Flying Lesson # 25 – Forced Landings

July 27, 2012

After learning precautionary search and landing techniques last week, which is, as I’m sure you’ll remember, finding somewhere to land should you not have the option of landing at an airfield, it seems only fitting to do the same thing again with no engine power. I mean, why keep things simple!

All joking aside, forced landings is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons. It’s when you have a failure of some description and making it back to an airfield is not an option, either is finding a suitable piece of land by way of low level flying investigation. Basically, once the engine fails, the clock is ticking. The amount of time you have until you’re on the ground is now up to the pilot. There is a very specific set of actions that need to be completed to give you the best chance of landing safely and this is what we practice over and over.

It goes a little something like this: Engine fails –

  1. Set the plane up for the best glide by trimming to 65 knots and apply carb heat in case the engine is suffering from icing and to prevent that from occurring in the glide.
  2. Carry out vital actions to ensure the engine failure isn’t something simple that can be fixed. Fuel on, Mixture Rich, Carb heat on, Primer locked.
  3. Select a suitable field using the 5 S’s, Surface, Shape, Size, Slope and Surroundings. The chosen field must be within gliding range.
  4. Plan your approach, which basically means setting up an imaginary circuit around your makeshift strip. Down-wind, base and final. You need to plan to be no higher than 1500 feet at base point.
  5. Troubleshoot your instruments, left to right looking for something that may indicate what the problem is.
  6. Once you know there is no chance of recovering the engine power and you are committed to the forced landing. Make the Mayday call! Again, there is a very specific process to be followed here.
  7. Brief your passengers, so they know what is happening and what you want them to do once landed.
  8. Security Checks. Hatches ajar (to make it easier to get out of the plane should things go wrong), Harnesses tight (uncomfortably tight is what you’re looking for), Loose objects stowed (this includes pens out of pockets, bags etc under the seats), Fuel off and mixture lean (to prevent a fuel fire on landing etc), Switches off (so as to not provide a spark that may ignite fuel), keep master on (so that you can maintain communications etc).

Carrying out all of these actions gives you the best chance of survival. Remember this is an absolute worst case scenario that we hope will never actually happen, though we have to be prepared.

The part that I’m struggling with the most is trying to remember all of the steps. Like Robert says, practice it in the car, the shower, the toilet – whenever you can.

Anyway, back to the lesson. We headed out this time to the south, bound for the Jimboomba area. As the area we use for forced landings is quite far away and the 150’s not the fastest plane on the market, a good portion of the lesson is taken up in transit. To use the time as best as possible, Robert briefs me on the way out. We also started the lesson a little early by conducting a forced landing on the way out. As we were still over a somewhat populated area, we couldn’t go too low but it was a good chance for Robert to demonstrate what needs to be done. On the way out, Robert pointed out landmarks, reporting points and other topics of interest like the fact that there is a model rocket firing area just south of Jimboomba that we need to look out for. Rockets! Are you serious! There is also an area called Kagaru, which is a private air strip used by the aero club. Once we got to the area used for forced landings, Robert pointed out an area of land that we would use. He instructed me where he wants me to touch down and to plan my down-wind, base and final legs. I think I did ok, I’m pretty sure I would have landed safely. I did, however, have the benefit of my instructor finding the landing area for me (which I think is probably the hardest part). After having a few goes at it, we headed back to Archerfield.

There was a little bit of traffic on the way back, its fun having to listen out for other planes in the area, trying to spot them and then deciding what needs to be done to stay out of their way. This part of the training is definitely the most exciting to date.

Next lesson will be more of the same. So until then, study, study, study.

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