Emergency Maneuvering

Training to deal with emergencies appears to be something that many pilots do not do much of. Certainly not enough as gauged by the GA accident and fatality rates. Part of this problem is that pilots these days ASSUME that their equipment will not fail. Modern day equipment can be quite reliable, but there are still failures. In the early days of aviation, engines failed all the time and pilots expected it and were generally prepared for this. These days many pilots become complacent because they have never experienced a serious situation. This is normalcy bias. If you are not on guard for failures or other emergency situations, especially in critical phases of flight, then you are likely to be startled, and highly stressed, which degrades performance significantly. This all too often ends up with a mishap or incident that could have had a better outcome, had the pilot been prepared.

Burying your head in the sand and ignoring this fact does not lead to good outcomes. The cure is study and training. Seek out instructors who know how to teach emergency maneuvers and take the time to increase your capabilities. It may save your life one day.

A few areas/situations to study and train towards are:

  • Upset Prevention and Recovery Training (UPRT).  Every pilot should go through UPRT. The benefits of this training are invaluable. The ICAO recommends UPRT for a commercial certificate and it is likely to become mandatory for a commercial airplane certificate. UPRT will be mandatory for part 121 operators starting in 2019, with many of them already having implemented this training. UPRT has many benefits that can save lives in many situations. See my web page dedicated to this subject.


  • Unusual Attitude Recoveries.  This can be found in UPRT but all pilots get this training as it is not aerobatic in nature. The problem I see time and time again is the recoveries are done incorrectly. The recoveries I see may work in the sterile environment of basic flight training but they leave a lot of room for improvement. This VIDEO by Gold Seal Flight Training is pretty decent, although I would change a couple of the statements made. Besides the how, you should know the why, which is not covered. If you want an in-depth lesson on the subject, give me a call or email.


  • Engine Failure on Takeoff.   How many schools or individual instructors of single engine aircraft brief engine failure on takeoff before flying? This is common with multi-engine training but not nearly as common with single-engine flight. It should be! The point of briefing before takeoff is you now have a game plan in case your engine dies during this critical phase. You have brought the game plan to the “front” of your brain and you are primed for action should something happen. Much better than the “deer in headlights” reaction and/or flailing about on the controls because you were severely startled and don’t have a plan.
    • There are many examples of takeoff briefs on the internet. Here is an example of what I use.
    • Have you ever figured out how much altitude it takes to turn your airplane around on departure to get back to the airport? There are safe ways to do this, starting with practicing turnarounds at a safe altitude in a practice area. Once the altitude required to turn back to the airport is determined, add some altitude for safety margin. Expect a delayed reaction due to being startled from an engine failure. Seek competent instruction. Done correctly by a proficient and prepared pilot at an appropriate altitude, you will find that one can often turn around with minimal altitude loss and get back to the airport quickly.


  • Engine Failure Away From an Airport (Airplane SEL). This is a required maneuver for Private Pilot. When was the last time you practiced this maneuver? How proficient are you? I use and teach the ABCDE memory procedure for reciprocating engine aircraft. That is:
    • AAirspeed: Pitch for best glide. For many small airplanes this is approximately level pitch attitude.
    • BBest Field: Quickly find the best field you can use to land on. Hopefully you were looking for potential landing sites before you had an engine failure (Make this a regular habit). Turn towards the chosen field and plan your approach. Be wary of choosing a field that is questionable for gliding distance (unless you have a back-up field along the way you can revert to). Better to choose a marginal field that you know you can make than a great field that is questionable that you can make it to.
    • CCorrective actions: Have a flow that helps you remember each item to check in case you can bring your engine back to life. A typical Cessna 172 flow is: Fuel selector – Both, Mixture – Full forward, Throttle – cycle, Carb heat – Full on, Mags – Cycle & back to both, Primer – In and locked. This makes a nice L shaped flow that is quick and efficient. If you have a catastrophic failure (massive vibration, throw a piston, engine fire, etc. then skip this step.
    • DDeclare an emergency. Tune up 121.5 (if not already talking to someone who can help) and make a MAYDAY call.
      • MAYDAY calls need to be as useful as possible. It should start with saying MAYDAY three times; Aircraft model and full tail number; your problem; location (use distance & mileage from a known location (VOR, Airport, etc.), not some local reference point that ATC has no idea of) plus description of landing site (field, road, next to river, etc.); number of people onboard; “Send help”.
        • An example call: “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, Skyhawk 12345, engine failure, 15 miles east of the XXX Airport, landing in a field 1 mile east of a paved north-south road, 2 souls onboard, send help!”
        • Be sure to make your radio call early, especially if in mountainous terrain. If you get low before making your call no one may hear you (remember line of sight).
      • Set transponder to 7700. Don’t delay this. ATC’s alarms start going off and it gets their attention immediately.
      • Turn on the ELT, if there is a switch that allows you to do so.
      • This is an important step, especially if you are far from civilization. If you get injured on landing you want help to arrive as quickly as possible.
    • EPrepare for Exit. Crack open the door(s) (to ensure the doors will open after landing), tighten seatbelts, stow any loose objects from hazardous areas, once restarting engine is no longer an option turn fuel selector to OFF, flaps full when field is made, electrical power off before landing.
    • When landing make sure you don’t land long in a field and risk impacting an object on the far end. Get the airplane stalled just before touchdown to minimize any impact forces. hold the yoke/stick full aft on touchdown. If you are in a fixed-gear airplane landing on a soft surface (e.g. sandy ground, snow, etc.) expect to flip over. You can usually walk away from this type of landing. Flipping over at a stalled airspeed is far better than a head-on impact.
    • Some of these procedures will be different for various models of airplane but the ABCDE memory items work well.


  • Control Failures. Do you know how to control your airplane if you lose ailerons, elevator or rudder? What if you lose 2 of the 3 controls? What do you do with a split flaps situation? If you don’t have a plan then dealing with one of these situations is going to be really tough. It can be very difficult when you DO have a plan.


  • Precautionary Landings.  When was the last time you thought about a precautionary landing? Were you ever taught this? Precautionary landings are something every pilot should have in their tool box, especially VFR-only pilots. Spend some time studying how to do these. Avoiding VMC into IMC conditions for a non-instrument rated pilot or airplane is a great reason to execute a precautionary landing. A good article on this subject can be found here.


  • Turbocharged Engine Failure.  There are some different emergency procedures for turbocharged engines, but no procedures in most POHs. Know the symptoms of turbo failure and what actions to take. Read this article from AOPA here.