Of the many tasks and maneuvers you’ll be required to demonstrate during your practical test, the simulated engine failure is arguably one of the most challenging to successfully pull off. The primary obstacle that makes consistency difficult to achieve are the many variables present when faced with performing an engine failure procedure. If there is one checkride maneuver that demands good judgment, effective aeronautical decision making (ADM), and rock-solid stick-and-rudder skills, it’s the engine-failure scenario.
Variables such as altitude available when the engine fails, wind speed and direction, landing field options and conditions, and position relative to the planned landing site all affect what actions might be required of the pilot to complete a safe engine-out approach and landing. But even though you’ll have several variables to deal with, by following a common, consistent course of action for these scenarios, you’ll maximize your chances of reaching a safe and successful conclusion to your simulated emergency approach to a landing.
First, when the engine suddenly fails, resist the urge to immediately try to troubleshoot the problem in an attempt to restart the engine. Instead, fly the airplane! Adjust your pitch attitude to obtain (and maintain) the best glide speed. This will maximize the time you have available to complete the remainder of the problem. While you’re doing this, begin to analyze your available landing site options by looking outside—all around you, not just off your left side or in front of the airplane. You may have a much better landing option off to your right, or even just behind you—if only you look for it. And don’t forget to check your nearest airport option by scanning the GPS map display, if equipped, as many airplanes are.
As you are searching for a preferred landing site, be sure to keep the prevailing winds in mind since this will play a huge role in not only your field selection, but also how you will need to maneuver to the subsequent landing. Lack of awareness of the winds presents a big common error that leads to applicants’ inability to select and then effectively maneuver to the ill-chosen field. Once you have located an adequate landing site, begin to maneuver toward it, keeping in mind where you’ll need the airplane to be positioned for the final 1,000 feet of descent toward the field. This location is referred to as the “key position,” and is typically directly abeam of the planned touchdown point on the landing site—exactly where you normally would begin your descent for landing from the downwind leg at the airport.
While you are maneuvering to the key position, you now have some time to complete your flow pattern of checklist items that could potentially bring your engine back to life. Important items such as turning on a fuel pump (if applicable), switching fuel tanks, adjusting the mixture control (usually to full rich), turning carburetor heat on or selecting alternate air for combustion, confirming the fuel primer is not activated, and checking that the magnetos are turned on. Since time is of the essence, you’ll need to be able to quickly complete all these checklist items from memory, referring to the written checklist only if you have sufficient time to do so.
At this point, you will have done all you can to regain engine power. So now it is time to concentrate on ensuring that you arrive at the key position with sufficient altitude to complete the remainder of the approach safely. This is where pilot judgment and familiarity with the airplane’s gliding characteristics become especially important. While being too low at the key position is very bad, too much altitude can be just as bad if it means you overshoot your selected field.
As time permits, you’ll also want to communicate your emergency—using the emergency frequency 121.5 MHz and squawking 7700 on the transponder are good options. And finally, before touchdown, simulate preparing your cabin for a safe evacuation by securing the fuel and electrical systems to Off and releasing the door latch. Mastering this challenging task is an essential step in becoming a safe, competent, new private pilot.
Bob Schmelzer is a Chicago-area designated pilot examiner, a retired United Airlines captain, and Boeing 777 line check airman. He has been an active gold seal flight instructor since 1972.