February 2010 Safety Article by Darrel Sauder



When was the last time you practiced an engine out? Some of you may answer, "Oh, I practice one almost every time I fly," or, "When I was taking lessons for my license, I practiced a bunch of them," or, "On my last biannual," or the self incriminating..." I never actually practice them, I just mentally think about what I will do." This last one, my friend, is akin to just thinking about sex instead of doing it...just not the same (at least for some of us). 


We can easily practice an engine out. When out "tooling about" just pull the old throttle back to idle (don't forget the carb heat), pick a nice pasture, hayfield, or road, maneuver down, and then take her back up just before touchdown. Now do the obligatory pat yourself on the back and the "I would have made it" statement (always loud enough for all to hear).


Let's narrow the parameters: How about an engine failure on climb out right after takeoff below, say, 2000 feet AGL. If you added up all of the fingers and toes of all of you who are reading this, the sum would not approach the number of pilots who lost an engine right after takeoff and crashed attempting to make it back to the runway.


So, how do you safely practice such a catastrophe? Easy, when done properly at altitude. Pick an area away from congestion, which is not hard to do here in South Dakota. Pick a safe altitude, say 2000 feet AGL and line up on a fence, road, or field border (your simulated runway).  Throttle back to slow flight or lift off speed, and configure your aircraft as it would be for takeoff: ie. flaps, gear down, etc. Now add takeoff power and simulate lift off and climb out as per normal operations. Make sure you note your point of lift off. When you think you have enough altitude to return to the simulated runway, ie. your fence, road, or field border, pull your engine to idle and begin your turn. Keep in mind that a 180 degree turn is not enough....that will only get you parallel to the runway....the turn must be 210 or 220 degrees to get you back over to centerline. Don't forget to account for variables like wind direction and speed, gross weight, and density altitude, to name a few. Did you comfortably make your "lift off" point? You probably got your eyes opened a bit. Try it again until you feel comfortable with what altitude you must attain before attempting to return to the field. I know, I know, there was probably some runway left when you lifted off so making it back to the same point may be a bit conservative....how good is your judgment? By the way....what is your best glide speed (right now...don't look it up).


My next point is inherently obvious. If you are not at your safe return to the field altitude when your engine quits, what are your options.....where do you land? You've all heard this rule; pick a landing spot and stick to it. You simply do not have time to change your decision.


We all hope we never have a real engine out during climb out after takeoff, but just knowing your critical return to field altitude can literally be a life saver for you and your passenger. Being prepared is much preferred to frozen panic and going into autoflail.


Again, a painful elaboration of the obvious, but perhaps food for thought.  




Darrel W Sauder

EAA Chapter 39

Rapid City, South Dakota

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