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Simulating Engine Failures On Takeoff

Learning When Not To Turn Back

Most flight instructors are a little anxious as they stand alongside the runway while one of their students makes his or her first solo flight. I sometimes think this event is harder on the instructor than the student. I keep thinking, "Did I cover everything I should have before signing the student off for first solo? I used the checklist from Part 61 to ensure I covered everything, but was there something else?"

One of the things that worries me the most is an engine failure on takeoff. How will the student react? Will he try to turn back to the airport? Will he maintain flying speed and not stall the airplane?

I have devised an exercise that I hope will help students cope with a power failure on takeoff when there is no more runway on which to land. It demonstrates why it is not wise to turn back without sufficient altitude. For this demonstration, take the student up to about 2,500 feet agl, then find a ground reference such as a tree or a pond that will simulate the threshold of a runway. Next, set the altimeter at some reading that will simulate the field elevation at a departing airport; let's use 2,000 feet as an example. Tell the student to make believe that he is taking off at an airport with a field elevation of 2,000 feet msl. Heading into the wind, have the student go to takeoff power when the aircraft passes over the ground reference point, noting the heading, and climb to 2,400 feet msl (simulating 400 feet agl). Then reduce the power to idle and ask the student to try and return to the airport without passing through 2,000 feet msl, the elevation of the simulated airport. Using best glide, the student will usually pass through 2,000 feet about 120 degrees into the required 210-degree turn back to the airport. Try it again with a steeper bank. He will get closer to course reversal but usually won't make the runway because the descent rate is greater. Try having the student slow the airplane to below best-glide airspeed and attempt to stretch the power off glide. Again the descent rate will increase, and you can illustrate the danger of stalling the airplane and hitting the ground out of control. Now, do the exercise again by climbing to 2,800 feet msl (simulating 800 feet agl). The student can probably make the 210-degree turn back to the runway, but with not much to spare.

All of this is to impress upon the student the folly of trying to turn back to the runway with a power failure when the aircraft is below pattern altitude. Your best insurance is to have your student know the potential landing sites off the end of each runway at the airports he uses and be prepared to land there in case of an emergency instead of turning back.

Richard Hiner is vice president of training for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

By Richard Hiner

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