AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 87

Don't Turn Back (continued)

Never Say Never (continued)

landing lower the risk. And, time exposed is lower because
high-risk training isn't required. This is the lower risk option.
Step 3: Rate the reward. This is the simplest of the tasks.
The reward when turning back from an engine failure after
takeoff is preventing damage to the airplane and injury to ourselves and passengers. The reward from lowering the nose and
picking a spot ahead of the wings into the wind is not exposing
our passengers to the chance of a stall/spin arrival, or a downwind, high-energy accident.
Step 4: Is the risk greater than the reward? Turning back is
a high-stakes bet with long odds. If it works, the pilot is a hero.
If not, it is too often a family funeral. That's a bad bet, whether
at Vegas or off the end of the runway.
Videos of lightly loaded aircraft with idle thrust at low density altitudes calmly being flown back to a departure runway
plant expectations that are not congruent with reality. When oil
covers the windscreen and the cockpit fills with smoke, pilots
don't make good decisions or fly well. That's why we should
train pilots from the outset that the default action is to pick a
point ahead of the wings, and land into the wind.
Flight instructors and pilots both need to recognize and
respect the limitations of our flying skills. A pilot friend of mine,
Tom Drew, has a quote I love: "Eighty percent of the pilots
think they are in the top 20 percent." To that, I add this corollary, "The reality is half of us are below average." In short,
we're not as good as we think, and, when we're in shock, we're
not good at all. Training can reduce the level of shock, but the
inherent risk of the training outweighs the reward from the
very low occurrence of engine failure after takeoff and the small
window of time when a turn back is possible. The worst is a
pilot who watched a video or read an article that said a turnback was possible but never trained.
While it is true that there are some airplanes, in some configurations, where a turn back from an engine failure after
takeoff is possible, it is also true that many light GA airplanes
we fly are capable of performing an aileron roll on takeoff. But
an impromptu aerobatic maneuver close to the ground, even for
pilots trained to do so, is an off-the-chart high-risk maneuver.
Step 5: We can mitigate the risk of engine failure after takeoff in many ways. Avoiding pattern work at airports in densely
populated areas. Surveying potential emergency landing sites
near airports we frequent. Practicing (idle) power-off 180s
to a spot landing at minimum speed. And, finally, simulating
a power loss after takeoff, and thinking through what we're
going to do. The default action should be to lower the nose,
pick a spot ahead of the wings and into the wind-and, to quote
Robert A. "Bob" Hoover, "Fly the airplane as far into the crash
as possible."
AOPA

failure. But we seldom hear about the success stories of pilots
who have turned back and succeeded. Records are not kept
of accidents that don't happen. If my father had not done it
(twice), I might not be here today.
A successful turnback maneuver depends on too many factors to mention here. Those include having enough altitude and
knowing how and when the maneuver should be accomplished.
It is vitally important that no pilot attempt this maneuver
unless they have received training from a qualified instructor,
practiced it, and feel comfortable performing it.
I am not recommending that, as a rule, pilots turn back
toward the runway following an engine failure shortly after
takeoff. This decision must be made by the pilot in command
under the unique set of circumstances that exist at the time.
Turning back should not be considered an option unless you
consider it more hazardous not to. If viable options for an
emergency landing are ahead of you, then that is where you
should go; otherwise, you need to have a contingency plan in
place before takeoff.
Do not attempt to return to the airport without a plan of
action in mind. Every takeoff is unique. Every airport is unique.
Performance always varies. You need to know how to consider
the variables, especially the minimum turnback altitude, runway length, density altitude, gross weight, wind direction and
velocity, obstacles, turn direction, bank angle, and airspeed in
the event the engine goes silent at the worst time.
Every foot of altitude gained after takeoff offers increased
options in the event of an engine failure. Some pilots have
a plan that changes with an increase in altitude. For example, land straight ahead if the engine fails below 200 feet agl;
between 200 to 400 feet, turn up to 30 degrees left or right;
between 400 and 750 feet, turn up to 90 degrees left or right;
above 750 feet, return to the airport. (These numbers may vary
for your airplane and airport.) I teach students to verbally call
out critical altitudes during the initial climbout to increase
their situational awareness.
If you are not comfortable practicing or performing the
recommended turnback maneuver (not discussed here), then
you should not do it. I strongly recommend not attempting this
kind of low-altitude maneuvering during an actual or simulated
engine-out emergency unless you have practiced the maneuver
and can perform it with consistency, proficiency, and confidence.
Finally, it is important to understand that I am not recommending that anyone turn back following an engine failure
shortly after takeoff. What I am saying is that turning back is
an option to use when it would be less hazardous than landing
straight ahead. Avoid the words "always" or "never." AOPA
BRIAN SCHIFF is a captain for a major airline, has been an FAA-

DOUG ROZENDAAL is an experienced warbird pilot, aerobatic

designated examiner and check airman, and has been flight

pilot, and designated pilot examiner.

instructing steadily for 35 years.

aopa.org/pilot AOPA PILOT | 87


http://www.aopa.org/pilot

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
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 5
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 6
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 7
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 8
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 9
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 14
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 15
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 16
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 17
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 19
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 20
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 26
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 27
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 29
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 30
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 31
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 32
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 33
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 34
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 35
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 36
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - 37
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - October 2020 - Cover4
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