Go Straight or Turn Back?

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Subscriber question:

"Engine failure on takeoff - too many pilots try to turn back to the airport and crash due to stall/spin. Why?" - Jeff D.


"Boy, that's a tough one, statistics tell us that the tendency to turn back to the airport is overwhelming. It takes a lot of discipline to lower the nose and accept the fact that we're going to make an off-field landing. So let's look at that and make sure that we're ready mentally to do just that because turning back to the field is all too often a fatal choice.

engine-failure-takeoff-martens.pngManeuvering the aircraft at low airspeed and low altitude through a series of turns in a high-stress situation is asking too much of any pilot. And it's not a 180-degree turn back to the airport. It's a series of turns, and you're doing this when your heart is beating off the charts.

The downside is a stall-spin crash. Turning back to the airport is nearly always fatal. Don't do it! There is an altitude in which every pilot can make it back to the airport, and I absolutely agree with that comment. But unless you know what that altitude is for your aircraft, and have validated your ability to accomplish the maneuver recently, you have no business attempting it.

A big key to successful execution of engine failure on takeoff is a pre-brief on every takeoff. It only takes a second but it does prepare us mentally for the possibility of an engine failure and sets us up to make our first step the right one rather than the wrong one. So, we need to assess our best landing options on each and every takeoff and give a short 10-second briefing. If I experience an engine failure on takeoff, this is what I'm going to do.

If obstacle clearance isn't an issue, climb out at Vy, best rate. Be aware of the safe altitude that will enable you to turn back to the airport, and monitor closely until you reach this altitude. Make your choice simple in the case of an emergency, and if it's marginal you have no business turning back to the airport."



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