Engine Failure

My recent BFR included a few power off/ engine failure procedures that can really make you gather all your training; there’s no time for slow, deliberate thinking. Your response should be clear and crisp. Most pilots spend too much time ‘swimming in the glue’ before they start any useful response such as establishing best glide speed and then troubleshooting and trying to restore engine power.

This denial, frozen mind, glue-like response happens because the pilot has not practiced his or her emergency procedures and is trying to recall the steps that she/he should take. Muddling around takes time and altitude. You can loose 1000’ in a nano second looking for your emergency check list.

In the meantime the airplane has not been trimmed for power off, best glide
speed condition. Every plane has their ‘official’ manufacture defined best glide speed.
Besides getting up in the morning and knowing the sun is up you need to know what that speed is. Go ahead, put this article down now and find out. Come back when you know. If you just remember the big number, which on my plane is at the three o’clock position on the airspeed indicator, you won’t be far off. If you are light (no
passengers or baggage/fuel) you can slow it quite a bit more.

Before you take any other action, remember to fly the airplane. There should be a hammer spot on your head from your flight instructor beating that into you. This must always be your first priority. The following steps are my pattern; your plane may take a different configuration:

  1. Establish best glide speed and don’t lose any altitude until best glide speed is established.
  2. Electric fuel pump “ON” and switch to a fuel tank containing fuel.
  3. Carburetor heat or injected heat “ON.” This step should be taken even if ice is impossible. Something (sand? flying stuff?) could have blocked your air filter and the use of “heat” allows a different path for air to enter your engine and may allow a restart.
  4. Switch the magnetos from both to “left or right” to see if the engine will run better on one of them than it does on “both”. If it does leave the switch where it is.
  5. Enrich the mixture to ensure that the engine didn’t quit because it was too lean. If at high altitude, moving the mixture control full forward may flood the engine. Go slowly!
  6. If the engine has not restarted pull your prop control all the way out to improve your glide ratio. This will cut your sink rate about in half.

How long does this sequence take? It should take less than 10 seconds and a few more to fight out of the paper bag in your mind. You need to be at the same altitude as when the silence started, approaching best glide speed and already deciding the direction you should turn to head for your landing site. Hopefully that’s an airport. Out in the middle of no where it will be a dirt road, paved road or open field. Mountainous terrain often has lots of forest service roads. Passes over mountains usually have two lane roads. ‘IFR’ to me means I follow roads when in uninhabited areas.

The above steps do not have to be completed in this order. The geometry of each cockpit drives your actions. You can be holding the nose up and trimming while turning on the fuel pump, switching tanks, turning on “heat” or switching the mags. The point is to complete them and hopefully one of them restores that magic noise of a purring engine.

Cockpit Resource Management is all about making the most of whoever is in the plane. If your partner is usually with you train them on specific moves. In our plane the right seat is in charge of switching the fuel selector because it’s on the floor and looking down, turning the lever takes time. The right seat can also find the closest airport, pull out the directions, get the radio frequency and be the calming influence to your spiking blood pressure. Use their logic; their sight is not as muddled as yours.

A good thing to do is sit in your plane, on the ground, and practice your maneuvers until you can do it in 10 seconds or less. Make this a part of your run-up. Engine failures so rarely happen, but when they do, you need to be on auto-drive.

After your automatic response, if time permits, pull out your written
checklist and make sure you did not skip any steps. It’s really important to trim
for best glide speed so that if your attention is diverted while reading you won’t loose excess altitude.

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