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Deer in the headlights

Plan for multiengine failure on takeoff

"Deer in the headlights" is the look I see many times when giving a checkride to a multiengine applicant who is prepared only for what he or she thinks will be the usual simulated engine failure after takeoff.

The usual engine failure simulation has the examiner bringing back a throttle at about 600 to 800 feet agl after takeoff, after the landing gear already have been retracted and the engines reduced to climb power. In this common scenario, the applicant usually responds by pushing forward the mixtures, props, and throttles while verbalizing "mixtures, props, throttles; flaps up; gear up; verify and feather." Then the examiner moves the throttle and prop controls while announcing that "zero thrust" has been set. In my opinion, this scenario has very little realism.

I prefer a more realistic simulation. I have the applicant climb to 3,000 feet agl for the safety of a simulated hard-deck takeoff and instruct him or her to leave the gear down, set full power, and hold the airspeed between Vxse and Vyse, or above Vsse if published. Then I fail an engine with a mixture cut at 50 to 100 feet above the simulated hard deck.

To recover, the applicant has only to maintain directional control, level the wings while simultaneously pitching forward to hold airspeed, retract the landing gear, then feather the propeller (for real). This simulation is realistic. Almost every applicant prepared by an instructor who knows me passes this task, because the procedure isn't difficult, they've practiced, and they have a clear plan of action for the emergency. As for performance, most modern twins--including training twins such as the Piper Seminole and the Beech Duchess--do have the capability to climb out (albeit slowly) from a sea-level airport unless they're too heavy. Of course it's necessary to consult the performance charts for that day's operation in the airplane's pilot's operating handbook.

Applicants recommended by CFIs from outside my area, who are unfamiliar with my 3,000-foot-agl, hard-deck engine failure technique, are the ones who exhibit the "deer in the headlights" look on checkrides. They are often startled by the sudden engine failure and do nothing for a short while. Then they start motioning with their hands, uselessly pointing at the engine controls while mumbling about the mixtures, props, throttles, checklists, carb heat, boost pumps, flaps, and so on, even though all of these controls were preset and double-checked before takeoff. The realistic 3,000-foot hard-deck scenario brings an element of surprise, confusion, and second-guessing until too much time has been lost, along with precious airspeed and altitude. It doesn't take long for airspeed to deteriorate to very near VMC, requiring examiner intervention. That checkride is over.

I believe that my testing technique reveals why multiengine accidents so often follow the failure of an engine shortly after takeoff. It's unrealistic training and testing scenarios. A "deer in the headlights" rollover accident can be prevented with a clear plan of action for engine failure right after takeoff. If the runway is shorter than about 5,000 feet with no overrun, it is very difficult to abort a takeoff once above 50 to 100 feet. But if the airplane is light enough so that sufficient climb performance exists, just be prepared to do exactly what is necessary and skip even thinking about checklist items that have already been preset for takeoff. For example, don't talk about or try to retract the flaps when flaps aren't being used for that takeoff. In other words, have a clear plan of action for that takeoff and review the plan in your mind before takeoff.

If insufficient runway remains to stop:

  • Maintain directional control while pitching forward to maintain airspeed and simultaneously retract the landing gear.
  • Verify and feather propeller.
  • Maintain at least VXSE, or VYSE if that airspeed has been obtained.

Such a plan of action for the failure of an engine after takeoff will prevent "deer in the headlights" syndrome.

E. Allan Englehardt is a 36-year pilot for a major airline and is currently a senior Boeing 777 international captain. He was Flight Instructor of the Year in 1976 and has been an FAA designated pilot examiner for 15 years, with some 1,200 flight tests given, including 400 in multiengine airplanes.

By E. Allan Englehardt

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