A student pilot nearing solo and a flight instructor are flying in the traffic pattern during a session of practice takeoffs and landings. The student pilot has nailed the traffic pattern altitude, leading the level-off slightly—a newly acquired skill that earns a word of praise from the CFI.
There’s a steady 10-knot wind blowing down the runway today, and the spike in groundspeed downwind is evident (to the CFI) as soon as the student levels off the trainer. The student pilot is busy watching for traffic and preparing to run the pre-landing checklist, however. By the time he has completed the pre-landing routine, the trainer has flown considerably farther downwind than usual.
If you have ever wondered how your instructor decides when to simulate an engine failure, this scenario is one example.
The drill, when presented with the aircraft on this position, is two lessons in one: It gives the student an always-useful opportunity to practice performing engine-failure checklist procedures. And if the pilot has allowed the aircraft to drift too far downwind to make it back to the runway without adding power, that problem soon becomes apparent.
Traffic pattern operations, whether at towered or nontowered airports, don’t always allow a pilot to remain within power-off gliding distance to the runway. Other factors—such as conflicting traffic or an air traffic control request that you enter the pattern via a specific reporting point—may prohibit an on-airport landing after an unexpected loss of power.
But once you have “made” the runway, why give it back without a good reason?
The student pilot whose engine just “failed” now becomes a blur of activity, turning toward the runway, establishing the aircraft at the recommended glide speed, trimming, and if time permits, troubleshooting the power loss. Deployment of flaps must be deferred until a landing is ensured because the drag that flaps induce might steepen the approach excessively. The student must avoid the temptation to try to stretch the glide with back pressure, which would only aggravate the situation and possibly induce a stall.
Regardless of the outcome of today’s exercise, this pilot trainee will learn that having a runway made, and keeping it within reach, should be accomplished without delay.