailable.

Electrical fires have an acrid smell with possible white smoke. Begin by shutting everything off with the master. Then shut off all individual circuits. It may be better not to turn anything on but if conditions require, turn on the master and then re-energize each circuit one at a time in an effort to isolate the problem. Handheld radios and GPS become worth their weight and cost in this situation. Don't fly any longer than necessary.

Black smoke warns of oil while fuel makes orange flames. Respond to a fuel fire by pulling the mixture, shutting off the selector, and applying full throttle to use up the carburettor fuel. Shut off cabin heat. Point the nose to the ground and if possible get the flaps down so as to minimize your ground contact speed when you level out.

Post-crash fires are more dangerous than the crash itself. Most deaths come from some and carbon monoxide inhalation. Fill the cockpit with Halogen before exiting. Good maintenance is still the best fire insurance.

Fire in an aircraft will get your attention. Cut off the source of fuel be it gasoline or electricity. Be in an emergency descent configuration for as long as smoke exists. You must decide whether to dive or slip. The slip is most likely to keep the problem away from the cockpit but may take longer to lose altitude. Most engine fires occur on the ground in the winter. The engines are over-primed and a backfire can ignite excess fuel. Shut off the fuel via the mixture and the selector valve. Keep cranking the starter to suck the fire into the exhaust system and if the engine starts so much the better. Give maximum throttle to use up available fuel and perhaps blow out any existing flames. Radio for help and be prepared to bail out. Over-prime with the throttle is most likely to create the ground fire hazard.

Every second of the fire's existence is a prelude to disaster. In the event of a fire there is no time for a checklist. While there are more electrical fires than engine fires, more fatalities result from engine fires. A pilot trained for emergency situations will have a better chance of maintaining control of the aircraft.

Engine fires are mostly caused by exhaust system component failures. Cylinder failure runs second as a fire cause. Defective maintenance is third. Accident specialists find that the source of a fire is usually at the site of the last maintenance work. 20% of in-flight fires are due to maintenance. On average two in-flight fires occur every month. Less than five fire fatalities occur per year.

A small flight kit sized halogen extinguisher can still be obtained. Get one. Structural failure or pilot incapacitation is an imminent outcome of any fire that is not quickly put out. Get down making emergency descent with flaps down if possible. You will get down just as quickly. Otherwise slip as much as possible. Get the fire stopped by shutting off electric masters and fuel supply. Smoke can be removed from light planes by using cockpit and wing vents.

What To Do:

Engine fire -- shut off fuel; full throttle
Electrical fire -- shut off master, use extinguisher, ventilate
Cabin fire -- ventilate, extinguish, use liquids
Emergency descent flaps, slips as possible.
Gear up/down, ditching decisions.

Fire is fuelled in aircraft by either gasoline or electrical energy. Black smoke usually indicates gasoline/oil and white smoke + a distinctive door is electrical. Most electrical fires will die when the master switch is cut off. Fuel fires in the engine compartment can be cut off by the mixture, fuel pump and fuel cutoff valve. In any event get on the ground as soon as possible.

Getting to the ground quickly and keeping the fire and smoke from the cockpit requires that an extreme nose high slip be set up. A descent rate of well over 1000-fpm can be achieved with full rudder application. IAS may be kept below 50 in this situation. Release rudder at the last moment and hold the aircraft off the ground to land as slow as possible. A deliberate groundloop will bring the aircraft to a quick but abrupt stop. Get your doors open before you land. This might well be something to practice at altitude with your instructor. Aircraft fires in flight are rare but they do happen.

An oil fire is more serious because you cannot shut off the source of fuel as you could with a gasoline fire. The engine compartment is probably the best engineered part of the aircraft. The firewall will contain the fire unless it gets around the nacelle or firewall. The most likely source of an engine fire is in the exhaust system and in old weakened fuel lines and hoses. The inability to make a preflight inspection of such weak areas is where you, the pilot, must put your trust in a maintenance program that includes periodic hose changes.

An exhaust leak will usually vent heat overboard with the cooling air. If an exhaust fire should occur, the heat can be reduced by enriching the mixture. A preferred option might be to pull the mixture to stop the engine. Once a gasket starts to leak it will only get worse. An oil leak is more likely to be in an area of low airflow.

Aircraft fires on the ground usually occur during the starting procedure. The use of excessive (4 pumps) throttle prime means that the carburettor bowl will overfill. The gasoline flows out the vent in the top, and accumulates at the air intake or elsewhere. As the starter turns the engine a slight backfire can ignite the fuel in the engine compartment. The instant smoke appears, pull the mixture, shutoff the fuel selector valve, continue to crank the engine. If the engine starts, apply full brakes and full power us speed consumption of gasoline in the carburettor. If the engine does not start, continue cranking since the vacuum formed by the pistons will draw flames up the exhaust and use up the fuel in the system by drawing it into the engine. Prepare to exit if this does not work. You might consider alerting ATC to send the airport fire crews. About 6% of all accidents involve in-flight fires. Age of the exhaust system and fuel system hoses is the greatest single cause.

Aircraft Fire Extinguisher

Use only a B-C type the A type c
orrodes aluminium.

Fire Situations

Start-up fire without engine running
Use starter to keep engine turning but shut off all fuel. Suction of pistons will draw fire into engine and exhaust system.

Start-up fire with engine running
Full throttle and cut off all fuel sources. Uses up fuel and can blow out fire. Electrical off.

Cabin fire
Electrical off, isolate cabin from engine compartment, extinguisher, land.

Engine fire aloft
Mixture off, all fuel off, electrical off, flaps down, isolate cabin, emergency descent
Consider maxim performance slip or power dive to keep fire from cabin.

PTS Emergency Descent

1. Fastest practical descent. within aircraft limitations
2. Clearing turns
3. Making 30-40 degree banks during descent will increase descent rate
4. Descend at structural cruise speed (yellow-green) or full flaps at top of white arc.
5. Divide attention and ignore distractions
6. Checklist
7. End exercise when procedure is established to prevent shock cooling.

En route Engine Failure

1. Selector
2. Pump-pressure
3. Mixture
4. Alternate Air
5. Gauges


Golf courses
Unploughed brown fields
Grassy fields
Parking lots
Access roads


Dark brown (wet) fields
Ploughed and planted fields
Power lines

Soft Field Landing

Use power to control descent rate
Steep approach to improve aim
Full flaps
1.3 x Vref
Land on mains only at minimum speed
Power to keep nose off
Retract flaps.


An over water flight is any flight at which your altitude will not allow gliding distance to land. Don't involve yourself in an over water flight without at least a life vest. Wear your life vest because you won't have time to put it on in an emergency.


--Recognition that ditching is the only option.
Most vital item is to transmit your location. Include altitude, souls on board and any survival equipment. Open doors and have passengers remove headsets and position themselves with whatever will minimize impact shock.
Aim for the nearest land. This reduces any swim distance. The main change from any other landing is that you are going to get wet. If there is a current, land downstream. Otherwise, land into the wind and across visible swells. Circle to determine best arrival, altitude permitting. This may require compromise between swell and wind directions. Avoid landing across swells. Look for smooth areas.

Full flaps with high-wing planes. Retractables, gear up. Low-wing with flaps up. Avoid the absolute full stall landing. Wings parallel to swell surface. Windshield may collapse; aircraft may skip or flip. Remain in crash position until motion stops.

Getting out of the plane

Make your life vest as tight as you can before ditching. A loose vest will funnel water into your nose. Make sure passengers have re-fastened their seat harness. Keep your shoes on. Don't inflate a vest until free of the aircraft.

You may be able to exit low-wing on the wing. Get as far from aircraft as possible. You may not be able to open doors of high-wing until submerged. Don't undo harness until you are ready to leave with doors open. Take no more than three deep breaths before leaving. Avoid hyperventilating. Keep one hand gripping on something as a reference point in the cockpit. Now, release your belt. Once clear of the aircraft follow the bubbles. Don't re-enter aircraft, it will sink without warning.

Water Survival

Jerk lanyard to inflate life jacket. Hypothermia is biggest threat. The heavier your clothing the better. Avoid movement to conserve warmth. Try to signal.

Control Failure

Unless situation is critical it is best to do nothing in the event of control failure. Elevators can jam due to external object. This is just as likely to occur in the cockpit, as it is in the control itself. Should rudder fail you can still turn with obvious yaw. Doors can act as rudders. Broken throttle should result in some power. Remaining power can be controlled with mixture, magnetos. Making turns with rudder can compensate for aileron failure. Elevator failure can be partially controlled by trim; power can give partial control. No flaps should be used when you experience a control failure.


The Bay Area is in the western migratory bird flyway. Spring and Fall seasons are the high strike probability periods. Over 50% of strikes are sea gulls. 70% of strikes are in daylight. 90% of these are below 3000' and near an airport. Avoid game refuge areas. Airport/Facility Directory and NOTAMS warn of birds. With the closing of the garbage dump near CCR the bird problem is much less. During the migratory seasons fly with your landing light on. Bird strikes are just as likely at night as during the day.

Bird impact force is the square of the impact velocity and even at G. A. speeds will have the effect of a 20-mm cannon shell. Windshield penetration is most likely to produce an accident. Birds will instinctively dive when they feel threatened by an airplane. Climb, but not into a stall. A bird strike fatality is 10 times more likely to occur due to the pilot's loss of aircraft control after the strike. Pilot error is the problem.

Estimated 6000 bird strikes a year. Over half occur below 100 feet. 99% happen below 2500. Record bird sighting is at 37,000'. 805 occur during takeoff and landing. 34 civil crashes and 200 known deaths resulting from bird strikes. $750 million damage. Gulls cause 1/3 of strikes.

Early morning and just before dark is the period of greatest strike danger. Less than 10% of strikes happen above 3,000 feet. Nearly 80% occur within 500 feet of the ground. Over 60% occur within 100 feet AGL. Night is occasion for 25% of strikes. July to November is worst period.

Birds highest speed can be obtained by diving when they fold wings. Pilot should anticipate this reaction and climb. Showing lights and strobes gives birds earlier warning.


Slow down in vicinity of birds.
Don't takeoff toward grounded birds.
Heat your windshield in vicinity of birds.
Avoid low flight over landfill and marshes.
Over fly airports early morning and evenings.
Use lights.  The bird will see the light before seeing the airplane.
Consider safety goggles in vicinity of birds.

Defence is noting notams. Fly high during migratory season. Only one percent of strikes occur above 2500'. Most birds fly in day time. Some do fly at night. The larger the bird the slower the wing beat. Use aircraft lights and strobes when in bird country. Fly above birds when possible. In bird territory slow down.

Foreign Object Damage (FOD)

Taxiing is the most likely time for FOD to occur. The runup area should be free of any loose objects and never run the engine over loose gravel while stopped. The propeller vortex will suck up rocks into the blades if it is not moving.

FOD inside the aircraft can become a problem when encountering turbulence. Loose items on the floor can jam controls; spilled fluids can short out electrical components. Tie down what can be tied down if there is any possibility, and there is always a possibility, of FOD in the cockpit.


The FAA makes recommendations as to altitudes above wildlife areas but the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service has laws that are not part of your training. The Airborne Hunting Act prohibits harassment of wildlife anywhere. Whatever the reasons for flights near wildlife there is potential for a problem with the government.

Passenger Emergency Checklist

Using the radio to get help:

1. Select a radio on the audio panel at the top.
2. Try to use the existing frequency or change to l121.5 which is the emergency frequency
3. Use the push-to-talk button as you talk.
In-flight emergencies are extremely rare.
4 Neither you nor the pilot will be prepared for an emergency.

Passenger checklist:

Do what you can to pad the space in front of you..
Fasten and tighten your seat belt and shoulder harness.
Unlatch the door just before touchdown.
Get out of the plane quickly.
An Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) should go off automatically after an emergency landing.
Do not leave the area, yet..