by Nate "Buster" Jaros
Probably the biggest and most trained upon emergency in all of aviation is the engine loss and engine out situation. Us military guys train to it exhaustively, and I know the airlines guys do as well. We here in GA train to it of course too…right? Don’t you train for this regularly? You know your engine failure procedures!
Admit it, if you’re new to aviation, or like a lot of GA pilots, you probably don’t have a solid engine loss procedure memorized. What’s the first step in your aircraft’s engine failure procedure? The last? Be honest. If you do have them memorized (and practiced) good on you. Regardless, I want to address items that will assist you in simplifying and dealing with any engine failure or engine problem…in any GA bird.
I don’t aim to be on my soapbox, especially if you’ve read my book Engine Out Survival Tactics. You know from reading that book that I take engine loss training to a new level, and am an advocate for continual training and keeping ‘current’ on your individual procedures. More specifically you know that I promote glide and sight picture training that needs to be imbedded in your skull for the day when your engine quits. All that notwithstanding, below are three key tips for helping you recall and more importantly, understand and internalize typical GA engine failure procedures, and will help you survive.
Engine Failure Procedures and Your POH
Let’s break it down into three key items that simplify this process. But before we dig into this, I want to emphasize one thing. Use your POH! I can’t emphasize that enough. Have a look at what it recommends and do it’s steps first and foremost. Memorize the critical items to every emergency checklist, just like the big guys and military pilots do. After accomplishing that, think about these three crucial aspects.
The Combustion Triangle
When we talk about procedures, what are the things in the cockpit that you should do, or think of when faced with a rough running, underperforming, or failed engine? “It depends Buster” you might say, and that’s true. It depends on your aircraft.
But does it?
Ever heard of the Combustion Triangle? Probably. It’s of course, the three things needed to make an internal combustion engine run (amongst burning other things too). It’s worth stating here that those three items are Fuel, Oxygen and Heat. Made even simpler for us pilots, you can think of these as Fuel, Air, and Spark.
When you really break down your aircraft’s specific procedures in the POH for an engine problem, take note. I bet you that you are troubleshooting the Combustion Triangle.
The V35 Beech Bonanza POH (mid 1960s) recommends the following steps for an engine loss:
1. Fuel Selector - Select other tank
2. Aux fuel pump - On
3. Mixture - Full rich, then lean
4. Magnetos - Check left, right, both
5. Alternate Air T-handle - Pull and release
The 2013 Cirrus SR-22 manual recommends the following:
1. Best Glide Speed - Establish
2. Mixture - As Required
3. Fuel Selector - Switch Tanks
4. Fuel Pump - Boost
5. Alternate Induction Air - On
6. Air Conditioner - Off
7. Ignition Switch - Check, Both
Notice any parallels? Yep, each critical procedure calls for troubleshooting the Combustion Triangle (Fuel, Air, and Spark) with the most critical and most common controllable failure in our aircraft being first. That being fuel and fuel delivery.
I wont bore you with the stats here (all are in my book) but it’s worthy of note that the 2010 Nall report stated that in that year 8% of all fatal accidents were the result of fuel mismanagement by the pilot/crew. Some sources place general fuel delivery (contamination, clogged lines, etc) as a cause for aircraft accidents at closer to 40% in aviation as a whole.
An August 2017 NTSB Safety Alert stated that “From 2011 to 2015, an average of more than 50 accidents per year occurred due to fuel management issues.” Either way, probably the most significant thing you can control in the cockpit with a misbehaving engine is the fuel and fuel delivery, and it’s likely to be part of the problem your engine faces.
Knowing that fuel delivery is a very high probability of being “the culprit” you face, at least statistically, note where these two above manufactures place their critical first steps in the procedure. Fuel is first! After that, both procedures troubleshoot the air entering the engine and the ignition system. If you really want to break down the above manufacture’s procedures you can think of them as the following:
I like to think of these engine failure steps as a flow in my cockpit. We do “flows” in military jets. If you’re not familiar with it, a flow is a sequence of buttons, switches, and actions really that you do in a certain order, every time. These flows match the checklist. You memorize the actions and remembering the flow facilitates that. Just like a pianist might remember a sequence of key strokes without referring to a music sheet. During an actual emergency, you accomplish your flow for that event, then go back and reference the checklist when time allows and confirm all the steps were done.
Go ahead, give it a try. Just get your gear sit in the seat, in the chocks, engine off and touch all the items, in order with your hands. Do this five or more times for your engine out procedures (amongst others) and you’ll have the beginnings of a cockpit flow. Do the steps your POH recommends. After that, when it comes to engine emergencies recall that combustion triangle and think:
With this you should be on your way to successfully giving your engine it’s best chance for a re-light. And as I’ve said before, always follow your POH first, but take note of what it has you troubleshooting, I bet it’s the fuel, air, and spark steps.
~ Fly Safe
Intentional engine failure, glide to landing. Nicely done, but too risky for me
Here's a free look at the opening for my book!
"I learned the discipline of flying in order to have the freedom of flight....Discipline prevents crashes."
- Captain John Cook, British Airways, Concorde Pilot
General Aviation (GA) aircraft accidents kill hundreds of people every year. These crashes and fatalities have always been a source of much discussion, and a source of much study. Amidst all of the statistic and analysis, engine power loss and mechanical failure mishaps continue to be a leading cause of fatal accidents in General Aviation. In fact, engine loss accidents are the number one cause of crashes not later deemed as “pilot error.”
How can we better prepare pilots for these types of failures, the types of failures that are out of their control and in which no one can see coming? With this book, and some training, I aim to help you become a more informed and safer pilot. You will be armed with the tactics to defeat the engine loss situation in your single engine aircraft, and survive.
A fact sheet issued by the FAA in 2014 stated that powerplant system component failure was the third leading cause for all General Aviation fatalities for the decade 2001 – 2011 (FAA Fact Sheet, 30 Jul 2014). Only loss of control inflight and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT) have a higher fatality rate.
Why are engine loss accidents and fatality rates so high? Are not all pilots well trained and well versed in handling emergencies, especially with an emergency as significant as losing an engine? Loss of an engine inflight is a significant event, a serious emergency, especially for a single engine airplane. Interestingly enough, while not totally avoidable, and certainly unpredictable, this emergency is one that can have a catastrophic outcome or a totally safe outcome. There are people who have lost their engine in General Aviation single engine aircraft, and are still here to talk about it. Yet there are also incredible statistics of fatalities for the same. Why are there such polar opposites regarding this particular emergency procedure?
According to the FAA, an Advisory Circular issued 15 Jun 1998 on reciprocating engine power-loss accident prevention and trend monitoring disclosed that the overall trend of engine loss accidents had basically remained the same as that of the 1960s. Of 1,007 engine related accidents reviewed from 1994 through 1996 “518 or 51% of the accidents were attributed to pilot error, such as poor [engine] preflight planning, inspection, or improper use of engine controls. 302 accidents or 30% were attributed to mechanical failure such as valve or cylinder failure, and the remaining 187 accidents or 19% were attributed to improper [engine] maintenance and/or inspection of the aircraft” (FAA AC 20-105B, Jun 1998). I’d also like to emphasize here that the above 51% includes fuel starvation and fuel mismanagement incidents as well.
Let me reiterate the above quotation. In over 1,000 engine failure accidents in a three year timeframe, every one of them resulted in some kind of engine-out situation and possibly subsequent bending of metal or bruising of egos!
I’d like to think that I (or you) as professional and conscientious pilots could eliminate just about all of those accident variables by fueling correctly, preflighting correctly, and having excellent engine maintenance and care of any airplane we fly. Obviously, all of these dangers are not totally escapable or avoidable, especially for the rental fleet. However I would like to think that they are, and that I personally could catch and stop an imminent engine emergency by conducting better preflighting and fueling operations. Additionally, with some of today’s engine analyzers and avionics, it is quite possible to catch “telltale” signs of impending engine trouble, or at least the trends in engine performance if one is diligent with his or her engine data downloads. There are tools and methods available to today’s pilot that can increase one’s engine health knowledge a fair amount. Theoretically, engine loss events could be a thing of the past. This is plausible, yet engine failures and accidents continue to occur every day.
Are pilots becoming safer? The Air Safety Institute reported in 2014 that total General Aviation accidents (of all types) in 2013 fell “by an unprecedented 18% from the year before, dropping below 1,000 for the first time. This improvement continued with a further 3% decrease to an all-time low of 923 in 2014” (ASI Scorecard, 2014). They also confirmed that these rates were not due to a decrease in flight activity.
So things might be improving from the “dark days” of the late-nineties. We also find that recently, 2011 was one of the safest years on record. “Documented mechanical failures or errors in aircraft maintenance caused 12% of all non-commercial fixed-wing accidents in 2011, including 7% of the fatal accidents. Both figures were at or near historic lows: The total of 147 [aircraft mechanical failures] was the smallest in the modern era, while 15 fatal accidents is just one more than the record [low] of 14 set in 2005” (Nall Report, 2011).
Are things trending toward recovery for overall GA safety? Perhaps. The fact still remains that pilots can unexpectedly lose their engine inflight, and there is nothing anyone can do about that. Historical statistics say that about 25-30% of the engine related accidents were just pure mechanical failures. Or as we sometimes like to say “the hatch just blew!” Of that 25-30% pure mechanical failure rate, there is nothing that you, or a CFI, or even Bob Hoover could have done about it had they been in the air that day. It just wasn’t their day and the engine was going to fail no matter what was done in the preflight, fueling, or the maintenance beforehand. That is a pretty scary statistic if you ask me.
A recent independent study done by Cirrus Aircraft enthusiast and operator Mr. Joe Kirby looked at just Cirrus SR-22 and Bonanza A/G36 accidents from January 2010 through December 2014. He carefully went through the NTSB database and created his own incredible spreadsheet (available on the Engine Out webpage) which detailed every SR-22 and Bonanza 36 accident and its cause during that four year span. For these two specific airframes, over the specified timeframe, Mr. Kirby found that the number of engine mechanical failures were similar for both aircraft. He discovered that for each aircraft about 20% of the accidents were caused by pure mechanical engine failure (personal communication, March 2016). Interestingly, he also found nearly identical results to the above FAA Fact Sheet with regards to pilot loss of control and impact into terrain.
Of note, Mr. Kirby found fuel mismanagement statistics were markedly higher in Bonanza aircraft and accounted for nearly 24% of accidents, while Cirrus fuel mismanagement statistics accounted for just 4% of accidents for that aircraft. Generally speaking, fuel mismanagement accident statistics have decreased across the fleet from 8% of all GA accidents in 2002, to 5% of all accident caused in 2012 (Nall Reports, 2013 & 2003).
But enough statistics for now, let us change gears for a minute and talk about something related, the engine out emergency.
If you are like most pilots, you have received what you probably perceive as an adequate level of engine out training in your GA single engine aircraft. In my opinion, this engine loss training as well as the level of understanding for a majority of GA pilots and CFIs is severely lacking. Why do I say that?
It wasn’t until I completed USAF pilot training and attained over 2,000 hours in fighters and fighter-type aircraft that I realized the extreme difference between GA and the military with regards to emergency training and specifically, engine out training. I am not saying that all CFIs are cowboys and cavalier about this type of schooling. I’m also not implying that all GA pilots are unskilled in this area. Many GA pilots are highly competent, but unfortunately, that is not always the case. Airplanes continue to lose engines and people still lose lives every week due to crashes following engine power loss. I know that most CFIs do happen to teach some kind of engine out training, however, I will offer that this training is grossly inadequate, and the average GA pilot’s currency (i.e., practice) in engine out training is just as equally underwhelming.
Most of my GA engine out training (back in the day!) was simply the CFI pulling my throttle to idle and then instructing me on how to find a landing spot and what was the best glide speed for whatever aircraft we were training in that day. Seldom did we ever address restarts, checklists procedures, Critical Action Procedures (CAPs), or the more advanced thoughts on energy management, drag management, sight pictures and touchdown planning. I believe the average GA student and certainly the private or commercial single engine pilot needs to know some of these key concepts.
Additionally, when was the last time your CFI asked you to go practice engine out procedures? Most of mine never really did, or do. If you are practicing engine out procedures today, good on ya! If you are a CFI, are you teaching these advanced concepts? Or are you just pulling the throttle, announcing “engine failure” and then doing a simple glide to some point on the earth with little or no further discussion with your student?
What about this, does the following drill sound familiar? Maybe you had a CFI “kill your engine” on a recent BFR or a checkout of some kind. “Now pick a landing site,” he or she said. You diligently found a field or some road during the “procedure” and executed a glide to it with a go around as you neared the open field. You managed to make it to the field and execute a go around. You felt pretty good about that actually. Success! you think to yourself; you have been trained in engine out procedures! Easy as lemon pie right?
Well, no not really, I am being sarcastic. What I hope to impart upon you is not the inadequacies of your CFI and the training you received, but instead point out where some of that training has fallen short, and what all GA pilots need to be prepared for while instilling a further sense of the knowledge and factors that all contribute to a successful engine out scenario and a successful recovery. Unfortunately, most GA engine out training is deficient and lacking some of the basics that every pilot needs. Simply pulling the throttle to idle and holding best glide speed will not be ample practice for most GA pilots, especially new or inexperienced pilots, and maybe for some of our more seasoned flyers too. There is so much more to engine loss training.
As an ex-military fighter pilot, I recall the incredible amount of training I went through in my single engine airplane to prepare me for all kinds of emergencies, and especially the engine out situation. Not only did we learn and prepare for losing our one-and-only engine in the aircraft, but we regularly continued to train for losing that engine as well. And we even had an “ace up our sleeve” ...the ejection seat! If things really got bad, well the ole ejection seat was always there to save us from certain doom...right? Even so, we trained heavily for the engine out situation and even had to demonstrate one all the way to the landing flare during our recurring check rides.
In fighters, we also maintained a currency for practice engine out scenarios. One a month minimum to be exact, or twelve a year was the minimum number to have logged “in the books.” We also had a 90-day currency. What that means is that every pilot was required to go out and actually practice an engine out profile at those intervals. Failure to do so or to meet that required currency would lead to additional training with an instructor pilot and could also even ground the individual if he or she was significantly overdue. We took engine out practice very seriously...and the USAF did as well. These currencies and training rules were heavily documented and described in various regulations and paper guidance that we were required to follow.
This book is designed from a fighter pilot’s view of engine out training. I am not attempting to offer a military-like training regimen for GA pilots, nor am I suggesting that all GA pilots “fit into the mold” of a military style training course. Nor do I “know it all” or pretend to know it all. My hope, for this book is simply to attempt to impart upon you, the GA pilot, some of the ways in which we trained for emergencies (specifically the engine out scenario) in the military in hopes that you can follow a similar course for your own training, and ultimately make all GA pilots well-versed and thus safer when it comes to engine loss in flight. This book will give you a new bag of tricks and tactics, all designed to help you overcome an engine out situation, but the willingness and desire to go practice this stuff...is up to you.
You will not become Chuck Yeager after reading this book. However, after reading this book you will probably know way more than your average GA pilot about engine loss scenarios and recoveries, maybe even more than your CFI. If you are a CFI, you will be able to add even more realism and relevance to your teachings.
My desires are that you take your time to digest this book and then go out and apply and practice some of these techniques in your single engine aircraft of choice. Quite possibly (and hopefully) this writing will teach you some new techniques, and optimistically it can become a good source of reference for you as you continue to advance your pilot skill sets. By reading this book and taking measures to address your own training for emergencies and engine out situations, you have taken the first step to becoming a safer GA pilot. I applaud you!
Lastly, while this book is designed for the General Aviation pilot in any single engine airplane, we will be focusing our studies, charts, and procedures on one specific aircraft, the Beech Bonanza. Even though some of these examples and procedures are Bonanza specific, please realize that all of the following procedures may be used in any single engine aircraft. While glide ratios and speeds and so forth might be different than in your particular aircraft of choice, the concepts and facts all still apply. Some minor adjustments to your procedures and numbers will of course be needed, however we will generally focus on the Bonanza to keep things simple. I will also do my best to keep this book “math free.” If you are like me, math is a challenge, even at one G and zero knots! Where applicable, I’ll have the math accomplished and illustrated for you to review.
So I will conclude by answering one of my above questions. When I stated ‘There are people who have lost their engine in General Aviation single engine aircraft, and are still here to talk about it. Yet there are also incredible statistics of fatalities for the same. Why are there such polar opposites regarding this particular emergency procedure?’
I believe the answer is training and knowledge. Training and knowledge are what will save you from an engine loss situation (and any emergency actually). If you are a pilot, or a CFI, looking to expand your engine out knowledge and training repertoire, this book is for you.
I hope you enjoy it, and I sincerely hope you learn from it!
Nate "Buster" Jaros
What is Engine Out? Relevant aviation topics, key safety techniques, war stories, and pilot tips from Fightersweep writer and the author of Engine Out Survival Tactics, Fighter Pilot Tactics for GA Engine Loss Emergencies.
Non Pilot Stuff