Handling a Takeoff Emergency

Preflight inspection can alert us to a potential problem before we're airborne.

Tip Takeoff Emergency

Tip Takeoff Emergency

We recently heard a story involving a student pilot who headed out to the airport for some night solo time and ended up facing his first real emergency.

According to his instructor, the student performed a preflight inspection in the winter chill with a flashlight before climbing aboard and heading out to the active. When he was ready to go, he taxied onto the runway and applied full power. Within seconds he knew something was wrong — the airspeed indicator remained at zero well beyond the point where he should have expected to see a reading.

The student aborted the takeoff on the 3,500-foot runway and taxied back to the ramp, where he shut down and gave his instructor a call. After some discussion and a little detective work, the culprit of the erroneous airspeed readout was discovered. The student had checked the pitot and static ports for obstructions, and even applied pitot heat, but it turns out that ice was lodged fairly deep in the static port. There was no way he could see it, even with his flashlight.

Another clue that something was amiss would have been the altimeter reading, which was way off. Not having ASOS on the field, the student set field elevation in the Kollsman window without giving much thought to the fact that he had to spin the dial more than usual.

As you probably know, a blocked static port is a far more serious condition than a blocked pitot tube. A static system failure will cause the altimeter to remain at its current indication, the vertical speed to remain at zero and the airspeed indicator to read less than actual as the aircraft climbs (the instructor noted the the airspeed indicator in this case was showing 180 knots when the aieplane was stationary — not a good situation for a student pilot about to lift off into the darkness.

Despite missing evidence that might have given him pause before he ever started the engine, the student handled the situation admirably by aborting the takeoff and taxiing back for further investigation. All of which goes to show that the preflight inspection really is just that — as long as we’re still on the ground with enough runway in front of us, we should be looking for clues — engine and instrument indications, strange sounds, unusual feeling in the controls — that can alert us to a potential problem before we’re airborne.

Get exclusive online content like this delivered straight to your inbox by signing up for our free enewsletter.

We welcome your comments on flyingmag.com. In order to maintain a respectful environment, we ask that all comments be on-topic, respectful and spam-free. All comments made here are public and may be republished by Flying.