AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 22

PROFICIENT PILOT

Unintended consequences

BY BARRY SCHIFF

Two rules for the turnaround

BARRY SCHIFF

has been an AOPA
member since
1954 (67 years)
and wishes he had
purchased a life
membership when
first offered.

22 | AOPA PILOT June 2021

UNTIL SEPTEMBER 13, 2018, conventional wisdom insisted
almost dogmatically that a pilot experiencing an engine
failure in a single-engine airplane shortly after takeoff
should always land straight ahead; he should never turn
around to return to the airport. Such a presumably misguided maneuver has been labeled " the impossible turn "
because it is claimed that the associated hazards make
the turn almost impossible to accomplish safely.
My decades-long study of this subject as well as substantial flight testing led me to the inescapable-but
some say, controversial-conclusion that although landing straight ahead is almost always the safest course of
action, there are exceptions to the rule. There are occasions when turning around is the preferred option (see
" Safety Spotlight: The Runway Behind You, " p. 24.)
September 13, 2018, is when the FAA published
Advisory Circular 61-83J and stated matter-of-factly
that " flight instructors should demonstrate and teach
trainees when and how to make a safe 180-degree turnback to the field after an engine failure. " With the stroke
of a bureaucratic pen, the FAA decreed that the impossible turn was now possible. It condoned what previously
had been shunned.
An unintended consequence of the FAA's change of
heart regarding a turnback to the airport is that some
pilots-perhaps many-believe that turning back is now
encouraged as an approved survival maneuver, that it
is OK to make a low-altitude return to the airport following an engine failure shortly after takeoff. Nothing,
however, could be farther from the truth, and my great
fear is that such a misunderstanding will lead to an
increase in turnback accidents and fatalities. This is
because a pilot should not reverse course without first
considering at least two critical rules.
Rule number one: A pilot should not consider
turning around following an engine failure unless he
genuinely believes it would be more dangerous to land
straight ahead than to execute a steep turn near the
ground while attempting to return to the airport. In
most cases, continuing straight ahead is the wisest and
preferable course of action and certainly is the easiest
plan to execute. A straight-ahead forced landing into a
narrow, rocky canyon or a heavily populated area are
obvious exceptions, examples of when it might not be
safer to land straight ahead.
Many pilots have difficulty resisting what seems
an instinctive urge to turn around following an engine

failure. They begin the turn without having any idea
if they have the altitude and the skill needed to do it
safely. The result often is a mushing stall or spin into
oblivion. It is not unusual to see such a tragedy on the
evening news, especially now that video cameras are
so ubiquitous.
Rule number two: A pilot should not consider turning
around without first having been trained to execute the
turnaround maneuver and has the ongoing and recent
practice needed to maintain skill and confidence. A lowaltitude turnaround following an actual engine failure
is extremely challenging and should not be attempted
without first developing proficiency in the maneuver. I
am willing to bet that those who have attempted to turn
around and failed did not have the benefit of the training
needed to skillfully perform the maneuver. The trouble
is, where does a pilot get such training?
The FAA implies in AC 61-83J that flight instructors
have an obligation to teach the turnaround maneuver.
Unfortunately, it provides no guidance for such training. It does not mention, for example, that a 45-degree
bank angle is typically required to execute the most
efficient turnaround. It does not mention that almost
270 degrees of turn are required to return to the departure runway (even though the FAA's Airplane Flying
Handbook states that only 180 degrees are needed). The
FAA apparently leaves it up to individual flight instructors to develop their own curriculum, and this often is
based on misleading advice from unreliable sources. I
believe it is critically important that the FAA convene a
working group of industry experts to develop an effective and proven training curriculum.
Until a formal, peer-reviewed training program is
developed, pilots might want to view my son's webinar, Engine Failure After Takeoff, to learn about some
of the elements and challenges involved. Brian is a captain for American Airlines and a highly regarded general
aviation flight instructor. He produced this 75-minute
webinar under the auspices of the National Association
of Flight Instructors. While based largely on my study
and research involving this subject, Brian brings it to
life with video clips of in-flight demonstrations he conducted in a Cessna 172. The webinar discusses many
important factors worth considering prior to takeoff. A
link to his webinar is on the home page of his website,
CaptainSchiff.com.
AOPA
barryschiff.com


http://www.CaptainSchiff.com http://www.barryschiff.com

AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021

Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Intro
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover1
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Contents
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 2
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 4
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - 5
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AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover3
AOPA Pilot Magazine - June 2021 - Cover4
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