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From the Logbook: Engine Out Emergency! . . . What Are You Going to Do? And I Mean "Right Now"!

Jim Trusty, 2007

Before we get very deep into this subject, let me answer that first question for you. What you do in the next few seconds actually depends on some training you took a long time ago, because one thing is probably for sure. You haven't been practicing this maneuver, now have you?

The training I just mentioned is going to determine when, what, where, how, why, and possibly if. Where did this emergency take place? On takeoff? And how were you taught to handle it? Land straight ahead? This particular training exercise brings forth a lot of criticism from some and total rejection from others. If you were taught to land straight ahead, a lot of decisions have already been made for you. Now all you have to decide is what you are going to land on or in. If you were taught to make a turn back to the runway then you best be getting on with it because you are steadily losing altitude. It really doesn't make a lot of difference which you do as long as it was what you were taught and the last time you practiced it you were "kinda sorta" good at it.

Emergency training should take up a great deal of our time as flight instructors, doing as many as necessary to determine exactly what each particular student will do in an emergency situation, and at any rate at least 12 before the pilot flies the airplane in a solo situation. What we teach as a recovery movement again depends on what we learned from our own instructors and what we as instructors have learned since that time. Checklists, Pilots Operating Handbooks, manuals, and countless other publications tell us what to do, but when it actually happens is when we find out what really stuck.

I always think that the mark of a student pilot is when they can go out and do maneuvers by themselves and not be afraid, whether steep turns, stalls, slow flight, and certainly engine out emergencies. So let's get right to our teaching methods and how hard we stress what the word "emergency" really means, especially when we are at a training altitude that barely gives us 1,500 above ground level.

My method of teaching this maneuver is a little easier on the heart, less dangerous to those on the ground, and it would probably make the FAA a little happier if they know how close to the ground you have to come to impress a student just how dangerous it really is to do an emergency procedure in an airplane. So we go up to 3,500 above ground level, adjust the altimeter to read ground level at 2,000 AGL, and now the training begins. We now learn what the airplane is going to do, what the student is qualified to do, what they actually end up doing, and the safety of the entire procedure.

Can it be done? Is there a better way? How much time do we actually have? How little time and altitude do we actually have between where we are and our supposed ground level? What does the airplane actually do when the instructor pulls that power stick back and locks his hand over it? It is absolutely necessary for the instructor to start counting "1001, 1002, 1003," and laughing at the same time as we try to get the checklist out, fly the airplane, turn, twist, look, "1004, 1005, 1006," nose level, 61 knots, landing where, when, "1007, 1008, 1009, 1010." When this has been taken care of, we are at our supposed ground altitude, and this is the fifth time we have done this--crashed every time. Decision making, poor; aircraft control, poor, cockpit resource management, poor; both pilots, dead!

Well, let's go back up to altitude again and try one more time. We call this learning method, "Fetch, Rover, fetch," and eventually it works. Over time an instinct develops by the pilot that the engine is indeed gone and the instructor is not going to give it back until we reach ground level and he quits counting . . . "1,010!" It works, usually somewhere between 10 and 20 attempts. We pull it in practice at altitude, for real over runways, in turns, in climbs, on landings, and any other maneuver that we feel the student is putting too much concentration into and not really paying attention to flying the airplane and watching what their passengers are doing. Turn your head, lose an engine. Makes for a very alert cockpit, believe me!

I teach, and rightly so, that if you hurt that airplane on landing from an emergency situation that it will hurt you back times three, and this is a proven truth. So besides learning to land in an emergency situation, where, when, why, and how also enter into the equation. Our training has also revealed that these little trainers we are flying prefer the shorter strips, are not afraid of a bumpy area, work well in a little mud, and are certainly not allergic to freshly farmed areas or a newly mowed field.

The end result of all this teaching, no matter what the maneuver, is to teach the student what parameters they are going to be limited to in case of an emergency. Here again is a great case for "no demonstration." Let the student fly the airplane. Eventually, and a lot quicker than we ourselves learned if the truth be told, they come around to the very best they are ever going to be. Look forward to this level of compliance each and every time when doing this maneuver. It will never get any better, but it is not likely to get much worse.

Are you now thinking, what a heartless, moronic way to teach this little baby how to fly themselves out of a bad situation? Believe me, in too short a time, this poor baby will be in that airplane by themselves, and, if something happens, poor baby will be glad that the method they are using to save their life was taught to them in a "tough love" method simply because it is working well enough that they are going to make it and so will the airplane. As instructors, let's spend more time doing emergency training exercise and finding better ways to teach the same old thing, again and again, better ways to make it happen and remove some of the terror from it and really get 100% results, no matter the terrain, day or night, high or low. When it happens, it is up to us, as instructors, to have them totally prepared.

As students, tell those instructors that you don't want anything special, you just want to know how to fly the airplane in any situation. Nothing special at all. Emergencies happen. Let's be prepared! It doesn't have to be scary, no more so than stalls and spins or any other maneuver that we teach students so that they do not have to lose their life just because it happened. As instructors, we owe our students this much--to do our jobs.

We must be doing our jobs better and better each year, according to the accident statistics that come out. Fewer and fewer training accidents for over 20 years in a row, and that's really saying something for a business venture like this. It makes you proud of being a FAA Certificated Flight Instructor. The only thing that ever makes me prouder than the safety record we compile each year is when a student calls and tells me how they handled a potentially dangerous situation, and they are very calm and matter of fact about it. That's the result of good training, nothing else. Prior planning prevents ---- poor performance, and that's a true statement.

I'll see you at the airport! Always remember, pilots who don't fly have no advantage over people who can't fly. What's your excuse?

JIM TRUSTY, ATP/CFI/IGI/ASC, was named the FAA/Aviation Industry National Flight Instructor of the Year for 1997, and the first ever FAA Southern Region Aviation Safety Counselor of the Year in 1995 and again in 2005. He still works full-time as a Corporate Pilot/ "Gold Seal" Flight & Ground Instructor/ FAA Aviation Safety Team Lead Representative/ National Aviation Magazine Writer. You have been enjoying his work since 1973 in publications worldwide. If you have comments, questions, complaints, or compliments, please e-mail them directly to me, and I'll respond. Thanks. (


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