Beyond the Basics of Emergency Training

We’ve all trained for emergencies that we think of as unlikely but know can happen. In singles, one of the most feared and often discussed is an engine failure, especially in the moments after takeoff with the runway inconveniently behind us.

During engine-out practice, we climb to a safe altitude, pull the power to idle, pitch for best glide airspeed and look for a suitable place to set down. This is all well and good, but it’s also a training scenario that might not match the real-life emergency you may one day face.

For example, your engine might lose power but not quit altogether. Or your engine might be producing maximum rated power but on a hot day at a high density altitude in a heavy airplane. In these cases, the airplane might continue to fly, but just barely. What do we do then? Try to limp back to the airport? Continue to fly on the ragged edge of a stall hoping a suitable place to land suddenly appears? If we haven’t thought about it ahead of time, we might be at a loss when considering our options.

In too many of these cases, pilots who know better — that they must avoid the dreaded stall/spin scenario at all costs — continue to pull back as angle of attack increases and the stall approaches. The temptation to try to squeeze every last ounce of performance out of a struggling airplane is so great that pilots sometimes ignore everything they’ve been taught about stalls by trying in vain to get themselves out of a bad situation.

At some point you might have to decide you’re just going to have to crash your airplane. “Fly it all the way into the smoking hole” was how the legendary Bob Hoover put it. After all, it’s far better to crash an airplane under control than to spin in, even from a height of just a couple hundred feet. The military teaches that if you have to crash, maintain control and hit the “softest, cheapest thing you can find as slowly as possible.” There’s wisdom in that advice.

If you’re close to a suitable landing site but don’t think you can quite make it, all hope might not be lost. For example, going to full flaps at the last moment will give you some extra margin against the stall and even cause you to balloon – it might be enough for you to make that field you thought was unmakeable. You won’t know how your airplane will react until you fly it in every conceivable configuration and power setting and toy with the timing of extending flaps after you pull the power.

You need to ask yourself, is the emergency training you’ve done really sufficient to prepare you for every possible eventuality? If not, you might want to contact a good instructor and ask him or her to take you beyond the basics of emergency training.


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