You’ve lost your engine, now what? What to do in the case of an engine failure?

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You’ve lost your engine, now what? What to do in the case of an engine failure?
As aviators we know our airplanes are very capable of flying with an engine failure. You will obviously be descending, some airplanes faster than others, but it still flies just fine.

What will you do if this fateful day comes? Have you thought about it? If not this article will encourage you to do just that.

Engine failures are one of the most fiercely trained events in aviation.
This is for good reason. Although our modern aero engines are very reliable, it wasn’t always that way. And even now the engine represents one of the weaker mechanical links in the system.
So you have trained, been quizzed, mentally rehearsed, and simulated engine failures, but are you really prepared? When was the last time you practiced a simulated engine failure?



Disclaimer: this article is to stimulate thought, it is not a replacement for flight instruction. You should consult your instructor, the aircraft pilot operating handbook or airplane flight manual for specific engine failure procedures. 

In my mind there are two types of engine failures, low and high altitude, both require their own response.

  • If you are cruising along at 7500′ and suddenly the fan quits turning you have time and options.
  • Down low your primary concern is controlling the aircraft all the way to touch down. You chances of surviving go up exponentially if you do. If you have time you might be able to run checklists and troubleshoot, but down really low, like immediately after takeoff, you MUST fly the airplane, which generally means throwing the nose down to maintain best glide.

Down low
I cannot express enough how quickly you will need to react to an engine out within the first 1000′ of climb. Consider this:

  • You are nose up already at an airspeed near best glide (or below)
  • Not taking swift action to get the nose down will result in an airspeed less than best glide or best L/D  (best lift to drag ratio)
  • Getting slow can obviously produce a stall, but lets say you get the nose down, but your are 10 knots slower than best glide, depending on your aircraft and the conditions, you will likely be experiencing sink rates that cause you to reflexively want to pull back more. This could lead to a stall/spin
  • Close to the ground (within a few hundred feet – not in the flare) it is going to be hard to overcome your senses to push the nose down further to recover lost airspeed and maintain positive control
  • You will be tempted to turn back to the runway; depending on the aircraft and the specific situation, this has statistically proven to be a bad idea. Folks lose control and spin in; it’s far better to land ahead under control off airport

Partial power?
What about a rough running engine that’s still making some power. Will you use it to get to a runway or a suitable off-airport location or will you squander it and end up worse off than if it would have quit entirely? This one happened to me –

In all cases, fly the aircraft. The reason engine failures hurt people is that they generally don’t fly the airplane to the landing site. USAir Flight 1549 (Miracle on the Hudson) was a success because they flew the airplane all the way to the touch down. If you quit flying or ignore the laws of physics and don’t manage your energy, survival is unlikely.

If you have it pictured in your mind and at least mentally rehearse it, you are less likely to falter in the heat of battle. My best advise is to grab an instructor and do some engine failure practice. This will boost your confidence, teach you something you probably didn’t know, and make you better, safer pilot.

Remember – Pitch for best glide and fly it to the ground (don’t forget to flare). Hitting houses or trees upright and in control is far better than stalling and spinning in vertically from any altitude.

Did I mention, “fly the airplane”?

by Brent Owens

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