Don’t turn a practice emergency into a real emergency

I was out at my local airport one recent afternoon, watching planes beat up (or should I say pulverize), the traffic pattern, and I saw something that really made me wonder what folks were thinking.

I observed one locally-based Cessna 172 try to execute a simulated engine-out emergency landing on our 5,000 ft-long runway. I could see that there were two people in the airplane, but I can’t say for sure that it involved a CFI giving dual instruction.

They flew a very tight base-to-final turn, and were still pretty high over the threshold; I’d estimate around 200-300 ft AGL.

The winds were light, and it looked like they had partial flaps extended. Since they were obviously going to land very long, and really did have power available, I was betting they would abort this attempt and try it again.

172 landing
It’s OK to go around.

I was a bit surprised when they continued their descent to the runway. (Hmmm… Maybe they really do have a problem…) I don’t remember seeing anything that looked like full-flaps coming down, but they appeared to try a fairly weak attempt at a forward slip when they got down to maybe 100 ft.

By this time, they were way past mid-field, and I could just barely see them (I was sitting adjacent to the approach end) over the curve of the earth. I’m guessing they landed about 4000 feet down the runway.  So, I was even more surprised when they executed a touch-and-go out of it!

“So what?” you may ask, “A 172 can get airborne in less than 1000 feet.”  That’s not the point. The point is: Don’t create a possible real emergency situation while simulating an emergency.  If you’re doing engine-out landings, give yourself a reasonable distance to put it down on the runway; after all, you’re practicing for a possible worst case scenario of having to land in a very small, tight, confined space. If you’re not going to make it, penalize yourself by going around (which we also need to practice), and trying it again, and again, and again, as necessary.  If you have a real emergency, and end up with 5000 ft of runway available – great!

Continuing that approach to a touch-and-go served no purpose, except to put that “crew” in peril if their touch-and-go didn’t go as expected.

8 Comments

  • I’m reminded of an incident a friend of mine was involved in at St. Hubert near Montreal. My friend was checking out a squadron newbie on one his squadron’s single Otters on wheels. He was demonstrating how steep the engine off approach would be with full flaps. In all fairness it is quite an alarming attitude … it seems like you are going straight in. The round out for landing calls for a huge attitude change from an extreme nose down to a normal round out which is with full flap a little above horizontal. My friend told the tower, ” St Hubert we are going to simulate a short field emergency landing with a touch and go”. “Roger tower checks cleared to land” Well my friend’s student badly misjudged the pullout and decided to go around and applied full full throttle. The big PW did a couple of hiccups before responding and in the meantime the hard landing drove the main gear into the back cabin … luckily there were no passengers … a fraction of a second later the engine caught and at full throttled started to chew up big chunks of the runway asphalt dragging the wrecked hulk behind it. Just before the train wreck stopped its forward momentum my friend called the tower and calmly said, “OK tower I guess we’ll make this full stop”
    Not satisfied with that we shared two Otters on amphib floats and within twenty minutes at summer camp at North Bay Ontario landed one wheels up on the runway and the other wheels down in a lake adjacent to airfield. Both were simulated engine failures on take off. It prompted one old squadron sage to opine, ” maybe they ought to give us back the Sabres” FYI there were no injuries in either case only badly bruised egos.

    • Which may be why all of my instructors in Spain insisted on 20 degrees of flaps when we did any maneuvers which might force a go-around. The only time I was allowed full flaps in a Cessna 152 was to practice slips, and even then we always started with 20. Thinking about that training period, I suspect I did more no flaps landings than full flap ones.

  • I’ve noted how my life’s ventures were never guided by the mistakes of others. Seems I’ve always had to make the mistakes myself before learning the lesson. The one exception to that unfortunate rule was during my years of flying. I always read incident and accident reports, and the stories of ventures that almost led to disasters. For some reason, I paid attention to those, and the knowledge gained helped me avoid some of my own. That’s not to say I didn’t have a few “adventures”, but I always felt it necessary to “push the envelop” in order to learn and be a better pilot… but, I purposely never went beyond a situation I felt I couldn’t get myself out of with my current skills with the equipment on hand. What would I have learned if all I ever did was bore holes in a CAVU sky. My point is that I’m hoping young, newby pilots are taking note of articles and stories like this. (Perhaps the very most important lessons learned from others were those involving “gethomeitis”, never depart without full tanks, and how a combination of swallowed pride and a 180 turn can be the most important maneuver of your life.)

  • If they were at 300 feet AGL crossing the threshold I do not see how they could have glided another 4000 feet, unless they were well above standard approach speed.

    • Good point: That’s why the First step in every airplane’s inflight “ENGINE FAILURE” checklist(s) is “Airspeed–[Best Glide]”, or something very similar similar.

      There are penalties for being too slow, or too fast. If you’re carrying so much extra speed that you can “sustain” a 5-, or even 4-degree approach path, you’re going to travel 3,600′ to 4,500′ down the runway from 300′ AGL. (I hope my math’s correct.)
      And that’s before you float even further in ground effect.

      At some point during an emergency landing (‘Key Position’), you have determine that landing is assured, finish configuring the airplane, and slow to 1.3 Vso. Their lack of full flaps, and weak attempt at a slip, tells me their airspeed was probably not wired.

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