I have just read another accident report about the fatal crash of a twin engine aircraft following an engine failure shortly after takeoff. Conditions were VMC. The accident report stated that the pilot applied the wrong rudder, which resulted in loss of control. There was no speculation as to why an experienced pilot might make such an error, nor was any corrective action proposed!
This goes back to a problem I discovered about twenty years ago while giving annual training to airline pilots in full motion Boeing 737 simulators. The bottom line is that training for this critical emergency was and still is woefully inadequate.
The good news: at the time, I developed an effective technique for avoiding this mistake and began teaching it to all those crews I was paired with.
The bad news: I did not make a big enough effort to get this problem—and our solution–broader recognition and dissemination.
First let’s discuss some background and realities about training for the failure of an engine during and immediately after takeoff.
Modern light twins have little or no excess energy with loss of one engine on takeoff, and appropriately, the focus is typically on remaining on the runway or re-landing if possible. Unfortunately, for safety reasons, this is never actually practiced in a real airplane. In turboprops the performance improves somewhat, but again the actual loss of power in this critical phase is not practiced except in a simulator.
To receive a multi-engine rating, no simulator training is required. During the check ride, engine failures are given either at very low (safe) speeds, or above 500 ft. after takeoff. Never in IMC or at night! The failure is simulated by the check pilot retarding one of the throttles–a big clue as to which engine has “failed.” Testing requirements pretty much dictate training requirements. Training is expensive. Training in sophisticated full-motion simulators, which accurately reproduce the performance of a multi-engine aircraft with a failed engine, is very expensive. The reality today is that most multi-engine rated pilots have no actual experience–either real world or simulated—handling a twin with a failed engine shortly after becoming airborne.
Until the early 2000s, airline pilots were only trained and checked on handling engine failures that occurred at V1—just at rotation on takeoff (V1 cut). Because both wheels were still on the runway, the only control input needed was rudder. The plane would suddenly veer away from the centerline. I would train them to, “Stop the rotation, apply enough rudder to bring the nose back toward the centerline, freeze that rudder position, and continue the rotation.” This technique would result in them becoming airborne with the correct amount of the correct rudder already applied. There would be little roll as the wheels left the security of the runway. From that point memorized call outs and the abnormal checklist finished the safe recovery. There was no training for an engine failure after becoming airborne!
As a rule, the airlines don’t like to spend more money on training than is required to meet FAA standards. However many, including mine, had become concerned that more training was needed beyond the repeated but limited maneuvers of the annual Proficiency Check (PC) and had begun petitioning for more flexibility in their pilot training programs. That became a reality with the introduction of the requirement to conduct Line Oriented Flight Training (LOFT). Today this is called Scenario Based Training. To mitigate the burden of this additional training requirement, we were authorized to vary the types and conditions of emergencies that we simulated—with FAA approval and oversight.
So our first big change was to replace the V1 cut with an engine failure at 400 ft. after takeoff in IMC. Guess what happened? A large number of our pilots lost control and would have crashed had we not stopped (frozen) the sim. Several of us went into the sim and thoroughly investigated what was happening. Here is what we discovered.
When the engine fails, the plane yaws and rolls into the dead engine. The roll is detected immediately, but not so much the yaw. The pilots automatically react by applying aileron against the roll—which is good. Rudder turned out to be another issue. Once airborne in a climb, even in day VMC, there is little visual reference for determining which rudder to apply and in what amount.
The proper response did not come naturally to most pilots. Other than, “Step on the ball,” and/or looking at the engine gauges to see which engine had failed then “Stepping on the good engine,” pilots had no reliable way to quickly ascertain which rudder to push and to what extent. All of their previous engine failure training had emphasized getting on the rudder immediately. However when this is done in haste, three things can happen, and only one of them is good:
- Apply the wrong rudder—often fatal.
- Apply the correct rudder too aggressively, causing the plane to abruptly roll in the opposite direction, which leads to the belief that you have applied the wrong rudder, and a swap of the rudders—often fatal.
- Apply the correct rudder in the correct amount—good! But, how do you reliably and safely determine this correct direction and amount?
We learned that we could maintain control of the aircraft with one engine at takeoff power using aileron alone. If we left our feet flat on the floor and used only the ailerons to straighten the wings—a lot more aileron, up to 90 degrees to return to level—we could easily fly the plane safely in the climb. It was neither coordinated nor pretty, but it was safe! No one ever put in the wrong aileron.
We began to teach this technique to our pilots, instructing them not to jump on a rudder, but use only the aileron, then after the plane is under control, look at which direction the yoke is turned—which side is down—and slowly apply rudder in that direction until the yoke is back to level. At this point, the correct amount of the correct rudder would be applied.
It is my experience that most pilots of multi-engine aircraft have never turned the yoke more than about 30 degrees one way or the other in flight. It is my suggestion that any multi-engine pilot who hasn’t go out and see what full aileron deflection will give you, and learn how far you have to turn the yoke to get it. Then, slowly pull back one throttle and use just the aileron to keep the plane level. Obviously you should not get slow and stall while practicing this.
As you all become confident in this new technique, please pass it along to others, especially new MEIs.
- Managing engine failures on takeoff: a new approach - September 20, 2021
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“In the event of an engine failure after takeoff, keep the wings level with ailerons and step on the low hand.” That’s the takeoff brief I heard for 20 years as a KC-135 Boom Operator. I guess it still holds up.
Exactly!!! The KC-135 is very much affected by the loss of power in one of the outboard engines in takeoff and climb due to the long moment arm. This long-proven technique was drilled into me as a new student in 1987, we used it every day in training our new instructors when I taught at the tanker “schoolhouse” years later, and it’s still used today. No overthinking involved. “Step on the low hand” is simple, effective, and reliable, but certainly not new.
If you lost an engine in the OV-10 Bronco, you had better use the rudder — it had counter-rotating props and would make a sharp roll into the dead engine and, with external stores, drag was a real issue. I never had that happen to me, but saw the results when it happened to others.
One of our pilots ejected at 90 degrees of bank and skidded across the ground as the parachute deployed and brought him to a halt. He survived, but never flew again. He was grounded and got admitted to med school and came back as a surgeon. We had another guy eject on the ground when his left main tire blew and the airplane departed the runway headed for a minefield. He landed safely and walked over to shut down the airplane that stopped in some barbed wire short of the minefield. Several years later, this guy began having back problems and the AF sent him to see an orthopedic surgeon. Imagine his surprise when the surgeon turned out to be the guy who had survived the bailout after skipping across the ground!
Whenever I flew a Functional Check Flight (FCF — to wring out an airplane after it had gone through major maintenance) I always executed the BOLDFACE (Critical Action Procedures) for an engine failure: 1. Gear – Up (reduce drag); 2. Stores – Jettison (Further reduce drag — we never carried external stores on an FCF); 3. Condition Lever – Feather (another drag reducer, but I didn’t take that step). With spoilers that came out on the wing to which you applied the stick to counter a roll, drag was further exacerbated.
Of course, Step 3 was critical in that you had to grab the correct lever when feathering an engine! One day an EC-47 was doing a touch-and-go at our base in Thailand and, as they advanced power, they lost the right engine — the aircraft veered off the runway, so they were committed to taking it airborne. The AC directed the co-pilot to feather the engine, but he grabbed the wrong lever. The plane went into the jungle and killed everyone aboard, including a Chaplain who was along for the ride. I met the sister of the CP at a ceremony marking the 20th anniversary of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial in DC, but avoided talking about the accident. I just told her I was there and attended a memorial service for the crew.
I hope I didn’t give the impression that I meant not to use rudder at all. I meant to INITIALLY use ailerons to stop the roll and stabilize the aircraft, then slowly feed in the rudder on the side where the yoke is down until the correct amount of the – correct – rudder is established and the yoke is again level. This whole process usually only took about 5 seconds, and ALWAYS worked. Even i the Bronco it would work just fine.
O.C. Understand. Your technique is spot-on. I was just remembering my OV-10 experiences (last flown 48 years ago!). Since then I have flown T-38’s and, when I would ‘pull’ an engine shortly after takeoff (usually 100-300 feet AGL) on my students so they had to execute a heavyweight single-engine approach/landing, they had to trim out the yaw on what they thought was a center-line thrust airplane. Once they had it trimmed out, I would then shove the good engine into afterburner and let the student see how the aircraft would start slowly rolling into the ‘dead’ engine and that the roll would start getting faster if they didn’t ‘step on the good engine’. Later in my experience, I flew A-10s and we lost a couple due to adverse yaw when an engine rolled back when doing some high AOA maneuvering — again, ‘stepping on the good engine’ or reducing power on the good engine would save the day. Last flew the F-16, so the CAPs for an engine failure on takeoff were: 1. ZOOM (get away from Terra Firma); 2. Stores — JETTISON (reduce drag and help the zoom) 3. EJECT (because your chances of successfully turning back to the runway were less than zero!)
Transport category certification rules require that the airplane can be held level using rudder only with an engine out. Only five degrees–almost nothing–of roll control deflection can be used.
In Part 23 category light airplanes the certification rules allow full use of both aileron and rudder to keep the airplane level, or at an optimum slip angle, engine out.
I remember the first time I flew the original Citation CJ, the first jet initially certified under Part 23. The Cessna test pilot pulled back one engine and I stepped the rudder to the floor and the airplane kept rolling toward the dead engine. I said that’s not allowed. He shrugged and said “Part 23.”
Cessna fixed that and the CJ2, 3 and 4 all fly wings level engine out using rudder input only.
So, I suspect your technique would work better in light airplanes where aileron is a primary engine out control input. And maybe some military types I have never flown. But in transport airplanes the yoke stays level and rudder does the job after engine failure. And virtually all turbine airplanes have a rudder bias system pushing the proper rudder. And, of course, fly-by-wire provides automatic correction.
I suppose you’re referring to the King Air 350 power loss takeoff roll into the ground at Addison where the pilot did initially step on the wrong rudder, despite the airplane having a rudder bias system. Hard to explain. But I do know that in that airplane–Part 23 commuter category–it takes almost full aileron plus full proper rudder input to stay upright.
In may last sim recurrent the instructor did give me engine failures a few hundred feet in the air. Like you he said his students had been having more trouble with those than the V1 cuts. So maybe your message is spreading.
The problem is not with certification, but with pilots initially putting in the wrong rudder, or over-controlling with the correct rudder, then reversing the rudders. I observed this happen multiple times while working with line pilots in B-737 initial and recurrent training. We realized that very few of the pilots at our airline had ever tried handling an engine failure shortly after becoming airborne. We found that it was safer to have the pilots initially stabilize the aircraft with ailerons, which came naturally, then note which side of the yoke was down and slowly swap that rudder input for the aileron. This technique, which takes about 5 seconds, works every time in preventing loss of control under these conditions. It is by far the SAFEST way to initially handle the aircraft with a power loss after takeoff.
I have tested this technique in many different multi-engine aircraft from wide bodies down through various light twins and it always works! The beauty of this technique is that it eliminates the (potential) confusion as to which and how much rudder to put in.
O.C. Hope – Do you believe that the problem is all Vmca or that stall is an issue too? Light twins may or may not have positive climb rates when single engine … especially if not configured properly (propeller feathered) and at the correct speed. Some believe that the pilots are continuing to held the control full aft as the airplane descends and then stalls.
I sit on the ASTM Flight committee, leading the slow speed characteristics (stall characteristics, Vmca) portion. We are looking at potential solutions to aid the pilot in keeping control of the airplane. This, in some cases, is all the way to the ground. Keeping the airplane at blue line airspeed is a big one. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!
Years ago when I was in multi-engine initial training, one of my instructors (a man of few words) told me to not even think about which engine has failed and which rudder to use in case of an engine failure. He said to “just react naturally to the swinging nose. If the nose swings right, use rudder to bring it back. If the nose swings left, use rudder to bring it back.” He also said that if it happened at night or in IMC, “If the ball goes left use rudder to bring it back. If it goes right use rudder to bring it back. Don’t THINK about which rudder. Just bring the ball back.” It all seemed too simple a concept to be of any use. But it worked. And I never forgot it. I’ve used it a couple of times, too. That’s why I was able to tell my wife, “I’m coming back.”
Gotcha on the aileron idea. Gotcha on engine failure training after liftoff. I lost an engine on an OV-10 once (dirty fuel injectors). Luckily, it was on a GCA approach in IMC with the engines back. After I left that unit, another guy rolled one into the ground, not catching it in time. As I remember, the OV-10 procedure was, step on the ball. In the airlines, it was rudder the nose back and track the extended centerline. The ‘non-flying’pilot’ call-out was simply, “engine failure.” I don’t remember aileron use, except to level the wings. Point being, your idea should be considered by plane type — give a second to assess which one failed, apply the correct rudder. thanks,
“Instructing them not to jump on a rudder, but use only the aileron, then after the plane is under control, look at which direction the yoke is turned—which side is down—and slowly apply rudder in that direction until the yoke is back to level.”
I have taught this as well, but if reaction time is similar to the time it takes to read this quote it is too late. Recognition and reaction must be swift for some airplanes.
I would advocate getting a tail-wheel endorsement prior to multi-engine training to learn to USE YOUR FEET. This will help in landings as well, particularly for navy carrier pilots, who never seem to use their feet or flare.
In transport category aircraft, O.C.’s technique sounds like a game changer to me!
Early in my flying career I taught full-time, spending about one hundred flight hours per month for about 3 years giving dual instruction in Category 23 aircraft, including significant time in light twins, but I’ve been away from the training environment for a long time.
What happened to LOTS of practice in various scenarios using the memory items Mixture-Props-Throttles-Gear-Flaps-Identify-Verify-Feather, not done in a panic, but with purpose?
I found this article and the responses very interesting.
My training in twins was somewhat limited and only included c402 and 414 but I grew up in taildraggers and learned to dance on the rudders very early.
That is something that has never failed me.
It has been said that if you haven’t had a ground loop you will have. I can say that after hundreds of landings I’ve never ground looped a plane.
You learn quite early on to “ dance “ lightly on each pedal and keep the plane behind you.
That same process seems to make sense with keeping the plane straight when you lose an engine with a twin. Control the roll with the yoke and the yawl with the pedals.
Admittedly my twin time is not very much but basically that’s what I was taught and that’s what seems to work.
I am open to comments from others.
There are things that work in jets and things that work in props, and they’re not all the same. Putting your feet on the floor in a Baron or an Aerostar after an EFATO is not a good idea.
I would not argue about your procedure working or not working but I would be concerned about a couple of things. Your procedure goes against the basic muscle memory pilots are trained to develop. I.e. backing off of the rudder and holding control with only the ailerons is quite likely to cause some confusion as the brain, hands, and feet transition into an abnormal mode of control. And you are saying leave your feet on the floor – that’s confusing. Why would they be there when everything was working ok? The second concern is that there surely will be a delay in getting all of the controls in the proper place. Although you claim that things are under control, it seems unlikely that one control (ailerons) is going to work as well as two (ailerons and rudder).
I agree with the rudder problem though and I think one factor there is too much emphasis on looking at the ball – step on the ball. That’s good under normal circumstances, but when there’s an unexpected roll such as in an incipient spin (one wing stalling first) or an engine failure, the airplane will probably roll in such a way that the ball quickly drops to the low side of the tube. If the left wing goes down, the ball will also go to the left. But stepping on the ball (left rudder) will be disastrous. For that reason, we are taught to step on the rudder opposite the rotation or the right rudder. The same set of circumstances could be in place with an engine failure.
I prefer to maintain and apply pressure on the controls in order to follow the attitude plus power equals performance practice and actually that’s what you are doing with the V1 cuts. You use the runway to know which rudder to apply. In the air, substitute the DG for the runway and you will get exactly the same information. I.e. on the takeoff roll on runway 36, the nose is pointed down the runway and the DG is on 36. If any left yaw, the nose points to the left of the centerline and the DG goes toward 35. Apply right rudder. In the air, you won’t have the runway, but you will still have the DG so use it, not the turn coordinator primarily. Whenever maintaining a heading, I scan the AI to keep the wings level with the ailerons, and the DG to apply rudder pressure to prevent any yawing. That maintains the correct attitude at least as far as the aileron and rudder pressure needed.
O.C. thank you for this very relevant story, i just got my multi not too long ago, and this technique was not taught to me. My roots are on gliders so using the rudder is a non-issue for me, and plenty of times i’ve flown the airplane with rudder and elevator only to simulate aileron failure, though not in a twin.
I’m curious if you know these pilot’s backgrounds, as I find that no matter what technique i try or how many times i say it, my students still cannot use their feet on those pedals, save for glider or tailwheel pilots. If someone had a similar background, did they have similar results? In other words, did the pilots you checked have issues recovering no matter the type of flying experience?
Today the mechanism underlying what we called “muscle memory” in the past is better understood. It is referred to as “myelination of pathways in neural networks”, and we understand the conditions and training environments that cause it to develop. It’s a good thing. Developing this muscle memory and making proper responses an automatic reaction is a major goal in many aspects of flight training, e.g., stall recovery and not allowing your airspeed to decay below that needed for controlled flight with the critical engine out.
This article and the comments above have given me cause to think back on the techniques I used when conducting training in light twins.
Too little emphasis and training time is spent teaching how to recognize when reducing the power on one or both engines is appropriate. Two examples follow; both relate to the King Air incident discussed above:
I started transitioning a student into twins on the first lesson with repeated engine cuts on random sides of the aircraft. This began with the aircraft barely beginning the takeoff roll, then at progressively faster speeds as the student gradually became competent at handling these non-emergencies by reducing the power to idle on both engines and controlling yaw with the rudder. These recognize-when-it-is-safe-and-best-to-abort-the-takeoff exercises continued and progressed throughout the training. As the student progressed this training moved to a longer and wider runway and higher speed engine cuts. Learning to control yaw with the rudder in a Category 23 aircraft quickly became second nature to the student. It was safe and effective training.
At the other end of the speed range, and ignoring everything in between for the moment, I had an experience with a student that really drove home a valuable lesson that we were all taught. It was a non-event but gave me a great example to discuss with future students. It also relates to the type of constantly recurring accident that the King Air example above illustrates so vividly.
We were (deliberately) several thousand feet above the ground with the student practicing maneuvering with the critical engine feathered. I don’t know the correct cognitive terms to describe his mental condition (it may be “continuation bias” combined with what I would call a slow onset “freeze” reaction).
He did well for some time maneuvering, making shallow turns left and right. After a certain point, and despite several leading questions such as “how is your airspeed now?” he began to fly slower and slower. Since we were at a safe altitude, I allowed this to continue.
We were flying straight when the aircraft began a slow and stately snap roll into the dead engine. I reached up and pulled the mixture control on the good engine (the other mixture control was already in idle cutoff) to the idle cutoff position immediately stopping the good engine, while simultaneously telling him “I have the aircraft”. The aircraft had reached about thirty degrees of bank when the good engine stopped, and the aircraft immediately rolled back to wings level, I lowered the nose, and we simply became a glider for a short time while I restarted the windmilling engine and recovered the aircraft to a slow decent on the restored power of the right engine. It was not even an exciting event.
It was a vivid example of another circumstance where you have no choice but to either lower the nose and continue the decent or reduce the power on the good engine. In the type of constantly reoccurring accident exemplified by the King Air discussed above you must lower the nose and fly the aircraft under control into the best area to meet the ground if that is the only choice. As Hoover said, FLY THE AIRCRAFT UNDER CONTROL AS FAR INTO THE ACCIDENT AS POSSIBLE.
Teaching students that kind of mental control (not that difficult-it’s part of good flight training) is the only way that I can see to stop this type of accident in Category 23 aircraft (as opposed to the Category 21 aircraft that O.C. discusses).
Hello from Belgium
I trained pilots on multi from Britten Norman to B737 for 40 years
Hello from Belgium
I trained pilots on multi from Britten Norman to B737 for 40 years and 25 000 hours
I fully support the content of the article.
Imagine you are IMC on A/P and one engine quit. The A/P will deliver the acft to you with stick input to simply correct the bank. Rudder will be yours as the next step.
Interesting practice but it’s difficult to see it as an effective solution on light twins. I would use enough rudder opposite the yaw AND with an INMEDIATE lowering the nose and keep ailerons level. This actions will give more speed which in turn will give a better opportunity to control the aircraft. The ball not care to look at it at this time. Right hand in the meantime will reassured full power on BOTH. if rotation does not stop just cut BOTH engines and continue straight ahead… If rotation stop. Quick look to check failure engine. Throttle back to confirm. Feather. Raise 3 to 5 degree dead wing and only climb to avoid obstacle height or circling altitude if happens to be IMC/Night. I know is difficutl. I kepr reading again and again each time this subject arises. But ailerons generally creates adverse yaw on light aircraft and using ailreons at first will only aggravate the already precaurios balance. That’s why I not sure your full ailerons solution will be fit for these aircraft.
At or near max gross weight for the runway, a transport category jet has much less performance than we typically experienced in the sim during a training session. Late in my career, my airline started running an engine out scenario at max gross weight in the sim. We used “KORD” in my fleet (767) and I well recall that it took nearly to Lake Michigan to get the ship cleaned up and ready to turn (taking off to the “east”)
There was a 747 some time ago that nearly crashed into the hills just west of SFO due to the pilots using only aileron to control an engine out situation at a heavy weight. The problem with most big jets (and probably the 737 as well) is that not only ailerons but also spoilers are deflected in such a situation. So the rudder must be brought into the fight fairly quickly to eliminate the spoiler deployment, if performance is to be preserved. By “fairly quickly” I mean no more than 10 seconds or so.
Still, the overall concept appears to be valid, based upon your observations in the simulator. Additional data points at high gross weights would be interesting to study.
Having flown a bunch of twins, I’m lucky to have never experienced engine failure just after take off. After reading this article, I am not sure I would have made it. The non-intuitive nature of the rudder would be a BIG problem with all the anxiety already. Thanks!
Too much mixing of airline jets and piston twins, for which optimal techniques may differ.
It also says: “The failure is simulated by the check pilot retarding one of the throttles…” When I was getting my multi, they pulled a mixture while using a chart or something to hide which one.
First, we should all recognize that jets and pistons are different even though some of the techniques are similar. The is no V1 in a piston, I suppose you could call it V1 but it’s only a decision point (not necessarily speed).
O.C., I’m not sure about your aileron technique. Sandidge’s comments about rudder makes a lot more sense, and that’s what I’ve been trained to do. Sure, you could lead with a bit of aileron… and could work. (tried that once in the sim, and got criticized for it.. airlines). With a jet you have a LOT more time to deal with things, and a LOT more power and performance.
Incidentally, my airline most certainly did cuts right after liftoff, and we did learn. However, the bulk of the folks reading here on most likely GA folks, so we can address that.
Yes, we have sims and we can and do train for engine outs under different situations. I would hope that most of us have some regiment for training in our light twins. And, in that training, we need to learn the specific performance parameters of what we fly and exactly how to handle engine outs.
For now, I’ll stay with rudder to hold heading, dead foot – dead engine.
It’s no surprise such horrible aviation advice comes from a SCAB. Oscar C Hope was a Continental SCAB in ’83. He took a job from a guy with a family who was on strike trying to preserve his way of life and maybe someday improve it. There is no more slimy a person than takes another’s job. This guy doesn’t GAS about anybody other than himself and he doesn’t care about the lives he ruined being a SCAB.
Once a SCAB always a SCAB.
You are cleared to s**t in his flight kit.
Best advice (for fellow turbo prop pilots) I have received on this topic is:
1.) Set heading bug on runway direction before takeoff.
2.) If engine fails, STEP ON THE BUG. If it’s to the right step on right rudder, etc…
3.) Fly the aircraft at or above blue line.
Heck, your mostly set up for engine failure anyway. Your power is full at takeoff, your props are full so just get your gear up and raise the lower wing with rudder and fly it to a safe altitude at which point you can feather the proper engine, etc…