Engine Failure After Take-Off

Well, here we go taking off on another highly debatable subject and by being knowledgeable about your aircraft, having position awareness and aware of environmental conditions you can successfully pull through “Engine Out” after takeoff.

According to the NTSB, a five year study revealed there were 4187 accidents attributed to engine failure; that’s more than two per day. Taking into account the flying hours our club has speaks for itself: excellent maintenance and instruction. Be prepared and have a plan before ever leaving the taxi way for the runway.

Generally the best advice is if the engine fails after takeoff, land straight ahead. Do not turn back. As with everything there are exceptions, such as when terrain ahead offers little hope of making a survivable forced landing, or if you have enough altitude to make it back to the runway.

Questions to ask yourself and your CFI: 1, How high is high enough for the glide characteristics of your aircraft? 2, What bank angle? 3, What airspeed to maintain for different bank angles to avoid a stall, spin.

A rule of thumb suggests to not even consider a turn around unless 2/3 of the necessary altitude is achieved by the time you cross the departure end of the runway. Initial results in turn back testing in different aircraft seem to favor a steeper bank angle because less altitude would be lost even with higher descent rates. The problem with this is rising stall speeds with steepened angles of bank. Stall speeds increase 97% (in all planes tested) between thirty degree bank angle and seventy-five degree. Another problem with steep bank angle is arresting a high sink rate close to the ground without going into an accelerated stall. Further testing concluded the best bank angle to be forty-five degrees, a moderate turn rate and altitude loss with only a 19% increase in stall speed.

In order to keep your mental sharpness, be prepared and have a plan. Have a target altitude and know wind speeds. This will provide a psychological advantage for success. This also eliminates a prolonged “turn no turn” decision. Once committed to a course reversal you must perform with precision achieving desired bank angle and maintaining best glide speed. Avoid sudden and large control movements; they can erode valuable altitude.

Question: What is the most common cause of engine failure? Answer: Fuel starvation, either from fuel exhaustion or switching tanks too late in the taxi and run up stage.

References: AOPA Pilot July 2002

* From the Chief Flight Instructor:

“Do not try this at home…if you have an inclination to experiment with engine-out exercises at low altitude, such as following takeoff…don’t. If you must experiment, please do it with a club instructor, do it at a safe altitude, and observe the club SOPs concerning simulated engine failure as a training exercise.”

These safety tips are provided by the WCFC Safety Committee. They are intended to stimulate thought and discussion about flight safety and do not necessarily represent club policy nor are they intended to replace instruction from a qualified instructor.