Engine Failure with Runway Remaining

Robert Chapin
ATSB said most immediate forced landings do not result in serious injury.

ATSB said most immediate forced landings do not result in serious injury.

One of the most intimidating parts of flight training is the unlikely possibility that a single-engine training airplane could develop a single engine failure, thereby leaving no other engines available to help bring the airplane to a safe landing position.  While engine failures and emergency procedures are widely discussed and practiced within the general aviation community, not all emergencies are created equal.

It seems I may be teaching a relatively obscure maneuver: The engine failure that occurs after liftoff but before passing the departure end of the runway.  It’s not an engine failure during multi-engine training, not an engine failure in the pattern, and not an “impossible turn” situation.  I’m talking about a loss of thrust right smack in that precarious transition from ground effect to a sustained, best rate climb.  I use the word “obscure” here because I have looked through every guide for maneuvers, FAA handbooks, airplane manuals, and online training resources that I could find, and not one of them contains a detailed description of this maneuver.

I am writing this article for the benefit of flight instructors and single-engine pilots everywhere, and it comes with a big disclaimer:  My detailed procedure is not an adaptation of other work and is not based on existing procedures.  If a more official procedure existed, I would use it!  The information below might not be appropriate to your aircraft, and this procedure should never be attempted in an aircraft without a flight instructor.

Below the fold, you will also find a video that shows a very bad example of what this maneuver looks like when it is practiced without careful consideration for safety or personal minimums.

Engine Failure After Liftoff Demonstration (ASEL)


To develop comprehension and experience with takeoff emergencies, takeoff briefings, and takeoff aerodynamics.

  1. Taxi for a full length takeoff.
    • Plan for a no flaps landing.
    • Check runway length.
    • Do not attempt unless a normal landing is assured.
  2. Before Takeoff Checklist — Complete
    • Brief and configure for the short field takeoff procedure.
    • Brief the demonstration procedure and minimums.
  3. Coordinate with ATC or CTAF.
    • Make sure the other traffic knows you intend to land after the takeoff.
    • Request “two takeoffs” when appropriate.
    • Obtain a takeoff clearance.
  4. Short Field Takeoff — Perform
    • Climb to an altitude that will allow recovery to a glide airspeed.
    • Do not attempt below 150 ft AGL.
  5. Altitude — Call out “above minimum altitude.”
  6. Carburetor Heat — On (if applicable)
  7. Throttle — Idle
  8. Pitch — Immediately lower the nose
    • Establish a power-off stall recovery attitude.
    • Maintain a nose low attitude until reaching flare height or best glide speed.
  9. Landing — Perform
    • Maintain the takeoff configuration if appropriate for landing.
    • Perform a touch-and-go or a go-around if appropriate.
  1. Flying the best-angle climb speed after liftoff is critical to minimizing the runway distance needed for this maneuver.
  2. Closing the throttle in a best-angle climb attitude results in a rapid increase in angle of attack and decay of airspeed.
  3. Due to the loss of thrust, the airplane begins to accelerate downward, which changes the direction of the relative wind.
  4. Due to the change in P-factor, the rudder must be neutralized while closing the throttle to maintain coordination.
  5. The combination of increasing angle of attack and increasing drag may cause the indicated airspeed to decrease even as the pilot pitches the nose down.
  6. The rapid change in angle of attack creates significant potential for aerodynamic stall if the pilot does not apply positive nose down control input.
  7. Altitude loss of 100 ft or more may be experienced before attaining the best-angle glide speed.
  8. A single-engine airplane is most vulnerable just after leaving ground effect, where an engine failure is likely to result in a hard landing.
  9. In case of an actual engine failure above the minimum safe altitude, closing the throttle will minimize runway distance needed.
Human Factors
  1. Due to rapid maneuvering and transition to a landing flare, situational awareness is reduced during the demonstration.
  2. Student pilots may react with surprise during the demonstration despite being briefed beforehand.
  3. In case of an actual engine failure, it may be difficult to identify the situation and react as quickly as in a demonstration.
  1. Altitude — Select a minimum safe altitude that allows power-off acceleration to the airplane’s recommended glide speed before landing.  An engine failure below that minimum altitude, simulated or not, would put you in a position where there is not enough height available to accelerate without power, and not enough speed to flare without stalling.  Do not attempt less than 150 ft AGL.
  2. Runway Length — A Cessna 152 needs about 4,000 feet to complete a short field climb to 150 AGL and then land, plus another 1,000 feet for a touch and go.  My best advice is to make sure you will be able to land on the runway.
  3. Weather — Do not attempt this maneuver at night or on a wet runway.

Scary Video

This is the closest thing I can find to an example of the maneuver, but I never do it like this.  In the video attached below, the pilot simulates a midfield departure and an engine failure around 200 ft AGL, then continues the maneuver to within 50 ft of an off-field landing.  Notice the nose is lowered only slightly (not enough) for the descent, and the stall warning horn begins to sound almost as soon as the throttle is closed.  This is terrifying to watch and is definitely not allowed where I fly.

8 Nov 2014

Aeronautical Knowledge

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  • Don Ross says:

    A friend of mine owned an Ercoupe (I forget the year model) and had just got it back after the annual and minor repairs. In short, he told the A&E technician the bird just didn’t feel right. They flew the pattern together and the tech could ascertain no problems.
    You know when you fly your own craft it becomes, in fact, an extension of your own body and sensory system. Well, a week later the engine quits on takeoff, at about 300 ft AGL. He did a standard engine-out straight ahead and luckily had only minor undercarriage hull damage. The reason for the failure: the mechanics had failed to wire one of the mags’ securing nuts and it walked out of the case. The reason the craft didn’t feel right was because, as the mag walked out, the timing changed because of drive gear alignment. The second mag was dead – and nobody caught it. Lucky guy.
    Some time I’ll tell you how a PA-22 almost killed me over the Mojave Desert.

    “Keep on Flying”

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