• Ratty's Ramblings - Forced Landing

    Ratty's Ramblings

    Ratty's Ramblings - Forced Landing

    By Ian Radcliffe

    How many times have you had a forced landing? There are a few freeware and study-level aircraft with powerplants that you can actually damage through misuse, but for the most part, unless you run out of fuel, flightsim engines don't fail. Which is a pity, because in the real world, knowing how to handle total power failure and a forced landing is an important skill, and one that really sharpens up your flying.

    Some time, in your single-engine prop plane, try pulling the mixture and see how you do. But first, read on. It's a good idea to do as much preparation for an engine failure as you can while still on the ground, before you fly.

    If possible, learn the best glide speeds of your craft. There are two: one for best range, one for best endurance. If your airplane's performance matches the numbers in the handbook, use those. Failing that, the speed for best endurance is the same as for minimum sink rate, which you can determine experimentally. Best range speed is a little faster.

    Plan your route to avoid inhospitable areas, and consider the glide range of your aircraft. Many GA types are good for a 10:1 glide ratio, meaning if you're 6,000 feet above the ground you can glide about 10 nautical miles. Airliners do even better; a clean A320 has a glide ratio of 17:1.

    Review the actions to take in the event of an engine failure. I've looked at a lot of lists. This is mine:

    • If your plane has a carbureter, apply carb heat.
    • Fly the plane. Convert excess speed to altitude. Assume best glide speed. Trim.
    • Pick your landing area. Consider wind direction. You don't know it? What was it on takeoff? Are there cows, smoke?
    • Perform your engine failure check. If the procedure is in the aircraft docs, follow that. Otherwise, check:
      • Primer (in and locked)
      • Magnetos (on "Both" then try individually, then back to Both)
      • Master switch (on)
      • Mixture (rich, or possibly lean if at altitude)
      • Carb heat (off then on)
      • Fuel (tank quantities and selector)
      • Fuel pump (on)

    If the engine doesn't restart, make your Mayday call. Close the throttle, set mixture to idle cutoff, turn off the fuel, turn off the magnetos. Keep the master switch on until flaps are deployed if they're electric. Don't stall.

    Rattys Rambles

    Keep your landing area in sight, and make sure you can reach it. If you're at best glide speed and it's moving up the windshield, you're not going to make it.

    The objective in a forced landing is to touch down in control, the right way up, at the lowest controllable speed, at a spot that gives you the best chance of slowing safely to a stop.

    [A word about terrain and collisions: a lot of flightsim world is smooth and flat, but in real life there are fences, and powerlines, and ploughed fields, and rocks and so on. You'll have to use your imagination a bit. And if you usually fly with collisions on, you should consider turning them off; even if you manage to steer the aircraft between two trees to have the wings absorb the impact, you'll crash anyway.]

    Once you've chosen your landing site, aim to fly a partial pattern around the field, entering on a downwind or base leg, depending on your height. You want to reach a "key position" from which you know you can make a landing. If you're too high, slip, extend the pattern, or add flaps. If too low, fly directly to the field. From the key position, configure the aircraft for landing. Don't stall.

    Rattys Rambles

    Land with full flaps. Gear up or down? Depends on the surface. The landing gear can absorb some of the crash forces, but in a water landing, for example, it is probably better left up.

    Fly the airplane all the way into the crash, and look at where you want to go, not at what you're afraid you'll hit.

    I've talked about enroute emergencies, but need to mention the most dreaded power failure event: engine failure on takeoff. During your takeoffs, it's worth considering "What would I do if the engine failed now.. or now... ?" Once you're airborne, your options are severely limited as you have neither an excess of height, nor an abundance of airspeed. The first thing to do is to get the nose down, then "land straight ahead", actually within about thirty degrees either side of your flight path. There is much discussion about "The Impossible Turn", reversing course and landing back on the runway, or at least inside the airfield perimeter on relatively flat ground. It turns out to be not so impossible after all, in the right circumstances, and we'll be looking at that in a coming piece.

    [A suggestion: It would be nice if engine failures could be truly unpredictable; while it is possible to program failures, the very act of programming them sets them within a predictable timeframe and thus you're already on alert. A family member or roommate can help in this regard. I've enrolled my wife. From time to time she will announce "Oh, dear..." or "I hate to tell you this..." at which point I pause and save the flight. I can then finish the flight then fly the forced landing; or fly the forced landing then finish the flight. If I'm flying a multi-engine aircraft I'll ask her "1, or 2, or 3, or..." and make for the nearest airport.]

    Ratty's Ramble

    It is the late 1940's...

    To all crews:

    The recent massive earthquake in South America has devastated the city of La Paz, Bolivia. Many of its citizens require immediate evacuation. Our task is to provide shuttle flights to ferry in supplies and aid workers, and to fly out evacuees.

    Assemble at Coronel FAP Carlos Ciriani Santa Rosa International Airport (SPTN), Tacna, Peru.

    Route: La Paz El Alto International (SLLP) is 151 nm away on a bearing of 058.

    Rattys Rambles

    The highest terrain directly on the route is Mount Sirk'i Qullu, which rises to 18,196 feet. Higher terrain lies immediately to the north. Pilots should fly to the SOUTH of this mountain.

    After unloading the supplies and aid workers, load evacuees and return to SPTN.

    Rattys Rambles


    La Paz El Alto lies at an elevation of 13,325 feet. It is recommended that you carry a minimal (but safe) amount of fuel that will allow you to fill all the seats at La Paz and still get off the ground.

    The earthquake has rendered the (ahistorical) main runway unusable. The active runway is the 6,500-foot dirt strip, 10L/28R, on the north side of the airfield.

    1. gippslandblanik1's Avatar
      gippslandblanik1 -
      Good article Ian! Thanks for the little refresher course. I learned to fly in gliders 54 years ago where the only engine failure possibility was when you were hooked to the tow plane and but then when you released you were always "coming down" for a landing with no possibility of a "go around". I believe every pilot would benefit from from a little glider training in regards to forced landings and FSX has some excellent glider flying available. I've been able to simulate fairly accurately on FSX my original RW glider flights in regards to the towplane/glider/airport - very cool!. Best wishes, Max
    1. ianhr's Avatar
      ianhr -
      Thanks, Max. I was lucky enough to get a little glider time the year before I got my PPL. I think the single most valuable thing I learned from it was the ability to judge a spot landing - an approach and touchdown without an engine to save me if I got it wrong. I'll be talking about those in an upcoming piece.
    1. BraselC5048's Avatar
      BraselC5048 -
      Or even better than not using the non-historical main runway, CalClassics has a freeware vintage (1950's) version of La Paz El Alto. It's for fs2004, but pretty likely will work well enough in FSX for the flight you're proposing, even if there's some minor graphical issues here and there.

      Their connie series and DC6-7 series also have engine failure coding, although not random; instead it's for pilot misuse, which could easily lead to all engine failure on aircraft from back then if you don't know what you're doing and aren't careful.
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