Forced Landings II

In which I try more forced landings, add some checklists, make a (simulated) mayday call and give a vague pax brief.


The plan for today’s mission was to continue working on forced landings, this time adding in the various things to distract you from flying the plane.

I preflighted 4964 then J and I stole the Boss’s office for the briefing.

So, as I said, today we were going to introduce all the things to distract you from flying the aircraft during a forced landing – namely checklists, radio calls and pax briefs.

Steps of a forced landing:

  1. “Oh Shit”
  2. Get to glide speed – 65kts – trim!
  3. Check for smoke
  4. Plan approach
  5. Monitor approach

So you’re zooming along happily and your engine fails. First – “oh shit”. Then get trim the aircraft into the glide attitude and get to glide speed which in the Jab is 65kts. Thirdly, look behind you and check if you’re trailing smoke. If you are, you’re on fire which is a whole new set of problems. If not, yay you’re not on fire, continue with the forced landing. Pick your field, plan your approach and monitor the approach as you go through the checklists etc.

The first set of checks are the ‘Initial Emergency Checks’ (aka the ‘F*ck Up checks’) – these checks fix things that the pilot may have done to mess up the engine (pilot error). In 90% of cases this will fix your engine and you can head back to the airfield and land and have nothing worse happen than you feeling like a complete idiot. There are a number of different mnemonics for these but J just teaches it as a left to right scan of the panel – basically you just work your way across the panel checking that everything in fine.

Things to check:

  • Mags on
  • Master on
  • Fuel pump on
  • Fuel tap on
  • Carby heat on
  • Ts & Ps

It’s important to not forget to check the temperatures and pressures (Ts & Ps). For example, if you have low oil pressure and high oil temperature, that means that you’re about to run out of oil (or have run out) and sometime (very) soon the engine will seize up and stop working completely.

Hopefully these initial checks will fix the problem. If not, continue the forced landing. Monitor your approach and make sure that you’re still on target for your 1000ft point.

If you have time, you then try the next stage of checks – the FMOST checks. First is fuel – check if you have any, check that the fuel pump is on and check that the fuel tap is on. Next is mixture – completely irrelevant in the Jab – but in an aircraft with mixture try cycling through the mixture (off to full rich) to see if there’s a spot where the engine works. O is for oil – check Ts and Ps, although there isn’t exactly anything you can do about it if there is a problem. S is switches – check that they’re all on and cycle through the mags to see if one mag is causing the problem and the engine runs fine on the other. T is throttle – cycle through the throttle (open and close it) to see if there’s a spot where the engine works. If none of these checks fix the engine (and they’re most likely to just confirm why the engine snuffed it in the first place), you’re going down.

Now that you’ve confirmed you’re on your way down, don’t forget to monitor the approach and check that you’re still on target for your 1000ft point.

If you have time, this is the point where you make a Mayday radio call. You can make it on the local CTAF frequency but there’s no guarantee that there’ll be anyone out there to hear you. A better idea is to change to the Melbourne Radar Frequency – 135.7. Contrary to popular opinion (and the movies), ATC can’t do anything to help you if you make a mayday call – legally, they cannnot give you any advice/suggestions about trying to fix the problem. They can do things like give information about weather or closest airfield or get another aircraft out of your way, but they can’t offer advice about fixing the problem. If they respond to your call, all they will do is confirm how many people are on board (basically checking so they know how many bodies to look for!). Since the mayday call essentially won’t do that much to help (except tell people how many bodies to look for and where to look for them…) then you only do it if you have time and always remember that flying the aircraft if your first priority. You can also change your transponder code to the distress code – this will show on the radar screens that there is an aircraft in distress – this code is 7700 (“77 going to heaven”).

Then, again only if you have time, you can give a quick briefing to your passengers, to reassure them. Since they’ll most likely be panicking at this point (and thinking that you’re both most certainly going to die) then it’s probably a good idea to just quickly tell them that you’re done it before in training or something to calm them down a bit. If you don’t have time though, then don’t bother, the pax are the lowest priority.

By this time you should’ve reached your 1000ft point. Now it becomes a normal glide approach down to the field. There’s a final set of checks to do if you have time – BUSH. Brakes off, undercarriage down, switches off (to reduce chance of fire after landing). H is for hatches and harnesses – harnesses done up tightly and doors open. It’s possible that the airframe may suffer some damage during landing that would mean that you would be unable to open the doors – if you open them before landing (they’ll only open about an inch or so because of slipstream and won’t affect the aerodynamics or glide that much) then it makes it far more likely that you’ll be able to get out of the aircraft after the landing.

Having gone through all that, it was time to head out and have a crack at it. I taxiied us to 36 and did the takeoff. There was a fairly strong headwind today which made the Jab climb a lot quicker than usual, although it also made things fairly bouncy. It also made it quite difficult to attempt to get the aircraft to the glide speed – in this situation we trimmed for the glide attitude and didn’t try to chase the airspeed (which, in the turbulence, would have been impossible).

We reached the field we were going to use (the same strip as last time, the one with the cows on it) and J took control to demonstrate the first approach. The approach definitely seemed to take a lot less time now that you had some much more to do during that time.

Then it was my turn to have a try. I ‘lost’ my engine, trimmed to the glide attitude and started the approach. I went through the intial checks and pretended that they didn’t work. I monitored the approach, turned slightly, then went through the FMOST checks which I also pretended didn’t work. Oh dear, we were going down.

Since I had time, I did a simulated Mayday call (after a warning from J “do NOT push the button!“).

Mayday, Mayday, Mayday
4964, 4964, 4964
We have an engine failure, just north of Steel’s Hill, landing in a field

Since we had a bit more time and weren’t at the 1000ft point yet, J decided to pretend to be a panicking passenger. He was like “I’m a passenger and I’m panicking. Ahhh!”. It’s a good thing I could only see him out of my peripheral vision, otherwise I think I would’ve been laughing too hard to do the pax brief. As it was, I sounded far too amused considering the situation I was meant to be pretending we were in. I gave a fairly vague brief – “Don’t worry I’ve done this lots of times and haven’t crashed once!” (reassurance fail huh). Clearly I need to think of a slightly more reassuring brief!

By now we’d reached the 1000ft point and it became a normal glide approach. I turned towards the field, nearly forgot to do the BUSH checks, and, after deciding we’d make the field, we powered up and went around.

There wasn’t time to try another approach today, since the Jabs climb fairly slowly, so we headed back to the airfield. Happily I managed to find my way back by myself (yay!) and rejoined the circuit on crosswind. I did a flapless approach and while I wouldn’t say it was my best landing, it wasn’t too bad (there was a slight thump but not half as bad as some of the previous landings I’ve done!).

I taxiied us back, past a bunch of people standing around (J gave them a thumbs up, I’m not sure if it was to say Hi or to say ‘It’s all good, she hasn’t killed me yet!’) and parked it back in the usual spot.

Next mission we’re going to do one approach to the same field we’ve been using and then start moving around the training area and picking random fields, so we’re also going to look at field selection etc. Hopefully the weather cooperates!


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