Flight log

Hours 15 & 16: Glide approaches and engine emergencies

Today's flights included simulated emergencies (such as discontinued takeoffs and power loss after takeoff), flapless approaches, tower lights signalling, and complete "door to door" video recordings for the first time. There was plenty of opportunity to practice regular circuit patterns.

Emergency procedures

Emergency procedures are specific sets of actions that pilots and crew follow to safely handle unexpected or dangerous situations during flight. They're designed to minimize risk and ensure the safety of everyone on board.

In Hours 15 and 16 I practiced some of the procedures I describe below.

Engine Failure on Takeoff

In this situation, the engine fails shortly after the aircraft has taken off but hasn't gained much altitude. The standard procedure involves lowering the nose to maintain airspeed and executing a forced landing straight ahead or within 30 degrees of the nose's direction.

In-Flight Engine Failure

Here, the engine fails while the aircraft is at cruising altitude. The first steps usually involve attempting to restart the engine. If that fails, the pilot looks for a suitable area to perform a forced landing.

Fire On Board

Fire can occur in the engine or inside the cabin. The procedures for engine fire include shutting down the engine, cutting off its fuel supply, and using onboard fire extinguishers. Pilots typically use portable fire extinguishers for cabin fires while initiating an emergency descent.

Loss of Electrical Power

Losing electrical power can compromise navigational and communication equipment. The basic procedure here is first to check circuit breakers and then switch to backup systems or alternate methods of navigation and communication.

Fuel Emergency

Running low on fuel is a critical situation. The pilot must declare a fuel emergency and divert to the nearest suitable airport. Landing is executed using minimal power to conserve remaining fuel.

Control Surface Malfunction

This occurs when the ailerons, rudder, or elevators fail. To maneuver the aircraft, the pilot must rely on secondary control techniques, such as varying engine power.

Pilot Incapacitation

If a pilot becomes incapacitated, another qualified person may need to take control of the aircraft. Immediate landing at the nearest suitable airport is the general procedure.

Icing Conditions

Ice accumulating on the wings can significantly degrade performance. The initial steps involve activating the aircraft's deicing systems and changing altitude or course to exit the icing conditions. Flying in Australia's mid-east, it is very unlikely that I will ever face this situation.

Loss of Cabin Pressure

In the event of cabin depressurization, pilots put on oxygen masks and initiate an emergency descent to a lower altitude where breathable air is available. Luckily, the Cessna 172 does not have a pressurized cabin, so one less thing to worry about.

Hydraulic System Failure

A failure in the hydraulic systems affects control surfaces and landing gear. Manual backups or alternative procedures are initiated to land the aircraft safely. In Cessna 172, the only hydraulic system is the brakes. All other controls are operated by cable and are not assisted by hydraulics.

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Emergency procedures I practiced

I practised a few basic emergency procedures. I describe these procedures below.

Discontinued take-off

A discontinued take-off procedure is when a pilot decides to abort or cancel the take-off process after the aircraft has already begun its roll down the runway but before it becomes airborne. The aim is to safely bring the aircraft to a stop on the remaining runway. Several situations might make it necessary to discontinue a take-off. These can include engine failure, sudden warning lights on the instrument panel, observing an obstacle on the runway, experiencing unexpected changes in weather conditions like strong crosswinds, or even noticing that a seat or seatbelt became unsecured or a door suddenly opened. 

For a Cessna 172, the discontinued take-off procedure is relatively straightforward. First, the pilot would immediately close the throttle to cut engine power. Next, they'd apply the brakes gently to slow the plane down. Maintaining directional control using the rudder pedals is crucial to ensure the aircraft stays aligned with the runway centerline as it slows down. If you were at a high speed and needed additional stopping power, deploying the flaps could also help. Once the plane has come to a complete stop, it's essential to safely exit the runway and then assess the situation to determine the cause of the problem.

So, discontinuing a take-off in a Cessna 172 involves cutting the throttle, applying the brakes, and keeping the plane straight as you stop. Afterwards, you'd move off the runway to determine what went wrong.

Engine failure after take-off

An engine failure after take-off is when the aircraft's engine stops working or loses significant power right after the plane has lifted off the ground. This is a critical situation because you're low on altitude and airspeed, which limits your options. Causes for this type of engine failure can range from mechanical issues like a broken fuel pump to human errors like improper engine management. Even bird strikes can lead to engine failure after take-off.

In a Cessna 172, if you experience engine failure shortly after take-off, the general rule is to lower the nose of the aircraft to maintain airspeed. This is crucial to prevent a stall. You usually aim to land straight ahead or slightly to either side but not more than 30 degrees off your initial heading. That's because making a sharp turn at a low altitude can be risky. You'd also want to keep your flaps up while searching for a landing spot. Once you've identified where you'll land, you can use flaps as needed to manage your descent and landing.

The idea is to keep the plane flying with whatever lift you have and guide it down to the safest possible landing spot within your limited range. Once safely on the ground, you can diagnose what caused the engine failure.

Engine failure downwind

An engine failure at downwind occurs when the engine fails while you're flying parallel to the runway but in the opposite direction of landing or taking off. This is part of the traffic pattern you typically fly around an airport. The engine could fail for various reasons, such as fuel starvation, mechanical failure, or even pilot errors like incorrect fuel mixture settings.

In a Cessna 172, if your engine fails while flying downwind, your first priority is establishing a glide by lowering the nose to maintain airspeed. You'll likely be at a higher altitude than an engine failure right after take-off, so you have more room to maneuver. Then, you'd turn toward the runway for a landing, essentially skipping the base leg of your traffic pattern. This is because you're already aligned with the runway; you just need to turn and descend to it.

Best glide speed for the Cessna 172 is 68 KIAS. This is a number worth remembering. (I know about the typo in the checklist, I've let them know).

Since you have limited time and altitude, you'd typically keep your flaps up initially to stretch the glide as far as possible. Once you're confident you'll make it to the runway, you can use flaps to manage your descent and landing speed. If the runway seems too far, look for other suitable landing areas, like open fields.

Your primary goal is to safely land the aircraft while managing your limited altitude and airspeed, so quick decision-making is essential. After landing, you can focus on determining what caused the engine failure.

How to extend GoPro recording time

Since I started recording my flights, the GoPro cameras consistently overheated and stopped recording. After adding heatsinks a few weeks ago, I extended the recording time by around 15 minutes.

However, it still wasn't enough to include the entire door-to-door session (i.e. start recording before the engine starts and finish when the engine stops).

I have finally solved this problem.

The solution is to use an external battery. This removes the internal battery, leaving the battery compartment empty. By leaving the battery door open, the airflow allows for better heat exchange between the camera and the air around it. This adds to the effect that the heatsinks already have.

To connect an external battery to the camera, I use a 2-meter USB-C cable. This is long enough to allow the battery to sit inside the rear passenger seat pouch without dragging down the camera. I replaced the regular GoPro battery door with a pass-through door. to prevent the cable from stressing the camera's USB port. This door has a notch that allows me to bind the cable to it, reducing the stress on the port. You can see this setup in the photo on the right.

I will provide more photos of this setup installed in the plane in the following log.

Weather

The weather today was excellent. Over 10 km of visibility, QNH for the first flight was 1031 and for the second, 1029. Winds were variable at 6 kt with occasional tailwind at 3 kt, with scattered clouds at 2200 feet.

Here's what BOM shows for the day:

No complaints about the weather on the 18th.

For the 9am flight, ATIS reported this:

Runway 06, wind variable 6 kts, occasional tail wind 3kts, vis > 10 km's, Cloud Sct 2200, BKN 4400, Temp 17, QNH 1031

For the midday flight, heres the ATIS report:

Runway 06, wind variable 6 kts, occasional tail wind 3kts, vis > 10 km's, Cloud Sct 3300, BKN 4400, Temp 19, QNH 1029

Pre-flight briefing

Greg planned to introduce new content in today's flights, so we started the day with an hour-long briefing. The briefing consisted of a PowerPoint presentation to keep us on track and discussion around it.

The briefing is based on the CASA Syllabus for the RPL parts 9 and 10 (download ZIP) and included these items:

  • 9 - Recognition of take-off abnormalities, rejected take-off
  • 9 - Simulated engine failure after take-off
  • 9 - Simulated engine failure in the circuit
  • 9 - Glide approach and landing
  • 10 - Consolidate circuits

During the flights, Greg would demonstrate, help me improve, and assess these skills:

  • 9 - operational communication using an aeronautical radio, operate radio equipment and transponder
  • 9 - pre-flight actions and procedures, perform pre-flight inspection
  • 9 - plan fuel requirements, manage fuel system
  • 9 - start and stop engine, taxi aeroplane
  • 9 - pre-take-off procedures, take-off, after take-off procedures
  • 9 - climbing, descending, turning
  • 9 - circuits and landings, including missed approach and missed landing recovery
  • 9 - simulated engine failure on take-off and within the circuit area
  • 9 - situational awareness, assess situations and make decisions, set priorities and manage tasks, recognise and manage threats, recognise and manage errors, recognise and manage undesired aircraft state
  • 10 - operational communication using an aeronautical radio, operate radio equipment and transponder
  • 10 - pre-flight actions and procedures, perform pre-flight inspection
  • 10 - plan fuel requirements, manage fuel system
  • 10 - start and stop engine, taxi aeroplane
  • 10 - pre-take-off procedures, take-off, after take-off procedures
  • 10 - climbing, descending, turning
  • 10 - circuits and landings, including missed approach and missed landing recovery
  • 10 - simulated engine failure on take-off and within the circuit area
  • 10 - situational awareness, assess situations and make decisions, set priorities and manage tasks, recognise and manage threats, recognise and manage errors, recognise and manage undesired aircraft state

You can probably understand why I'm exhausted after two flights. Greg seemed to be OK.

Many of the assessment items in the list are quick to perform and routine, even for a newbie like me. For example, the pre-flight inspection is done before getting on the plane and is part of every flight. Same for start/stop the engine and taxi.

Other items are new and require a lot more effort from both of us. For today's flights, procedures like "simulated engine failure on take-off and within the circuit area" and "Glide approach and landing" took most of our time in the air.

The flight

So much happened on those two flights. Let's start with power loss and glide approaches.

Power loss and glide approaches

The main feature of today's two flights was the glide approaches. A glide approach is a way to deal with a loss of power in the downwind leg of a circuit. In today's flights, the exercise involved flying downwind as usual and then setting power to idle to simulate power loss.

You can read about the details elsewhere in this log. Greg demonstrated this procedure a couple of times, and I practised a few more. See circuits 5 and 6 in Hour 15 and circuits 3, 4 and 5 in Hour 16.

A power loss has to be managed immediately by setting up the plane to fly at its best glide speed (for the Cessna 172, it is 68 kt) and gradually turning to the runway to land at around 1/3 the runway length. It is imperative for the pilot to constantly assess altitude, speed, and distance to ensure that the plane does not run short of the runway.

As you can see in the FlightRadar24 flight path for the Hour 15 flight, there are two approaches where we cut the downwind short and did a gradual turn into final, skipping base. Greg did those two. I attempted my first glide approaches in circuits 7 and 8, but they were wide, almost on the flight path of a regular circuit. I was either too high or too low in both of them and had to use power to fix the problem. Luckily, the engine was working well.

Simulated power loss and glide approach to the runway.

In Hour 16, I made three glide approaches (see the FlightRadar24 flight path video) that were better managed. The flight path was cut short on the downwind leg, and landed without drama.

Power loss after takeoff

In Hour 15, right after takeoff for circuit 3, we did a quick demo for power loss after takeoff. Of course, we didn't land in a paddock, but we set the power to idle for a few seconds and spotted a suitable patch of land to... land... within a 30° arc to the right of the flight path. You can see this at 00:31:18 in the Hour 15 video.

Green light

Another "first" was getting a green light (literally, a green light) from Tower. Greg asked the controller to turn on the green light that provides visual permission to land when the radio is inoperative. I was expecting a gigantic beacon, something like a lighthouse, but instead, it was more like a flashlight. Still, it is easy to see if you know what to look for and where. This happened at 01:09:00 in the Hour 15 video. The camera could not capture the signal, but you can hear Greg making the request.

"Never push nose forward like that"

A notable event in the Hour 15 flight happened on landing for Circuit 8. I pushed the yoke forward momentarily , causing the plane to pitch down.

Aside from the obvious risk that this control input introduced, when Greg said that I should never push the nose forward like that, I did not remember giving this input to the plane.

I suspected maybe a tailwind had done it. So, I wanted to check the video recording to find out what truly happened.

The evidence is clear: it was human error

Debriefing

Today was my best day of flying so far. I did feel more in control of the plane (even though I started the day a bit "rusty"). I felt more confident I knew what I was doing, and in the last few circuits, I was quick to correct any deviations in altitude and speed.

I enjoyed learning the new emergency skills. Today was filled with new learnings from the get-go, like the discontinued takeoff (the Greg demonstrated once on runway 06, and then I repeated on runway 24 on the way to the start of runway 06).

There was one particular moment I noted in my mind to check in the
video, where the plane tipped forward during a landing. You can see this moment in the 
Hour 16 video at time 1:00:39. After it happened, Greg explained how dangerous this was, but I had no memory of actually pushing the yoke forward. This could seriously damage the nose wheel, which is not designed to take much force. I thought it was a tailwind to blame. However, video evidence shows it was me, not the wind. So, after going around, if not correctly established to land, I have a new permanent ingrained behaviour: never push forward over the runway.

As you can see in Greg's written review (below) there are lots of
improvements to make, including the glide approach (make it on the
runway and land), and continuously improve my circuit performance
(maintain good separation and situational awareness, altitude, and
speed. 

Hour 16 instructor review

Here is Greg's review (Hour 16, normal circuits):

Runway 06, wind variable 6 kts, occasional tail wind 3kts, vis > 10 km's, Cloud Sct 3300, BKN 4400, Temp 19, QNH 1029 Time of flight 1230 local Better session with Peter. Flapless approach was well managed, simulated engine failure on upwind and cross wind well managed although additional practice should take place. Glide approach requires work, first glide approach was well managed, but required patter. Subsequent attempts were either too high resulting in go around or too low requiring power. Additional practice is required.

Suggested Revision:
Glide approach - assessment to ensure the field is reached. Remember aim point is 1/3 the way into the runway. Do not continue downwind when the simulation is commenced. Turn towards field and assess.

Hour 15 instructor review

I have not received the debrief for Hour 15 yet.

To be added...

Next week, Greg is away on holiday. I have a lot of work with a new course and book, so I decided to have only one hour of training with Davide. I'll practice standard circuits and emergencies, always anticipating my first solo flight.

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Shorter and narrated video for Hour 15 and 16.

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 15.

Flight path from Flightradar24 for Hour 16.

Attempting a glide approach. Notice how close to the runway we turned final. We aim to touch-down around 1/3 in the runway.

Just aborted the take off and returning to the start of the runway for another try.

How to extend GoPro recording time: remove internal battery, use external battery, attach heat sink.

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