Air Safety Institute Safety Spotlight
Coming up short
Student pilots have come to expect simulated emergencies, and instructors understand that those practice emergencies are a necessary evil. The problem arises when the line between simulated and real is crossed, endangering lives.
On April 13, 2003, a student and his instructor entered the downwind leg of the traffic pattern for Runway 18 at the Olive Branch, Mississippi, airport. The student expected this to be a normal pattern with a full-stop landing. When the Cessna 152 was abeam the numbers, the instructor turned the fuel selector to the "off" position to simulate an engine failure. About five seconds after turning base, the engine lost power. The student recognized the loss of power and properly completed the engine failure checklist, including repositioning the fuel selector to the "on" position.
Despite the student's corrective actions, the engine continued to lose rpm and eventually quit. The CFI confirmed that the fuel selector was on and took control of the airplane. He pitched for best glide, turned toward the runway, and declared an emergency. The CFI then attempted to restart the engine but was unsuccessful. The airplane landed short of the runway and was substantially damaged. Neither the flight instructor nor the student was injured.
The NTSB determined the cause of this accident to be the CFI's improper positioning of the fuel selector valve to the "off" position, which resulted in fuel starvation and a subsequent loss of engine power.
A recent AOPA Air Safety Foundation special report on instructional safety found that 38 percent of dual instruction maneuvering accidents were a result of practicing emergency procedures at low altitudes. Download the complete report at AOPA Online. ASF recommends that instructors set a "hard deck" (altitude) where recovery from a simulated emergency will be made, and always leave an "out." Simulate an engine failure with the throttle, not the mixture control or fuel selector. That way, if a go-around is required, at least the engine is still running.
Numerous other helpful studies and resources for students and instructors -- including free online interactive courses -- are available online.
By Kristen Hummel
Kristen Hummel manages the aviation safety database for the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine and instrument ratings.