Pilot Zone of Decision

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Power failure
If you suffer a power failure during the takeoff roll, abort the takeoff. Reduce power (if you have any) to idle and stop. Don’t try to struggle into the sky with an aircraft that is not developing full power. It’s suicide.

If you suffer a power failure after liftoff, then there are several significant variables that must be considered. These items include the amount of runway remaining, altitude at the time of failure, and possible obstructions in the flight path. A general rule recommended by the FAA and taught by most flight instructors is that if you are not at least 500 feet above the surface, continue on straight, take whatever comes, and land as slowly as possible. Most pilots cannot safely perform the 180-degree plus turn and return to land safely below 500 feet. Many have tried; few have made it. Most stall during the turn or run out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas, all at the same time. The result? The probability is a much more severe crash than likely would have occurred had they continued straight ahead and landed the aircraft as slowly and with as much control as possible.

If you are between 400 and 1000 feet above the ground, the area often called the zone of decision, you will still have to consider the factors of altitude, runway availability, obstructions, and safe landing areas. There are so many things you could do that making the correct decision is sometimes very difficult. Your first question is, where can you land with the best chance of doing so safely? And that choice is probably where you should go. Forget the what ifs and the maybes. Go to the spot you know offers the best chance for a safe landing.

In this zone of decision, you should have time to set up your glide, make a cockpit check, and providing you cannot obtain a restart, pick the most suitable place to put down. You have to practice your emergency techniques until they are automatic reflex actions. Emergency techniques should be almost mechanical. They have to be. Sometimes you just don’t have time to get out the book.

When you are flying alone, taking off, landing, or whatever, look around and ask yourself, “What would I do if?” Try it. It’s good fun and will make you aware of things you have never dreamed. Sometimes I find myself at home, sitting in my chair, thinking of a new situation, and asking myself, “What would I do if?” It’s almost as good as getting some instruction.

If you experience a power failure at an altitude above 1000 feet, follow the three rules talked about previously. You should have time to utilize your emergency checklist and be certain you have checked every possible emergency procedure before making the decision to land. It is especially true if you happen to have the misfortune of being over some rather hostile terrain. Above all, take your time and try not to panic. Panic has probably caused some routine emergencies to terminate with unnecessarily severe consequences. Flight instructors know that a student who reacts in a poor or erratic manner when practicing simulated emergency landings will most likely have problems if the emergency ever becomes a reality. All of us have our heart rate quicken when confronted by a threat. Some people handle this stress much better than others. Actually, this quickening of the heart rate and the increased flow of adrenaline is our body’s way of getting us geared up to meet the challenge. Some pilots react in a calm, efficient manner while others seem to use the extra blood and adrenaline in order to do something, whether right or wrong. They panic. All their emotions are so caught up in the instinct for survival that they forget their training, lose their thought process, and usually wind up acting incorrectly. The results are often fatal.

A pilot should be able to react within the scope of training and experience in a calm, efficient manner when faced with an emergency. This action is the mark of a professional. Once you give up being the pilot-in-command and become what amounts to a passenger, you are most certainly in deep, deep trouble.

There are many other types of aviation emergencies you might encounter. Most of you, however, will probably never come into contact with an emergency of any sort because flying is safe. And it’s becoming safer every day. Pilots are being better trained and aircraft and their power plants are becoming more reliable. Although there are more people flying more aircraft now than ever before, the percentage of accidents versus hours flown is declining.

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