AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 85

P&E  DOGFIGHT
Should pilots plan to turn back if there's an engine failure after takeoff?

Don't turn back

Never say never

Risks outweigh the rewards

Sometimes turning back is the best option

BY DOUG ROZENDAAL

BY BRIAN SCHIFF

A PILOT'S DECISION about whether to turn back to the airport
after an engine failure or lower the nose and land on a spot
ahead of the wings, into the wind, is a risk-assessment exercise: Acknowledge the risk; rate the risk; rate the reward. If the
risk is greater than the reward, stop. If the reward is greater
than the risk, proceed with caution and work to lower the risk.
Step 1: Acknowledge the risk. Every time we fly a singleengine airplane, there is risk of an engine failure after takeoff.
There is a narrow window where a high-risk turnback is technically possible: between reaching the possible altitude and
flying too far from the airport to return. But the accident database is littered with reports of pilots who, inside and outside
that window, turned back to a
nearly always fatal stall/spin or a
high-energy downwind crash with
serious or fatal injuries.
Landing ahead of the wings
into the wind is the only choice
up to some altitude. At airports in
densely populated metropolitan
areas a suitable landing spot might
not be apparent. We must acknowlDOUG ROZENDAAL
edge that risk. All pilots need to be
prepared to lower the nose and
land, or crash, ahead of the wings, into the wind, under control,
at minimum speed. That option can be fatal, but most often, airplanes that arrive at the Earth under control at minimum speed,
with the wings level, have survivors on board.
Step 2: Rate the risk. The model I use to evaluate risks is a
subjective math equation: Total risk equals likelihood of occurrence times severity of outcome times time exposed.
Thankfully engine failures after takeoff are rare. The severity of outcome from an engine failure after takeoff factors in
two things: pilot skill/proficiency and the environment. Also,
the time exposed to this risk is low. To fairly compare the risk
of turning back versus landing ahead, we must consider the
entire picture, and this includes the risk of training.
Some advocate going to altitude and executing a 360-degree
turn at idle. With a fixed-pitch propeller, idle thrust is significant. Practicing turnbacks in a Cessna 172 with one or two
people aboard, at idle thrust, at sea level, is not the same as flying at or near gross weight at even medium density altitude
after a total engine failure. To determine the sink rate during an
engine failure after takeoff, the mixture should be pulled or the
magnetos off so the engine isn't producing power. Few pilots
are comfortable shutting down a perfectly good engine in a

PEOPLE WHO SAY "ALWAYS" OR "NEVER" are usually wrong.
Such was the case when, until recently, conventional training
and wisdom dictated that pilots should always land straight
ahead following an engine failure shortly after takeoff in a single-engine airplane. Hard and fast rules like this should be
carefully considered because they do not apply to every situation. Turning back after an engine failure should not be a
consideration unless you have practiced it, are prepared for it,
and are comfortable with performing it. It should not be accomplished unless there are no better options.
At some point during the climb it might become obvious
that it is feasible, and possibly safer, to turn back to the airport. It is not always that obvious,
however, to determine the point at
which this can be accomplished.
Before attempting to return to the
airport, you need to learn when
and how to perform the turnaround maneuver. During such
training the glide ratio in the turn
is better with an idling engine than
it would be if the prop were windBRIAN SCHIFF
milling. This is one of the reasons
I advocate adding a 50-percent
safety margin. That said, the propeller may stop anyway-providing even better glide performance.
This controversial topic has been hotly debated since the
early days of aviation to the point where turning around to land
on the departure runway has been called "the impossible turn."
It can be argued convincingly, however, that there are instances
when it would be safer to return to the airport than to land
straight ahead following such an engine failure. Attempting to
make a straight-ahead emergency landing with mountainous
terrain, buildings, or other impediments along the departure
path can be a fool's choice.
Making a steep turn at a low altitude does introduce risk
factors that includes the potential for a stall/spin accident. This
is precisely why a pilot should be trained in the execution of
the turnaround maneuver with an emphasis on turn coordination and stall prevention. Pilots are routinely taught how to
safely turn from base to final to mitigate the risk involved, so
why should pilots not be taught how to perform the turnback
maneuver?
The FAA, now in favor of such training, states matter-offactly in Advisory Circular 61-83J that "flight instructors should
demonstrate and teach trainees when and how to make a safe

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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 2
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