Airplane Emergency Landings

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If you have the unpleasant experience of having to make an unscheduled landing in an emergency, how do you look for the best place to land? The first choice and the most obvious is an airport. Why put it in a field right beside a runway? (Don’t laugh; it’s been done.) The second choice is a road, vacant of traffic and void of power lines. It is your responsibility to take every option open to you to prevent any injury to innocent people on the ground. The third choice is a field, either hay or wheat, freshly cut or early in the season so it will be short, reducing the chances of a noseover after touchdown. All the rest follow in a rather random order, as none of them are very conducive to a successful emergency landing.

If you ever know that you are going to have to land in a field of any kind, you will be far better off to land with the rows rather than across them. This rule also applies to plowed ground. Anything that decreases your chances of remaining upright increases your chances of bodily injury. Other than innocent people on the ground, the most important thing for you to save is yourself.

Let’s say we’ve checked all of the important steps (fuel, carb heat, mags, etc.) and the engine will not restart. Now we need to get serious about the emergency landing and step through that part of the emergency checklist. Following is an example of typical steps in an emergency-landing checklist:
• Airspeed: Set to best glide.
• Mixture: Idle cutoff.
• Fuel selector: Off.
• Ignition switch: Off.
• Wing flaps: As required.
• Master switch: Off.
• Doors: Unlatched prior to touchdown.
• Touchdown: Soft-field attitude.
• Brakes: Apply as needed.

This checklist is not comprehensive and should not be used in place of the one your plane is equipped with. But it does show the steps that typically need to be taken as you make your approach to landing. The reason you shut down fuel and the master switch is to reduce the possibility for fire. Without fuel or an ignition source, it will be more difficult for a fire to accidentally start. Unlatching the door(s) prior to touchdown helps to keep them from becoming jammed in the closed position if the plane should flip over onto its back, or become bent if the plane strikes something after touchdown.

When landing in extremely rugged terrain, such as a forest or rock area, you will want to touch down at the absolute minimum airspeed to help reduce the chances of injury. In some cases it may be best to actually stall the airplane just above the trees or ground to let it drop just about vertically onto the landing area. This reduces the forward momentum of the plane and helps let the plane settle to the surface as gently as possible. This landing technique is one you probably will not get to practice but has saved the lives of pilots who have used it in real emergencies where the only landing area was on top of a forest of trees. The plane is normally damaged a great deal, but the occupants can often walk away uninjured. As you can see, emergency landing situations can be dealt with in a controlled manner that improves the chances you will land safely with little or no damage to yourself, your passengers, or the airplane. The key is to keep thinking and to not let the situation get away from you. With altitude on your side, you have time to set up the airplane and pick a favorable landing spot. Even landings in rough terrain can be dealt with if you prepare well.

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