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Engine Failure

Safety Spotlight: Emergency Procedures

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If asked to name the first aircraft emergency that comes to mind, most general aviation pilots would probably answer “engine failure.” That makes sense: Engine failures are the focus of much training and practice. But a real-life engine failure usually isn’t the sterile exercise most pilots have come to expect when the CFI reaches over and yanks the throttle. The tach probably won’t just drop to 1000 rpm and remain there. The engine will likely be shaking—violently, even—and there may be oil on the windshield. Smoke and fire are possibilities. In some cases, the engine may seize. In short, there’s a “reality factor” that can make it more difficult to take the appropriate action.

“…most engine failures don’t just ‘happen.’ There’s a good chance that the engine has been giving hints about its poor health in the hours leading up to the failure.”

On the bright side, most engine failures don’t just “happen.” There’s a good chance that the engine has been giving hints about its poor health in the hours leading up to the failure. Abrupt changes in oil consumption, unusual engine monitor indications, failure to develop proper static rpm, or unusual noises or vibrations are all worth investigating.

Partial Power Loss

Several things can cause a partial power loss:

  • Carburetor ice
  • Failure to advance mixture on descent
  • Valve train issues
  • Cylinder/piston failures
  • Early stages of fuel exhaustion/starvation
  • Ignition problems

Whatever the cause, the engine may cease to produce sufficient power to maintain altitude, and it will probably be running rough. Proceed on the assumption that the engine could fail completely at any time: Head for the nearest airport and be prepared for a forced landing.

Real Pilot Story: Fire in the Cockpit

One minute, it was a routine training flight—the next, a struggle for survival. Learn how the instructor handled the emergency before the cockpit was completely engulfed in flames.

Engine Failure Strategies

  • Flight preparation—Brief every flight to cover emergency contingencies and critical checklist items. Commit immediate procedures to memory.

  • Route selection—Consider your route carefully. Are you flying over water, high terrain, or a forest? Have a plan for an unplanned off-airport landing.

  • Recurrent training—Practice engine-out scenarios at altitude or in a simulator with a qualified flight instructor who knows your aircraft.

  • Fueling—Always be present at fueling and communicate your needs clearly. Check the fuel order to confirm it is correct.

  • Engine failure—When it happens, stay calm and fly the airplane all the way to the ground in a controlled landing (See: Off Airport Landings in this spotlight).