It’s the worst possible time for the worst possible thing to happen.
You’ve just taken off from an airfield or airport runway, barely climbed to any altitude, and your engine clanks to a halt.
What do you do?
If your engine fails after takeoff you have seconds to deal with the situation and make the right decisions. Follow these tips for a successful result…
Lower the Nose, Maintain Speed
You will have a nose-up attitude immediately after takeoff, but if your engine fails you will quickly lose airspeed and approach a stall.
The first thing you need to do is lower your nose to maintain airspeed; the actual speed varies from aircraft to aircraft, but is determined as your best glide speed.
The only exception here is if you still have enough runway available below you to land again, in which case you should lower the nose to a steeper angle and add full flaps.
Look Ahead, Pick a Place to Land
Don’t worry about checklists or restarting your engine. You haven’t got time right now.
Once you’ve established a safe glide speed, look ahead out of the window and pick a place that you can reach to land.
You should not consider turning back, but instead focus on within an area around 30 degress to the left and right of your current heading.
Turning back is known as the “Impossible Turn” as the chances of successfully pulling it off without stalling or running out of altitude are slim. Despite this, it seems to be the natural instinct for many, often because the pilot knows there’s a runway just behind them, which is much more preferable to a bumpy field!
Secure the Aircraft
Once you’ve picked a field, open space or clear road to land on, aim the aircraft there and maintain that glide speed.
Your next stage is to prepare the aircraft for an emergency landing.
In all likelihood a landing on rough ground will cause damage to the airframe, so you want to limit the chances of making things worse by sparking a fuel fire.
Again, the procedure will vary depending on your aircraft type, but you should:
- Pull the Mixture to IDLE CUTOFF
- Turn off the fuel flow or fuel pump
- Turn the Magnetos to OFF
When you know you can make your landing site, apply full flaps. If you are in an aircraft with electronically-operated flaps, you should do this before turning off the Master Switch, which is the next stage.
If there is time, you should also unlatch the door unless your aircraft is one where the door forms part of the structural integrity.
Landing after an engine fails can be difficult when dealing with rough terrain. You won’t have much time to think if it happens at low altitude, but keeping an eye on your speed should prevent unwanted problems such as stalling, or overshooting.
Aim for the clearest part of the landing site, giving any power lines, fences, trees and hedges good clearance, and aiming closer to any signs of civilisation such as buildings or roads.
Your soft-field landing techniques should come into play here, making sure you land on your main wheels and keep the nose off the ground with back pressure. If the nose wheel falls, it is likely to dig in and flip the aircraft over.
Once you have come to a halt, exit the aircraft as swiftly as possible and move a safe distance away from it in case a fire ignites, making sure any passengers are also safely evacuated. Alert the emergency services.
Still considering that Impossible Turn?
There’s a train of thought that making a turn back to the runway when your engine quits after takeoff isn’t necessarily the worst thing you can do.
It depends on a number of factors, and if you have clear ground ahead that can be used, always go for that instead.
This video explains how you could actually attempt the impossible turn back, but remember it all depends on your height, speed, wind conditions and your aircraft type.