Engine Failure After Take-Off

27 Mar 09 4 Comments

Engine Failure After Take-Off, commonly referred to as EFATO, is one of the most frightening events that can happen to a pilot. A recent incident hit International headlines when US Airways flight 1549 landed in the Hudson after a sudden loss of engine power. Every pilot has been trained to deal with EFATO but the reality of the situation has little in common with the practice runs when you have a competent instructor at your side with his hand on the throttle.

I don’t actually want to have to experience that particular reality but I do want to be as prepared as I possibly can should I have to deal with an engine problem close to the ground. One way of doing this is to read the details of real failures and how the pilots dealt with getting their planes onto the ground.

Manny Peralta, a commercial pilot in Australia, wrote about his experience for AirCentre Australia with useful detail and a summary of lessons learnt. I found it particularly interesting to read about how he ended up fighting his own instincts.
Low Level Engine Failure After Takeoff:

For me, the most frightening thought just after an EFATO, is the overpowering urge to turn back despite the high risk of a stall and spin. It seems that fear and self-preservation, can overcome logical thinking and training. I only just managed to fight off the urge to turn back, by shouting to myself repeatedly over the intercom: “don’t turn back! For a split second, I also remembered a friend, who died when he apparently tried to turn back after an EFATO, from the same runway that I took off from that day. Being a young family man, a fiery death for me was definitely not an option!

The FLYER forums had a recent post about this emergency landing in which the pilot gives an emotional and honest description of writing off a plane and his recollections of the sequence of events.
A recount of my EFATO 4th November 2008:

The noise reverberates through every inch of my body; not a bang as such, but a metallic noise that I can most liken to a flak burst from a world war two movie: the chilling sound of an engine that has just died. Time seems to stop and yet accelerate tremendously all at once. The heavy whine as the engine drops from full power to nothing, the propeller windmilling uselessly in the airflow… No, no, bloody hell no! This cannot be happening! I glance in disbelief at the throttle and mixture levers, which I know that I am both holding fully forward anyway. Sheer terror grips me; my God we’re only at 200ft and we’re going to crash! I feel panic overwhelming me, then: Get a f*cking grip man!!!

This blog post about an EFATO in South Africa is not from the pilot’s perspective but nevertheless it is full of detail of the successful landing of a twin missing an engine.
Soaring: EFATO:

He then spoke to Nationwide who said to him we have an emergency. We have lost hydraulics and partial disintegration of our right engine. The traffic controller said it is not part disintegration. The whole engine is lying on the runway.

This article for dealing with an engine failure is aimed at twins but as a single engine pilot I still found it full of interesting details and important advice.
Pelican’s Perch #4:Engine Failure!:

Many GA pilots are confused over just how to handle an engine failure. What is most important? What to do first? What should the step-by-step procedure be? Every book written that I’ve seen is different, every CFI has her own variation, and when the unfortunate Applicant goes up for the Multi-Engine check ride, the Inspector/Examiner is very likely to say “No, no, no, that’s all wrong, here’s what I want to see,” and the poor Applicant learns yet another way to do it during the check ride. There are variations between instructors and check pilots within the same organizations, and very large differences between different companies, even when operating the same type of equipment.

Even highly-experienced pilots will get into heated arguments over this one. My two favorite ways to start a barfight are to ask “What makes lift?” and “What are the best memory items for an engine failure?” Then I sit back, listen quietly, and leave when it gets bloody. Of course, pilots no longer hang out in bars, so this is much less fun these days.

I also enjoyed reading this argument turned discussion of turning back after an EFATO and why it is so easy to get it wrong.
The Pilot’s Lounge #121: The Big Silence After Takeoff:

The horizon seems higher. The ground is nearer — dramatically so. In a turn, the ground is a powerfully close blur of color that is a stunningly integral part of your peripheral vision: It’s right there, bigger than life and, by gawd, it’s going by fast. That’s something one doesn’t experience in normal flight, even when maneuvering steeply at altitude. Up there, the ground is a more remote, abstract concept and it seems to be moving slowly. Down low, with the ground moving fast, and with the groundspeed increasing while the airplane holds a constant speed near the stall and turns from upwind to downwind, even a pilot with low-altitude experience feels the very powerful sensation of the groundspeed increase and tends to unconsciously pull back on the yoke to keep the speed under control (and, sadly, despite all training, to try to keep from going down). What makes it even worse is that, when the nose must be pushed down hard to accelerate to get speed for the flare, all the pilot sees is a windshield full of ground. It takes a lot of training to accept that visual picture long enough to get enough speed to avoid a stall. When experienced for the first time under the massive stress of an engine failure, it is no surprise that the end is almost preordained even for high-time pilots: a stall, with the future existence of the pilot and passengers telescoped to mere seconds.

This Airbum article includes sensible points about making the decision whether to abort a take-off to avoid that low-level engine failure altogether.
Aborts, Go-Arounds And Other Common Sense:

Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules here because every situation is going to be different. However, a couple of concepts do apply. For instance, it’s better to run off the end of the runway with brakes locked and the tires smoking at 20 mph or slide off the end with a curled prop and the gear up than it is to stagger off the end at 100 feet and have the engine quite completely. Yeah, it’s expensive to land and run off the end of the runway but it is almost never fatal. Come down from even 100 feet and chances are, at the very least, you’ll be injured. If you abort and run off the end there will always be the nagging question, “would it have kept running?” If it quits at 100 feet, the question may be “will I ever walk again and did my passengers survive?”

And if that fails, then I’ll be glad if I can remember the points in their article about controlling an unplanned collision with the ground.
Crash Survivability:

Many injuries are the result of getting the airplane too slow while still too far off the ground. The airplane didn’t stall, but the nose was brought up while the airplane was too high and the vertical rate of descent had plenty of time to skyrocket. There is a lot of structure in an airplane to absorb forward impact, but very little that works in the vertical direction.

Rule one in crashing: Fight the urge to pull. Maintain best glide speed until flaring just before impact. Try to make the landing as nearly normal as possible.

And finally, a short clip showing a Tigermoth landing in a field directly after take-off and running into a common field hazard:

Shortly after takeoff, when at approximately 200 ft above ground level, the engine speed dropped to idle. The pilot lowered the nose of the aircraft to maintain flying speed and turned right to land in a suitable field. The aircraft cleared a sturdy barbed wire fence but, as the aircraft touched down, a cow ran under and struck the left wing. The cow was apparently uninjured. Investigation of the aircraft by a local engineer found corrosion debris in the carburettor

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  • Wow. That cow video is amazing. And to think that the plane had enough airspeed to get a little lift there.

    One thought I had about dealing with the nose down attitude for more speed in a failure sitaution. It may help to pratice soft field take-offs. It requires some pressure to keep the nose down before climbing out of ground effect.

    eric robertson´s last blog post..Bird Smells

  • Well, that ties in with the Crash Survivability text where he seems to be saying that a large amount of the damage is caused by the landing plane bleeding off too much speed and falling out of the sky.

  • I’m not a pilot so I may be wrong about this, but it seems to me that an aeroplane without an engine is just a rather poor glider. Therefore flying becomes a matter of managing your kinetic energy. You have gained a certain amount of kinetic energy from whatever speed and height you attained before the engine failed. That’s your energy budget, and that’s all you have to spend to reach a safe landing. You can trade altitude for speed or vice versa, but every second you are in the air costs energy. Every manoeuvre costs additional energy. Turning is expensive because it puts the aircraft into an attitude that increases drag. A sharp 180-degree turn to return to base burns off a huge amount of kinetic energy so it is the most dangerous thing you can do. The least dangerous option is to continue straight ahead with a few minor altitude adjustments to pick your landing spot and avoid obstacles. If that’s not possible the best option is to look around, pick your landing spot, and then make a single precise manoeuvre onto the correct heading. Engine out, think energy.

    • That’s well put, that the turning is expensive. It’s not *always* the wrong answer but then, those pilots who are good enough to manage the turn probably aren’t reading this website. :D

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