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What to Know about No-Power Landings

The dead-stick, or no-power landing is something pilots are trained to do, but never want to experience. Here’s an overview of what to do and know in case an engine failure occurs and you have to do an emergency approach and no-power landing, courtesy of flyingmag.com.

It’s rare, but it does happen

While the chances of a small aircraft experiencing an engine failure are small (provided the plane is maintained and flown properly), it can and does happen.

Running out of fuel is a primary cause — planes crash almost twice per week because they run out of fuel, according to Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.

Wildlife strikes are another leading cause, with Canadian geese, vultures, and white-tailed deer being the primary culprits. For these and other reasons, it is important that small aircraft pilots practice emergency approaches and no-power landings.

Pilots will recall that emergency approaches are required to obtain their private pilot certificate, but demonstrating an ability to perform a precision landing without engine power is only required for a commercial certificate.

The power-off, 180-degree accuracy approach and landing was added to the Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards in 2002. Applicants must fly from an altitude of 1,000 feet AGL or less on downwind to a preselected point on the runway, or no more than 200 feet beyond that point at idle power. This is a tough maneuver to get right, but excellent practice for a no-power landing.

Hopefully, you will never need to utilize this skill in a real-world emergency, but if it happens, you’ll be relieved that you put hours into practicing dead-stick landings in various conditions.

Glide speed and ratio

In a no-power landing situation, the best glide speed will maximize your time aloft, giving you as much time as possible to target a runway or off-airport landing site, and circle to land at that spot. You should target the best glide speed as soon as power is lost to give yourself the maximum amount of time to troubleshoot and get to the best spot for landing. However, targeting best glide speed may not be the best technique once you get closer to the ground.

Also, know the aircraft’s glide ratio — the ratio of horizontal distance traveled to vertical distance descended. For example, a paper airplane travels 30 feet for every five feet it falls. Its glide ratio — 30 divided by 5 — is 6.

Factors that affect glide ratio

There are many factors that affect a plane’s glide ratio. If you fly an airplane with a constant-speed propeller, you may be surprised at the amount of drag produced by the high-pitch angle of the propeller with the power at idle and how bringing the prop control back will affect your glide range.

You should also know how much drag the landing gear and flaps will add. In many cases, the first notch or two of flaps adds more lift than drag.

Another factor to consider with higher-powered airplanes, particularly if you lose the engine during the climb, is that you may need to lower the nose quickly to get to the best glide speed and away from the stall. You lose airspeed quickly once all that power is gone.

IP points and key positions

Rather than target the runway itself, glider pilots are taught to target an initial point (IP), a visual reference point from which to begin the final approach. The IP may be over the glider point or at a location near or in the traffic pattern.

Military pilots often use key positions, which is similar to the IP concept. With key positions, there is a high key position, right over the approach end of the runway, where a pilot will make a constant 360-degree turn.

The 180-degree position is called low key, and that is probably going to be 1,200 to 1,500 feet. Be sure to know what your high key altitude is and what your low key altitude is for your particular airplane because, if you're approaching a runway and get down to an altitude that is below high key, you won’t be able to make a whole 360-degree turn, and will have to go for your low key position.

The best way to determine your high and low key positions is through practice or by flying with an instructor who is familiar with no-power landings in your airplane type. One no-power landing expert recommends that you find out the minimum altitude you can lose during a 180-degree turn with no power and then double that altitude for a comfortable altitude to start from abeam the runway on downwind.

Since the most critical phase of the no-power approach is from the low key position to the runway, it is worth practicing these procedures in the pattern as often as you can.

Again, this is a brief overview of no-power landing safety techniques. We recommend you contact a no-power landing instructor and discuss the best strategy and what to know regarding your particular aircraft.

Source: Flyingmag.com, “Mastering No-Power Approaches”

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