Pilot Emergency Procedures

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Emergencies come in all shapes and sizes. They can range from fire to complete engine failure, loss of an aircraft component, radio failure, letting your maps blow out the window, or almost anything else you can dream up. It would be impossible to try to cover all the different possibilities here in this chapter. However, they all have one thing in common. They all need action. The right action. In most emergency situations, the pilot must be conditioned to respond quickly and correctly.

Some emergencies are much more serious than others. And what seems to be an emergency to one person might be only an annoyance to someone else. The defining element of each emergency is whether it seems to be an emergency to the pilot. So if you believe you have an emergency, then by golly it is! At least to you.

You are the key to resolving any problem. If you keep your head, keep flying the airplane, and work through the problem, you will improve your chances of a successful end to your flight. 

It is much easier to stay out of emergencies than to get out of them once you get into a bad situation. The following information is only a guideline; it cannot be a “cookbook” recipe to everything that flying might throw at you.

Sometimes, as in an engine failure at high altitude, you have plenty of time to get organized and proceed accordingly. Other times you must make split-second decisions. Let’s look at the problem that usually comes to mind first for most pilots —engine failure. This particular emergency can be very dangerous or no big deal, depending on where it happens and the pilot’s readiness, training, and reaction to the engine failure. Whether the failure is total or only a partial power loss also makes quite a difference.

Generally speaking, there are three distinct actions you should complete, in order, if you suffer power loss:
• Set up a glide.
• Make a thorough cockpit check.
• If you cannot get a restart, turn into the wind (or crosswind) and land on the best available surface. Never land downwind if you can help it.

Let’s go through the reasoning behind these three actions and determine why they should come one at a time, in this exact order. If you are anywhere other than on the ground (which is the best place to experience a power loss) what is the most important thing you have going for you? Altitude. Altitude gives you time. It gives you time to think, act, and call to ask for help or just to let someone know you are having problems. It gives you time to ready yourself and your aircraft for a possible emergency landing and time to pick the best possible spot to put down. There is even time to attempt a restart. Altitude buys you time, so in order to obtain the most time, instead of letting the aircraft descend rapidly in a cruise descent, which eats up huge chunks of altitude, set up a glide using the manufacturer’s recommended best glide speed, save that altitude, and use it to your advantage. That’s number one.

Cockpit check
Number two is a thorough cockpit check. Having set up a glide, and assuming you are at a reasonably high altitude, you should have time to investigate and maybe find and correct the cause of the power loss. Maybe you need carb heat to get rid of a small amount of carburetor ice, or maybe you need to switch to another fuel tank (one with some fuel in it).

You would be surprised at the number of very major accidents that have been caused by some very minor problems. Many of these problems could have been overcome with a proper cockpit check. When you perform your cockpit check, you should go to the most likely causes of power loss such as carb heat, fuel valve, mixture, mags, and the primer. However, don’t go for them in a random pattern that might cause you to overlook something very important. Do it in a systematic fashion. If time permits, use your emergency check-list. Chances are that your mind will be in some degree of shock from the sudden loss of power, but with a written checklist you are less apt to forget something.

Turn into the wind
Number three is to turn into the wind, or crosswind, and find the best place you can to put it down. This step should be taken if all else fails and you cannot get a restart. In this event, land as slowly as possible and with as much control as possible. The cardinal rule of aviation emergencies is, “If you know you are going to have to land, or crash, go in with as much control as possible.” Then, you will have some control over your destiny.

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