The Engine Quit – Do Not Push!

A strong, healthy bounce is part of every tailwheel pilot’s learning experience from the school of hard knocks. The lesson to be learned is, do not push. It is one of my two rules for tailwheel pilots: Do not push and never lift a wing to windward. Those rules derive from flying fundamentals, and because they are “fundamental”, they have broad application.
A strong, healthy bounce is part of every tailwheel pilot’s learning experience from the school of hard knocks. The lesson to be learned is, do not push. It is one of my two rules for tailwheel pilots: Do not push and never lift a wing to windward. Those rules derive from flying fundamentals, and because they are “fundamental”, they have broad application.
An article in a popular flying magazine recounted a pilot’s reaction following the loss of engine power immediately after lift off from the runway. There were no injuries in the resulting “crash landing”, but the airplane was heavily damaged. The point of the story was to illustrate the importance of training for an emergency. The pilot is certain that his training and his reaction to “push the nose down” was key in his survival of the accident. This pilot, like many pilots, including myself, was taught to aggressively push the nose down when the engine quits. After I became a tailwheel pilot and developed some airmanship shills, I questioned that advice. As a flight instructor teaching airmanship, I strongly recommend that “pushing the nose down” is seldom if ever a good reaction to a flight attitude.

The broad principle that airplanes are stable in flight offers good guidance for a pilot’s use of the controls, especially in reaction to an emergency. Airplanes know angle of attack, and because of their inherent stability they do not stall. (Pilots make airplanes stall,) Because of its stability on the lateral axis, an airplane will make appropriate attitude adjustment to maintain the trimmed to angle of attack. In contrast, the pilot will most likely over-control when reacting to a changing attitude. The pilot does not know angle of attack. Instead pilots frequently focus on airspeed and do not realize that airplanes can stall at any airspeed.

When instructing pilots on recovering unusual attitudes, reacting to loss of engine at low altitude and even accomplishing that preverbal impossible turn, I challenge pilots with those emergency situations, and their most common reaction is to push the nose down. That action inevitably results in excessive loss of altitude, pilot over-control and greatly increased probability of a stall as the pilot continues to manipulate the controls.

When dealing with an engine failure on take-off and nose high unusual attitudes in general, pilots can learn from a tailwheel pilot’s skill in recovery from a bounce:
• Unload the elevator (relax your grip) and allow airplane to go ballistic.
• Airplane will not stall.
• What goes up will come down. During its ballistic flight path, the airplane will adjust and establish the proper angle of attack. In the case of a loss of engine on take-off, like a bounce, the pilot should use pressure to maintain a landing attitude and control rate of descent.

A pilot’s good airmanship skill includes using an airplane’s inherent stability to maintain angle of attack at trimmed attitude. Fly with pressure and a light touch on the controls. Practice flying with your hands off the controls to learn what a “light touch” actually feels like, and how the airplane will adjust to a change in angle of attack. Practice turns, climbs, descents and stall recovery with power off (engine at idle) and minimal, if any, use of the elevator.

This month’s featured video, Airmanship – Mastering Aircraft Control, is a good review for pilots concerned about their critical stick and rudder skills. click to watch

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