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‘Impossible turn’ saves one pilot twice

Barry Schiff presented "The Impossible Turn" at AOPA Aviation Summit.Celebrated author, veteran flight instructor, and former TWA captain Barry Schiff has been forced to turn around after takeoff because of an engine failure twice in his flying life.

As a young flight instructor in 1956, Schiff was with a student in a Stinson when the engine quit. He elected to turn around to make the runway even though conventional instruction says to land straight ahead. ATC chastised him, however. He replied, “Why would I get in trouble for saving my butt?"

In 1972 while flying a Super Cub on floats the engine quit again. He turned around, but a Cessna sat parked in his way. With no other options, he stuck with his decision. The floats scraped the wings of the Cessna and he was later sued. "But I don't care; I'm here to talk about it," he said.

Schiff's presentation, "Engine failure after takeoff," defies the iron-clad rules governing this controversial issue. He discusses the pros and cons and when it can be safe to make the so-called "impossible turn."

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Air Safety Institute's "Impossible Turn"
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"When an engine fails, your mind turns to mush. Seventy-two percent of all engine failures after takeoff are the pilot's fault. You must be as prepared to abort as you are to takeoff," said Schiff. "The good news is you probably will never have to do it, but you should be prepared."

Schiff suggests practicing the turn, performing it with an instructor, and considering the options.

  1. Establish the aircraft in a stabilized climb at V y.
  2. Retard the throttle.
  3. Do nothing for 5 seconds and hold the nose in climb attitude.
  4. Roll the aircraft into a 45-degree banked turn and maintain best glide speed.
  5. Continue the turn until the heading has changed by 270 degrees.
  6. Roll out of the turn.
  7. Simulate a moderately aggressive flare for a landing.
  8. Note altitude when vertical speed becomes zero.
  9. Subtract this altitude from the altitude at which you retarded the throttle.
  10. The minimum turnaround altitude should be increased by 50 percent.
  11. Do not consider turning around unless two-thirds of the final turnaround altitude has been reached when passing over the departure end of the runway.

While presenting the checklist for performing a turn after takeoff, Schiff admonished that he was not recommending the maneuver, but suggesting pilots be prepared for the possibility. —Julie Summers Walker

Julie Walker
Julie Summers Walker
AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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