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Training and Safety Tip: Prepare to be forced

AOPA Air Safety Institute

You’ve more-or-less learned to fly. You can accelerate down the runway, become airborne, and return to earth with sufficient grace to keep the airplane airworthy.

Photo by Mike Fizer.

Good for you! Now it’s time to learn to crash.

You read that right. Now that you can fly an airplane, you need to learn how to successfully accomplish a forced landing. Hopefully, you’ll never need to deploy that knowledge, but fortune favors the prepared. Start with Chapter 18 of the FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-3C), which contains a wealth of information on this topic.

Actually, the FAA doesn’t use the word “crash,” favoring the tamer-sounding “emergency” landing—a label that, granted, implies more action and less accident. While there’s a ton of interesting—and potentially life-saving—information in this chapter, today we’ll focus on the two most vital issues: velocity and mindset.

Velocity

The math is daunting. Doubling groundspeed on impact quadruples destructive energy. The more we can reduce the groundspeed before the aircraft contacts solid objects, the more likely we will avoid the kind of impact force that injures people (and worse). Given that calculus, every knot matters. So much so, that—if you are forced to choose—landing into the wind to reduce groundspeed takes priority over choosing the best orientation to the terrain you have selected for your emergency landing.

To minimize groundspeed further, you want to deploy your slow flight skills to their maximum, but not, of course, to the point of taking the risk of spoiling your beautiful, walk-away-from-it forced landing with a stall that you are a lot less likely to walk away from.

Mindset

All of that said, the single most important thing in meeting the ground at a time and place that are not ideal is your mindset as a pilot. Quoting a passage in the previously mentioned handbook, “The success of an emergency landing is as much a matter of the mind as of skills.” The FAA has identified three killer mindsets: the “this can’t be happening” syndrome; freaking out over getting hurt; and fretting about damaging the airplane.

I might have paraphrased the FAA verbiage a bit there.

Summing all of that up, R.A. “Bob” Hoover was quoted as saying, “If you’re faced with a forced landing, fly the thing as far into the crash as possible.”

In other words, don’t become a passenger at any point in the crash sequence. Remain pilot in command—in mind and in action—until the last piece stops moving.

That’s the right way to crash an airplane.

William E. Dubois
William E. Dubois is a widely published aviation writer and columnist. He is an FAA Safety Team rep and a rare "double" Master Ground Instructor accredited by both NAFI and MICEP. An AOPA member since 1983, he holds a commercial pilot certificate and has a degree in aviation technology. He was recognized as a Distinguished Flight Instructor in the 2021 AOPA Flight Training Experience Awards.
Topics: Training and Safety, Flight Instructor, Emergency
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