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Ratty's Ramblings - The Impossible Turn


Ratty's Ramblings - The Impossible Turn

By Ian Radcliffe



A few weeks ago, discussing forced landings, I mentioned "The Impossible Turn". Arguably the worst time to lose the engine in a single-engine plane is on climbout after takeoff. Low on speed, and just plain LOW, your options are severely limited. Since there's not a lot of time to troubleshoot, the usual recommendation is something like "lower the nose and land straight ahead", shutting off everything you can on the way down. But advances in aircraft and engine performance since the days when that mantra was born, have made another option available.


Turning back to the field is a very tempting proposition. After all, you've just left a perfectly good landing site; just making it back inside the airfield perimeter guarantees you a relatively flat, smooth, unobstructed surface, one that could be infinitely more appealing than the area surrounding the airport. But the impossible turn gained that appellation for a reason: it mostly didn't work. In the old days, aircraft takeoff performance was often lackluster at best, but performance enhancements make the impossible more possible - in the right airplane, under the right circumstances. And, once again, with our flight simulator we can explore those circumstances without risking the nasty consequences of real-life miscalculations.






It's not a bad idea to ask yourself during your takeoff rolls, "What would I do if the engine failed here...or here...or here? Clearly, if the engine dies during the takeoff roll or the initial part of the climb, continuing straight ahead, slowing, and avoiding obstacles is the best you can do. But at some point you will gain enough height to make a turn back viable. What that height is depends on a number of factors:


Airplane. A July 2002 AOPA Pilot article, "Engine Out!" reported that a Cessna 172 required nearly 500 feet of altitude to return to the runway using an "aggressive" 45-degree bank and allowing the nose to fall "fairly dramatically" to maintain airspeed. The only way to find out what works for your plane is go out and fly it.


Weight. Are you solo with half fuel, or is every seat full and the tanks topped off?


Pilot skill and response time. Unless your immediate response is to lower the nose and begin the turn, you're probably not going to pull it off. Also, if you spend a lot of your time in straight and level flight, an "aggressive" bank and dramatic nosedrop will probably not come naturally. Practice helps; that's what flightsims are for. By the way, even with the throttle closed, idle thrust is just that - thrust. You won't have that if it happens for real. For added realism, pull the mixture.


Headwind. Will make for a steeper climb, but becomes a tailwind on the way back, meaning higher landing speed and the chance of running out of runway. Crosswind angle is a factor too, affecting the choice of the best way to turn.


Atmosphere and altitude. Air temperature and elevation both have an effect on climb performance. What you can pull off at sea level may not work at Denver International.


Chosen climb profile. Did you opt for a cruise climb, best angle, or best rate?


Runway length. How far behind you is it? And: is it long enough for you to land on and stop with a tailwind?


All these variables ensure that there is no stock answer to the question "How high do I have to be?" Only experimentation can tell you that. Have fun!


Crashes And Damage

If you've read many of these pieces you will have gathered by now that I'm a fairly adventurous flyer. Not for me the tedious plodding through the ATC system in a tubeliner; I love the opportunity to fly fast and low, to "dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings" and do a hundred things I would (probably) never do in real life. I was pretty hardcore in my early simming days, even started a logbook to record each and every hour. (That died out quickly, and nowadays I fly too often and too spontaneously to keep a record. My "total hours" are unknowable, spread as they are over multiple systems and 35+ years; even now I have versions of FSX on three different computers.)


But I kept "crashes and damage" turned on for a long time. There was a kind of pride in knowing that I really completed a flight, that that last landing really wasn't hard enough to wipe out the gear. There was, of course, the occasional frustration: a bridge that I cleared with room to spare had an invisible "crash box" much larger than the visual model, and I would find myself returned to the beginning of the flight. A bit harsh. I play first-person shooters sometimes, and even when you DIE they never send you back to the start of the game.


I think it was Tim Conrad, creator of - IMHO - the single greatest treasury of freeware aircraft for MSFS, who finally changed my mind about the damage settings. In his read-me notes on pre-release testing he includes the item "Crash Detection off, I KNOW when I crash!" I confess at first I sneered a little, but I took to turning it off occasionally, then more and more, until eventually the sheer practicality of the choice convinced me. (Note to self: get word to Microsoft that it would be great if they could refine the damage modelling in their new sim. That, and PLEASE put a scale on the map!)


Turning off crashes and damage gives you the freedom to at least take the occasional chance. Have you flown near London and not heard the siren song of Tower Bridge? The space between those towers is 200 FEET WIDE; you can get a 747 through that. Or the Eiffel Tower in Paris? The space under that is huge in real life. I'm all about learning and sharpening up your flying, and buzz jobs like those will really get you paying attention.






What's In A Name? (1)

A few months ago there was fairly energetic discussion in the sim world over what to call Microsoft's upcoming iteration of its classic flight simulator. I think it's fairly certain that whatever MS finally decides, we'll come up with our own term. Look at "Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004: A Century of Flight". An impressive and information-packed title, to be sure, but for simplicity's sake it was rendered down to FS2004 or, more simply still, FS9.


So we'll need something catchy, that rolls easily off the tongue. "Eff-ess-eleven" doesn't do it, and somehow lacks the significance the program looks like it will deserve. Emmesseffess? Nope, not specific enough. My vote? "FS20". After all, it's to be released in 2020, it's kinda like "FSX-X", it could well be twice as good...


What's In A Name? (2)

One of my pet peeves. There IS a difference:










Ratty's Ramble

This time, a 170-mile trip from Hobart, the capital of Tasmania, to Launceston, through some of the island's most spectacular national parks.


Orbx Tasmania Demo scenery and Launceston Airport scenery will enhance this trip. If you don't have them already they are both available as freeware on the Orbx site.






Skyvector flight plan here

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