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Seven tips for handling a forced landing without power.

Updated: Sep 8, 2022

A sudden loss of power in flight can be a daunting experience and a successful forced landing is not guaranteed.

Practicing engine failure scenarios is an important part of flight training but it can lead to a certain amount of stress and anxiety in students, particularly on their test.

Here are my tips for practice (and real) forced landings.

Tips for a successful forced landing

1. Prioritise your actions

After your instructor pulls the throttle back, the first thing you should do is control your airspeed. You should know the best glide speed for the aeroplane you are flying and adopt it as quickly as possible. Once the best glide speed has been attained, adjust the trim to maintain that speed. This will help you to remain speed stable throughout the rest of the descent.

Student pilots often miss this vital step in a rush to find a field. The longer you are flying at a different speed, the less distance you will be able to glide. Furthermore, not paying attention to airspeed could lead

to a stall.

Here are some best glide speeds for common training aircraft

Ikarus C42 : 58kts

EV-97 Eurostar : 68mph

GT450 : 47mph

Cessna 152 : 60kts

2. Don't look for the perfect field

If you spend too much time deliberating on which field to go for, you will limit your options due to losing height. You will never find a perfect field unless you are within gliding distance of the aerodrome. Your aim is to find a suitable field within gliding distance. Another common error is to only assess fields on your port side (in fixed wing aircraft). Consider options on the instructor's side too.

Pointers for choosing a landing area

  • Is it long enough? (consider corner to corner for extended length)

  • Is it into wind? (within 30deg)

  • Are there any obstacles such as power lines?

  • Are there any obstacles on the late stages of final approach?

  • Is it ploughed? long crops?

  • Are there any livestock or civilians?

  • Is it undulated or sloped?

  • Can I reach it?

  • Is the grass short? (lighter green usually indicates shorter grass)

When your instructor tells you that you are practicing forced landings, you might find yourself looking out of the window constantly for a suitable landing area. How often do you check for a suitable landing area when you are flying normally?

3. Have a plan

Your instructor most likely taught you a method for reaching your chosen field, such as the constant aspect or base leg method. You should try to use this as it will help you plan and adjust your descent and makes a successful outcome more assured.

Sometimes students attempt to pick a field straight ahead of them and fly a straight-in approach. This may work out, but it is more difficult to adjust and assess your glide.

4. Don't get too close to the field

During the constant aspect or base leg method, it is tempting to stay close to the field in order to not give away too much height. This often leads to the pilot being far too high on final approach and they either have to do something drastic to lose height, or they overshoot the field.

If you start to lose sight of your chosen landing area because it is underneath the aircraft, you are way too close.

5. If it isn't going well, put on your captain's hat and do something!

If you choose a field and suddenly realise you can't make it or that it is unsuitable, you should not blindly continue your approach knowing it wont work out. What would you do in a real engine failure situation? You will have to make the best of a bad situation and head for the best area you can make. It is far better to damage the aircraft with a rough landing in a less than perfect field then to stall and crash. It is probably a good idea to vocalise what you are thinking to your instructor.

Your instructor will probably let you descend as far as possible providing he/she has a suitable landing area in mind and is not breaking any low flying rules.

6. Know the best options around your home airfield

It is a good idea to know which fields are the best in case of a forced landing after take off or in the circuit at your home airfield. This way, if it happens for real, you will waste less time selecting a field and can concentrate on the glide.

Know which areas are best for a forced landing near your aerodrome
Know which areas are best for a forced landing near your aerodrome

7. Don't try to stretch the glide

If you find yourself short on final approach, it is futile to pull back on the stick and try to stretch out the glide. This will only slow you down and you will still come down before the field. If you can't make it at the best glide speed, you can't make it. Refer to step five!

Order of priorities in the event of a sudden loss of power.

1. Control airspeed and adopt best glide

2. Assess the surface wind

3. Make a plan/pick a field

4. Make mayday call

5. Attempt restart/diagnose

6. Prepare for a forced landings with TIFS

  • Throttle - closed

  • Ignitions - off

  • Fuel - off

  • Security - fasten harnesses, brief passenger, prepare the cockpit for a forced landing

You should only attempt stages four, five and six if you have sufficient time.

Are you a student pilot working towards your licence?

Take a look at our online ground school, audio courses and practice exams. We have tailor-made products for light aircraft, helicopter and microlight students. Click here for more information.


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