Forced Landings and Circuits

In which I learn the basic theory behind forced landings but don’t get to do any and do a few circuits to ensure I don’t forget how to land.


The plan for today was to start looking at forced landings.

I arrived, preflighted 5231 and then wandered back inside for the briefing.

Rather than looking at all the elements of a forced landing in one mission, we were going to look at forced landings over 3 lessons and build up the elements as we go. Today, we were just going to look at the very basic elements.

There are lots of different methods out there for doing forced landings. Apparantly some are good and some are terrible. J said this method was taught to him by instructors who trained Air Force pilots and he’s had a couple of engine failures and has tested the method so he knows it works and he’s teaching it on to me. Awesome.

So, there you are, zooming along happily at 3500ft when it happens – your engine coughs and dies. First thing you do: go “oh shit”, get that out of the way then get down to work.

The next thing you do is get the aircraft to the best glide speed as soon as possible. In the J160, the best glide speed is 65kts. There are two ways of getting the speed down to best glide. The first is to hold your height and just let the speed wash off. The second is to climb the plane – ‘zoom it up’ – which will reduce the speed and also give you a little more altitude to play with. This second method is better for aircraft where there is a large difference in the cruise speed and the glide speed. In the Jab the cruise speed is around 90kts or so and the glide speed is 65kts so there isn’t much difference so the first method, just holding current height and waiting for speed to wash off, is generally the better one to use. So, after your engine failure, just hold your height, let the speed wash off down to 65kts then put the nose in the glide attitude – which in the Jab is just above straight & level attitude. In most aircraft the glide attitude would be below the S&L attitude but the Jabs are just odd.

After reaching best glide speed, you need to TRIM. It’s must easier to keep the glide speed when you have the aircraft in trim and easier to deal with the rest of the things you need to do during a forced landing when you don’t have to worry about the attitude. So TRIM!!


  1. “Oh Shit”
  2. Get to glide speed – 65kts
  3. Trim!!!

Then, you need to head for a field. With this method, you generally want to pick one right on your left, pretty much right next to you.

Having chosen your field, you want to glide down past it, do a gentle gliding turn around it and glide back down the other side. You pick a point roughly at the end of your field which is the point where you want to hit 1000ft AGL (so if you estimate that the field is at 300ft elevation, you want the altimeter to say 1300ft etc).

When you hit your 1000ft point (hopefully at 1000ft), it’s basically a normal glide approach – aim for the field and use S-turn/flaps/sideslip to get down to the field.

My attempt to replicate the whiteboard diagram in MS Paint...

J also spent a while emphasising that, when you have an engine failure, no matter what, FLY THE AIRCRAFT! Apparantly there’s a fair few people out there who crashed after engine failures simply because they got distracted by doing everything else (trying to restart the engine etc) and forgot to actually fly the aircraft. One example he used was Eastern Airlines Flight 401 where the aircraft crashed because the two pilots and the Flight Engineer got distracted by the fact that one of the lightbulbs indicating that the landing gear was down and locked had blown. Always remember that the first priority is to fly the aircraft.

So our plan for today was to head out to a private strip in the training area, use that as our ‘field’ and practice flying this pattern around it.

We headed out to 5231, I taxiied us to 18 and did the takeoff. As we climbed we quickly discovered that the clouds were too low for us to go up to 3500ft so J would do a demo from about 3000ft but I wouldn’t get to have a go today.

J took control to demonstrate a forced landing. We picked a random field (since somebody else was using the strip we were going to use) and chose a spot just beyond the end of the field on the left hand corner as our 1000ft point. Estimating that the field was at about 300ft elevation, we wanted to reach out 1000ft point with 1300ft on the altimeter. I know that we’re not adding in the extra parts yet (such as radio call, pax brief, engine re-start checklist etc) but it seemed a lot…easier…than I was expecting. Although, instructors make pretty much everything look easy so I have a feeling that it won’t seem so ‘easy’ when I have to try! Anyway, the demo worked, we would’ve made the field and lived (yay!) so we powered up. Since there was still a fair bit of cloud we decided to head back to the airfield and do a couple of circuits (so I don’t forget how to land now I’m not doing it 7+ times a lesson…)

I had to make the inboud radio call for the first time. J told me that we were 3 miles to the north east (so I didn’t need to have the fun of calculating that today as well, happily).

Lilydale Traffic
Jabiru 5231
3 miles to the north-east, inbound, one thousand three hundred

I can’t say it was the best radio call I’d ever made (had a slight pause while I tried to remember what compass bearing we were on) but I think I managed to avoid confusing anybody else!

We joined the circuit on crosswind, me making the joining crosswind call successfully.

The first circuit was a flapless approach. I decided we were a bit low on final (nearly at 500ft and not over the treeline about 100m or so from the threshold of 18R – the normal threshold not the displaced threshold), I usually like to be at 500ft around the threshold or just before, so we were definitely lower than usual. To counteract this I gave it a fair chunk of power, so we weren’t sinking so much but were a little faster than usual – at 80kts rather than 70kts. I preferred to be faster than lower though, especially with the treeline coming up. We cleared the trees and I reduced the power slightly, although we were still faster than I would’ve liked. I got it down to the runway but we landed with slightly more of a bump than I expected. J didn’t comment though so I’m assuming it was all fine. I think I controlled the approach pretty well and corrected the sink so I’m not displeased with it.

I dropped half flap, powered up and we were off on the next circuit. This circuit J pulled the power on downwind for a glide approach. I turned towards the threshold straight away but had some problems trying to get down to glide speed (65kts). I think I spent a little long trying to sort that out and didn’t start dealing with the height soon enough. I did an S-turn to line up on 18R and J suggested full flap and a sideslip. Considering we were pretty high when we went over the threshold of the runway, I managed to get it down pretty well and it was a pretty smooth landing too. We needed power to taxi-off the runway, which was good since it meant that I controlled it well enough that we weren’t going to go heading off into the road at the threshold of 36! J said that I need to be more descisive when it comes to doing glide approaches – it’s better to do something and make the wrong decision, which you can do something to correct, than do nothing – a decision may not be right but indecision will get you killed.

Next lesson we’re going to have another crack at trying to practice forced landings – hopefully there are no clouds on Saturday! I’m going interstate on Sunday for 3 weeks so I booked my lessons for March (only 3 unfortunately) and April (2 per week). For the next while J isn’t going to be working on Wednesdays or Thursdays (I was like ‘Are you moonlighting?’ :P) so my plan to do 3 lessons per week is slightly messed up. I’m thinking of missing 1 hour of lectures on Fridays for a few weeks (just until end of April, so only about 3-4 times) to get some extra time in, now it’s just a matter of convincing my parents that it’s a good idea… I had a vague goal of having my certificate by the last weekend in April, whether or not that happens is another matter! I just have to hope the weather is kind to me I think!


8 Responses to Forced Landings and Circuits

  1. DavidOptimal says:

    Hi! Good job writing the blog, I like it 😀

    I have an objection about the high key / low key (ie. fiddling with the altimeter) glide approach… When you find yourself above terrain where you don’t know the elevation THEN you’re going to say “oh shit”!
    Every airplane has a gliding range (10:1, 12:1 or so) and you can determine on the ground how the glide profile would look out of the window. In all low wing airplanes it’s following the imaginary line that goes from your eyes to 1/3 the wing from the tip. Anything that you can see as being further away from 1/3 from the wingtip is out of gliding range. In high wing airplanes you can normally work out something with the wing strut, usually the point is 1/3 the wingstrut from the top.
    This way, momentarily leveling the wings, you will know at every point of the approach if you are still within gliding range of your field. And this is totally independent from your altitude or the field elevation.

    Maybe you should have a chat with your instructor and perhaps ask him to teach you both ways so you can decide for yourself which one you think is safer 😉

    Have a good one, and high flying!



    • Darky says:

      Hi there!

      It’s a good point and I’ll definitely remember your idea 🙂

      The method I’m being taught doesn’t really seem (to me) to be a traditional ‘high key/low key’ approach as outlined in the textbooks. That method seems to involve a more square circuit and saying ‘you need to be at 2500ft about 1km from your aim point in this direction’ then ‘you need to be at 1500ft about 1km from your aim point in this other direction’ then you fly a normal(ish) base/final leg…so sorta more like a normal circuit. This method I’ve attempted to describe is a bit different, it’s more about choosing where you want to be at 1000ft (so sort of a ‘low key’ I guess) but other than that it’s basically doing a gentle gliding turn around the field and monitoring your descent (but without saying ‘I must be at 2500ft HERE’). I agree without knowing the elevation then it’s harder to know how high you are but I guess most pilots could at least roughly guess when they’re at about circuit height. Then, once you hit your 1000ft point (hopefully at 1000ft) it becomes a normal glide approach.

      I think I’m discovering that even though I know what I’m trying to say, I’m not so good at putting it into words (good thing I’m not planning on being an instructor huh!). Don’t forget though that 1. I haven’t done a practice forced landing myself yet (only seen one done) and 2. we haven’t covered all the theory yet – so I’m guessing that I’ll be able to explain what’s going on better once I’ve tried one myself! 😛

  2. Nick says:

    Hey Darky, great blog post as always.

    Definitely ditch the hour of lectures in favour of flying. I’ve got a couple of weeks off work at the moment and am flying twice a day weather permitting. The progress so far is substantial and I wish I could have done it earlier.

    I have found forced landings to be a great mental workout and it really stretched both my flying and reasoning skills. I managed to get a little airsick earlier this week doing them in rather turbulent conditions, so there’s a first. A good experience though!


    • Darky says:

      I just need to convince my parents about the lectures 😛 (They’re paying for uni so they do have some say…) People keep telling me to just not tell them that I’m missing lectures but the problem with that is that I’d get home and want to say ‘Guess what we did in my flying lesson this morning!’ so sooner or later I’d give it away 😛

  3. Corey says:


    The crash you talk about above (Eastern 401) was covered in an Air Crash Investigation ep;

    Enjoy! Just getting my way through Ice Pilots right now. Not a bad show, only a few pilot nerdgasms per episode, though. Mostly about the people/stories/rampies.

  4. GraemeK says:

    re lessons – have you thought about trying one of the other instructors when Jeremy is not available?

    I know it can be difficult when you have built up a lot of trust with your instructor, but I now fly with both Kerry and Craig after having done all my earlier stuff with only one instructor. I find having two different people has helped me – each picks up on slightly different things, or has slightly different ways of helping you overcome problems in your flying – so might be worth considering.

    Another advantage of having had several fly with you is then there’s usually at least one person there who can sign you out solo.

    • Darky says:

      Well, I wouldn’t mind flying with Jono once or twice… 😉 *cough*

      (In all seriousness, it’s a good suggestion and I’ll definitely have a think about it)

  5. Tim says:

    I completely agree with ‘GraemeK’s’ advice about utilizing more than one instructor. I’ve had about 6~ throughout my licenses, and each of them add different perspectives/advice. I believe I’ve learn a lot more than I would have with just sticking with the single instructor.
    Remember, you’re the one paying them, so it’s your choice if you decide to ‘try’ a different instructor if your normal one isn’t available 🙂

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