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Pilot Decision Making


Lindell Wilson, WVFC CFI

Emergency… Need to land soon?

Recently, I was discussing with our local FAA Inspector about possible future topics for Safety Seminars. After considering several potential topics, we found ourselves focused on emergency landings. The FAA Inspector recalled several recent accidents which involved an emergency situation, followed by a forced landing that resulted in serious injury. I asked why? The FAA inspector said that some pilots, when faced with in-flight emergency situations, decide to land immediately and do not evaluate all their available options. For example, one pilot experienced engine trouble and decided to land immediately in the field below. Well, it turned out that the engine actually was developing partial power and the pilot could have flown several minutes over to an airport located just 5 miles away. The pilot landed in the field, the aircraft was destroyed, and the pilot was seriously injured.

I started to think about how we typically train for in-flight emergencies (simulating engine failure) by pulling the power to idle, best glide, turn toward the best landing spot (or airport), emergency (flow) checklist, etc. Often, we don’t even consider the landing options available to us if we had partial power. 

So, what kind of emergencies might require an immediate landing?  They might include serious time critical problems like control surface /structural failures and in-flight fires.

In most other potential emergencies situations (including engine partial power), the pilot has “at a minimum” the best glide range of the aircraft to select possible landing spots or airports. With partial power, aircraft range is greatly increased giving the pilot many additional landing options and likely several airports.

On your next flight, think about possible emergency scenarios, evaluate your options, then determine your response to the situation. Where are the best landing spots and nearby airports? Are you within gliding range or partial power gliding range?

How can we prepare ourselves for emergencies? PRACTICE