Aviation makes us mission-minded. The whole point of these flying machines is to go somewhere and do something, even if that’s just practice following little black lines on the iPad so we can make pretty pictures on FlightAware.
That’s what makes practicing emergency returns so important and so frustrating. It’s not fair having something go wrong right after you enter the clouds. You were thinking way ahead of the airplane—but it wasn’t this scenario you were anticipating. It probably should be, so let’s do some flights that end before they get started.
You’ll need to set up failures. If you can’t set the failure to happen automatically, just do your best to create the failure on the fly, but try not to pause the sim too long.
(Sim Challenges are often more about your procedures and your thought processes than physical skills. So, you should carefully consider each one before flying it. In fact, you might do better with a thorough arm-chair session before trying it in the sim. Good luck.)
Start on the ramp at Yellowstone, Regional (KCOD) in Cody, WY. Before you dial in some low IFR, set the weather for clear and take a look around the virtual world. Nice mountains, eh? Now make them go away with ceilings at 750 feet AGL and visibility of one mile. Make the winds 320 @ 6 at the surface, but crank ’em up to 320 @ 30 by 8000 MSL.
Set up your avionics as if you were heading down V319 toward Worland. You won’t make it that far, but this exercise works best if you set up your panel as you would to make a complete trip, especially if your primary navigation is GPS. (Who’s isn’t?)
Assume you got cleared as filed and make the long taxi to Runway 22. Before you depart though, call up failures on your sim and set your vacuum system (or attitude indicator if it’s a digital panel) to fail at 6600 MSL (or as close as you can make that happen).
Launch, climb, and … deal with it. Return to Cody partial panel.
An Abundance of Caution
Of course, problems don’t restrict themselves to mountain airports with high MEAs and few options. Reposition yourself to the heartland at Elkhart Municipal (KEKM) in Elkhart, IN. Pick a normally-aspirated bird you like to fly. Set the ceilings for stratus clouds down to 300 AGL and keep the visibility at a mile. Winds light-to-moderate out of the south as you see fit. Figure out how you’d fly up to Green Bay, WI, presuming you think over-water routes are only for those with death wishes or turbine power hanging off each wing.
Winds are light and you’re westbound, so Ground kindly sends you to Runway 27. Tower instructs you to fly runway heading and clears you for takeoff—but before you go, get a timer going with a one-minute countdown you can repeat each time it goes off. Now pour on the coals and depart.
At 1500 feet MSL, reduce power by one inch of MP, or 100 RPM if your sim lacks a prop control, and start that timer. Return to the ground safely on an approach, but every time that one-minute timer goes off, reduce power by another inch (or 100 RPM) and reset the timer. In the real world, you’d have ATC vectors for this emergency. You’ll have to do your best to self vector with the moving map today.
Let’s see … that’s probably 28 inches at 1500 feet when you start. In eight minutes, you’ll be down to 20 inches and might be able to hold altitude. Five minutes after that you’d better be lined up with a runway, because you’ll be coming down pretty fast. Probably faster than you can hold a three-degree glidepath.
A Possible Turn
Last one and the most feared: Total engine failure in IMC. Set the fail-o-matic for complete engine failure at 1000 feet. MSL? AGL? Whichever, because you’ll put yourself at Lakefront Airport (KNEW) in New Orleans, LA.
Set the ceiling at 300 feet, the visibility at 3/4 miles, and the winds for 120 at 12. Yeah, that’s right. Winds from the southeast. Did you think you’d get to return over Lake Pontchartrain? Nah, there are no obstructions there. But you’ll make a nice splash if you over shoot, even left or right. Set yourself up as you see fit for any flight that would take you east and check the departure procedure to see what heading you fly after liftoff.
Taxi for Runway 18R. Depart. When the engine fails, count to five—that’s your reaction time for the unexpected—and then turn back to land. Hopefully that landing will even be on an airport.
If you’re successful, dial down the failure altitude until it can’t be done.
How’d You Do?
And how many tries did it take you to survive these? If the answers are, “No problem,” and, “Well, just one, of course,” then don’t bother with any more of these sim challenges. (Wanna write some for us?) If, however, you struggled like the rest of us, congratulations. Now, answer these questions to see if you considered everything.
1. You flew the KCOD ODP, right? What’s the climb speed for your airplane? Can you maintain that? How did you let ATC know you would fly the ODP?
2. If you used a GPS for the departure, how did you set it up?
3. How high are the ceilings for the VCOA? What do you do on the VCOA when you go IMC?
4. Which approach did you use to get back into Cody, the VOR-A or the RNAV Rwy 22? Did you use the autopilot?
5. Leaving KEKM if you had been given “on departure, fly heading 330,” when would you turn? Also: Could you have requested a departure from Runway 26?
6. What approach did you prepare for, and was it RNAV or ILS? What approach did you fly after the problem materialized? Could ATC help if you were so focused on the emergency you didn’t have time to call up an approach chart?
7. How did you handle vertical guidance given your engine problem? How could you stay high as long as practical without risking an overrun?
8. How’d you handle horizontal guidance back to KNEW? What could you have done to make it easier?
9. How did you handle vertical guidance?
10. How low could you lose the engine and still reach pavement? Any way to stretch the glide to the runway?
Your Plan, and the Other Plan
The real takeaway from this sim challenge is that the fickle finger of fate can necessitate Plan B before you even get rolling on Plan A. So … plan accordingly.
And since you crashed somewhere in New Orleans by the time this was over, go get yourself a nice bourbon. You’ve earned it.
Jeff Van West has yet to experience New Orleans bourbon, be it the drink or the street. He did buy a motorcycle in New Orleans once. He couldn’t resist. It was British racing green.