Hav­ing lec­tured air cadets on the con­ven­tional wis­dom about what to do should the en­gine fail on take­off, a pi­lot ex­pe­ri­ences it for real — which leads to some fur­ther thoughts on the sub­ject

Pilot - - ILAFFT - By Roger Pen­ney

Dur­ing my PPL train­ing it was drummed into me never to at­tempt to turn back to the field af­ter an en­gine fail­ure on take­off. I was told of the nu­mer­ous pi­lots who had tried it and died in the en­su­ing stall/spin. ‘Make gen­tle turns avoid­ing ob­sta­cles and aim for the best open space within line of vi­sion ahead of the air­craft’ is the ad­vice given in Flight Brief­ing For Pi­lots Vol­ume 1. In later years I had lec­tured air cadets on the very sub­ject, so I sup­pose It was well im­printed upon my brain.

In 1983 I flew a Chero­kee to Dublin In­ter­na­tional from Liver­pool with a couple of friends. Af­ter a nice meal in the city and some shop­ping we loaded up, donned life jack­ets, checked the dinghy and tax­ied out to the southerly runway. Run-up checks were nor­mal and sug­gested noth­ing of what was to come.

We took off head­ing south to­wards Dublin City, I got to 400 feet when there was sud­den vi­o­lent vi­bra­tion from the en­gine. I lev­elled the nose as the air­craft would not climb any more, called ‘May­day’, did my checks and could find noth­ing wrong. I was sure the en­gine was about to stop or dis­in­te­grate, so I looked for a suit­able field. We were still over open coun­try, but get­ting closer to a large hous­ing es­tate. The fields near to me were just pad­docks with hedges and some trees around them — nowhere near large enough to get a Chero­kee down in. I re­alised that on full power I was able to main­tain 300 feet and I started turn­ing right, look­ing for a big­ger field, away from habi­ta­tion (‘hero pi­lot misses city’). The vi­bra­tion was se­vere and I ex­pected some­thing more dras­tic to hap­pen soon. I had now done a 180º turn and could see a twin do­ing a go-around, which left the runway clear for me to land back on, al­beit down­wind, (thank you who­ever you were).

ATC cleared me to land back on. I thought that I may make it to the grass just in­side the air­field bound­ary fence. Still with full throt­tle, I kept the height on and made it back to the runway for a good down­wind land­ing.

Would I have been able to com­plete a full cir­cuit be­fore the pis­ton broke up and came out of the side of the nose? I don’t know. The fast think­ing by the twin pi­lot gave me the op­tion of making it back onto the air­field.

I tax­ied clear of the runway and was sur­rounded by the air­port fire ser­vice, who ap­peared a bit dis­ap­pointed that I was not on fire. I had said my prob­lem was a se­vere mis­fire. They in­sisted on hav­ing a look un­der the bon­net and then de­parted. The air­craft was re­cov­ered to the fly­ing club and the en­gi­neers ex­am­ined the cylin­ders. They found that an ex­haust valve had sheared off, which meant that we were fly­ing on three cylin­ders only.

A pas­sen­ger asked me if the prob­lem had occurred half way across the Ir­ish Sea whether we would have made it to land? A very good ques­tion. I had flown that route many times, (52 miles from An­gelsea to Lam­bay Is­land). I have al­ways thought that I would fly a sick en­gine as long as pos­si­ble to­wards land in or­der to: 1) Get off a good May­day and po­si­tion re­port; and 2) Al­low the res­cue he­li­copter to make some dis­tance to­wards me.

If you are on fire of course there is only one op­tion. I do re­mem­ber a ditch­ing which caused the loss of two lives. The en­gine, when ex­am­ined, had blown an ex­haust man­i­fold gas­ket. Would it have been pos­si­ble to carry on to­wards land with such a fault rather than ditch? There would have been power loss and a lot of noise, but who knows, it may have lasted an­other fif­teen min­utes to dry land.

There is no doubt that if there had been a suit­able field I would have landed in it. The lack of one en­abled me to con­sider other op­tions.

On the sub­ject of suit­able fields, when I was do­ing my PPL train­ing, I had an in­struc­tor who gave me a power fail­ure over open coun­try. I se­lected a nice firm grass field. Next to it was a larger one which had been ploughed. The in­struc­tor told me I should have se­lected the larger ploughed field. Hav­ing been born on a farm I am pretty good on fields! I asked the CFI what he thought. He agreed that firm grass beats soft earth any day. It may be the dif­fer­ence be­tween a de­cent land­ing and walk­ing away, or end­ing up­side down with petrol run­ning down your neck.

Next time you fly, have a closer look at fields. There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween grass and newly sown corn. Try to see if you can spot it. corn is sown in neat rows by a ma­chine. You may be bet­ter col­lid­ing with a sheep or a cow graz­ing in a field than land­ing on soft ground.

I learned that day that there is en­gine fail­ure, and there is par­tial en­gine fail­ure. If you have some power left and you need it, then use it to get to a bet­ter land­ing site.

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