So you’re flying solo in a Cessna – 172, far away from any runway, and the only propeller-driven engine you have, fails. What do you do? First and foremost, don’t panic! Again, do not panic!
You get your wits about you, put the plane in glide configuration, and start scanning the fields around you to make a forced landing. Emergency landings are categorized into three types:
- Forced Landing: As is clear from the term itself, you will force your airplane to land in a field not meant for landing under normal landing operations. This type of an emergency landing is always preceded by an event that renders an aircraft incapable of further powered flight, such as an engine failure.
- Precautionary landing: Pilots execute a planned, precautionary landing when it is safer to be on the ground than in the air. Typical conditions include fuel starvation (plane out of gas) or severely deteriorating weather.
- Ditching: When a forced or precautionary landing takes place on water, we call it ‘ditching.’
Enough with the definitions and all – you’re a pilot, and your single-engine plane just experienced an engine failure. What should you do?
Airplane Parts as a Shield
When dealing with an emergency situation such as an engine failure, you must prioritize what parts of the airplane are most important to you, and hence, try to save them as best you can, when making a forced landing off the runway.
- Vital airplane sections: Parts of the airplane most important to you are where the passengers and the pilots are seated. But since you’re the only one in the aircraft, the cockpit of the 172 is most vital to you, so save it!
- Dispensable airplane structures: These structures are disposable to you in your current situation. You would rather let the wings, landing gear, and the fuselage bottom get wrecked, if it saves the cockpit – your safety is more important than the wing flaps, after all! By using these dispensable areas of the plane as shields, you can increase the odds of surviving a forced landing, regardless of the terrain.
Emergency Landing Location: Step-By-Step
You’re losing altitude, even at an airspeed and a flap configuration that ensures maximum glide distance, so you’re going to have to come down at some point. Here’s what you do:
- Look out for a field.
- Choose a field.
- Doubt your decision regarding the field selection.
- Make a final decision.
- Aim to approach the field for landing.
Making a Forced Landing
Imagine that the only plausible field available is a thick forest of trees with wide trunks, and tree-tops thick with leaves and branches. Here is how you plan your approach in a Cessna 172 experiencing engine failure:
- Aim for the field, by flying into the wind.
- Keep your ground-speed low, while approaching the tree tops.
- Don’t panic. (Repeat step 3 as needed throughout the process)
- Approach with full-flaps, gears down, and wings-level.
- Concentrate on the sink-rate.
- Lower speed to the minimum speed that keeps the plane airborne, just above the stall speed.
- While keeping the wings level and the sink-rate controlled, make first contact.
- Slide the under-fuselage of the airplane and its under-wings at a nose-high attitude over the tree-tops. The impact is reduced via the sliding of these parts of the plane.
- Friction takes it over – the plane will eventually come to a stop.
- Steer as best you can with the plane’s rudder.
Ideally, your wings will be level during the sliding process, and the friction exerted on the dispensable airplane parts will be equal on both sides of the plane. As the momentum wears off, the airplane will come to a stop.
Now, get out and away from the plane as soon as possible, grateful for your life.
The following YouTube video gives an idea of what an approach over such a terrain may look like.
The above guidelines are general, and secondary to actions required by the more specific Pilot’s Operating Handbook for your aircraft.
Federal Aviation Administration. Pilots Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. (2008). Accessed June 14, 2012.
Federal Aviation Administration. Airplane Flying Handbook. (2004). Accessed June 14, 2012.