Where Training Counts

Simulated emergency training helps prepare for unlikely malfunctions.

Redbird Flight Simulations

While details of the F/A-18 crash in Virginia Beach, Virginia are still murky, as always there is something to learn from an accident. In this case, we should all think about how current we are with emergency procedures. Military pilots spend countless hours training in simulators and airplanes for events that likely will never happen to them. We should do the same.

Last week, a very unlikely event did occur in Virginia. An F/A-18 that had just departed from the Oceana Naval Station appears to have had a major malfunction. Reports state there was a fire after takeoff, so the pilots shut down at least one engine and began dumping fuel to minimize the fire. It appears that they kept flying the airplane as long as they could to bring the airplane down in an unpopulated area. Unfortunately they were unable to control the airplane and had to eject. But despite the fact that the airplane crashed right into the Mayfair Mews apartment building, no one died as a result of the crash. And while it was mostly luck that nobody perished, several reports indicate that the pilots did all they could to avoid a major tragedy prior to ejecting from the airplane.

While the airplanes most of us fly don’t have ejection seats, we can all learn from this accident. From the many BFRs I’ve conducted through the years, I have found that pilots generally have a weak knowledge and proficiency of emergency procedures. They simply check the weather and the airplane and go out and fly, not considering what to do in case something goes wrong. If you are one of those pilots, I highly recommend that you take a lesson in a simulator and ask your instructor to randomly fail different instruments (or cover up the PFD if you’re flying glass) to practice flying with failures.

Also, tell the instructor to fail the engine at some point during the lesson and go over your engine failure procedures. Simulators provide a very realistic environment and you’ll be able to tell whether your forced landing would be successful in a real airplane or not. I also recommend practicing no-power spot landings, where you cut the power on the downwind leg of the pattern and attempt to put the airplane down to a specific location on the runway. You should first try this procedure in the simulator and then transition to the airplane you generally fly. Practice these with an instructor at a long runway and don’t select your target spot too close to the approach end to give yourself some margins to play with.

In addition to the emergency practice in the simulator and the airplane, take the time to mentally go over emergency procedures at least once a month. Visualize what you would do if a failure were to happen, step-by-step, as if you’re flying the airplane.

With this type of practice, you’re much better prepared to handle emergency situations and more likely to get your airplane to a runway or safe forced landing site in case of a major malfunction.