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Thursday, 9 October 2014

Emergency Procedures

After practising circuits, this time we'll look at what to do when the engine stops mid-flight. Not that that happens so often, but should it ever happen, it's good to know upfront what to expect, and what to do (or not do!)
There are two low-flying areas in the neighbourhood of Lelystad Airport, where it is allowed to fly lower than the minimum VFR altitude of 500 ft over uninhabited terrain. One is located a few miles to the south of the airport, the other is located between the cities of Deventer and Zutphen (south of Teuge Airport, EHTE).
While driving to the airport, the entire southern part of the polder it is located in is covered in mist. Visibility varies between 200 m and 1000 m, but no more than that! For a moment, it looked like it was going to be a no-go that day. But north of the "Knardijk" (a dike that divides the polder in two more or less equal parts), the weather was all clear. There were some Cumulonimbus (CB) clouds, which looked very active, and high, so the chances of thunderstorms and turbulence were high. Better stay well clear of those clouds...

I arrive early, as usual. So I have plenty of time to set up my camera and headset, so I can re-play today's flight, and maximise the learning experience. I also take the opportunity to try out my new photo camera on our Piper Arrow II, PH-KAX, which is taxiing out for an hour of local flight. While I'm at it, I re-do a shot I made with my previous camera already: the cockpit of my plane. In my previous shot, the fuel selector and parking brake lever were not in view, so I corrected that. :)

We start the lesson off with an extensive briefing on the do's and don'ts in case of an engine failure at reasonable altitude. First check the essentials: Carb-heat on, fuel pump on, switch the fuel selector, and try to start again. If that does not do the trick right away, then assume the engine is not coming back to life, so you switch off those fuel supplying bits: pump off, fuel selector to "close" position. Next is to place an emergency call, find a field (long enough, no obstacles, preferably in to the wind), and land there, as controlled, yet low-speed as possible. You do that by making sure you enter a shortened glide-in circuit from 1000 ft, with the 1000 ft point at the beginning of your field, on the downwind leg. Of course, this all is only possible when starting the whole exercise at high enough altitude. When faced with an engine failure at low altitudes, the order of priorities "Aviate, Navigate, Communicate" kicks in. First and foremost: you fly the plane. Preferably going exactly there where you want it to go. And if time allows for it, you could tell Air Traffic Control of your intentions. If you get to that point, you definitely stand a better chance of receiving help soon(er). Moments before the actual landing, you also should switch off all electrical systems by disconnecting the battery and generator (the red double switch on the dashboard). This minimises the chance of electrical fire / sparks (low priority item).

So it's time to give it a try. We decide to fly off in a south-easterly direction, towards Harderwijk, and see what the weather looks like in the direction of Teuge. If it still looks too convective, we might consider the low flying area in the polder (although there are a bunch of new windmills there, limiting the "into the wind" bit significantly), if visibility looks OK. We are in luck, the visibility has grown to well over 10 km, and the activity of CB's has just moved north of Harderwijk. So Deventer it is! Passing well clear of Teuge Airport (Gliders, Parajumping) to the IJssel river, then follow that river south, while climbing to 2500 ft.
Then, when Piet pulls back the throttle, I get a little over-excited. Right away, my view goes outside to the ground, to pick a suitable field. Fortunately, I realise soon enough that there is enough time to go through the drills. While slowing down to the best glide speed (airspeed at which you reach the furthest, gliding down) at 2500 ft, some time passes. Then, lower the nose a little and trim to maintain that speed while descending slowly, results in a descend rate of about 400 to 500 ft per minute. That gives a total of more than 5 minutes from engine failure at 2500 ft to touch down. That is quite a lot! Even worse: in all 5 of my attempts to glide in to a field, I had to re-choose my field, because I was going to overshoot it. Man, does that Aquila glide well! This is obviously something I need to grow more feeling for :)
Subsequent tries all were from a lower altitude: some 1500 ft; so about 1 minute until reaching the 1000 ft point. That goes at the expense of practising the restart procedure, and the emergency call, but it does mean at least one extra glide-in - and that's where I need to get better.

We'll be practising this some more in the next few lessons, but now it's time to head back to Lelystad. I follow the IJssel river back north, and turn west well clear of Teuge airport again. We fly over the camping where my wife and her parents are, on to Harderwijk. Back at Lelystad, I do 2 touch and goes, and of course one full stop landing. I am finally getting the hang of the speed control in the circuit, and that leads to near-perfect landings :)
So a little honing of my speed control, and a good deal of practising emergency landings, and I am ready for my first solo! Getting there... ;)

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