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First, let me set this up and then ask a general question. I'm just trying to give some context as to why I'm asking.

I'm working on my private pilot license and was practicing with my PC simulator (X-plane) this weekend. I was flying a Mooney m20j out of John Wayne (KSNA, which has two runways, 16R/1L 16L/1R). I took off from 16R and at about 300AGL I encountered a bird strike and my engine died (though my windshield was intact).

I was just about at the end of the runway so I declared an emergency (yeah, I've been talking to myself...) and said I was going to turn the plane around and land on 1R (so, the parallel runway in the opposite direction.) I was kind of panicking and had no idea what to do, this was just the first thing that sprang to mind.

I started the turn and quickly realized I was sliding sideways towards the ground, so I leveled out the plane a bit and ended up making a short approach on a taxiway, which I managed to land (though that may be down to the simulator being a bit forgiving and not me, really.) So the plane survived...


So I've got two questions, the first a little specific (though I'll try to generalize it) and the second nice and general so it applies to a wider audience.

  1. Is the process I described a good approach to a bird strike during take off?
    In review, I feel I probably would have been better off just landing straight ahead on a road or open field, but I thought I'd ask.

  2. What is the best way to deal with a bird strike or incident on takeoff that fails the engine?
    I'm particularly interested in situations where the plane is about at the end of the runway - if it happens right as you take off you can just put it back down, and if you're much higher up you have a lot of options because you can glide for a while. But right at the runways end, when you have very little altitude and no more runway... What's the proper procedure?

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    $\begingroup$ "if it happens right as you take off you can just put it back down" -- you don't have any choice! $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 10 '15 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ "glide for awhile" -- at 65 knots best glide, the glide ratio is (generously) 10:1, so at 1,000ft, you have about 10,000feet of straight ahead glide, and less than 2 minutes to find your spot. if you turn back to the runway at 500ft, you have <1 minute, which is not enough to make a 180 standard-rate turn $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 10 '15 at 18:59
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for declaring an emergency to yourself. Also for a pretty nice question but mostly the first one. $\endgroup$ – Nathan Tuggy Jan 11 '15 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ @NathanTuggy - My head was just so in the moment that declaring an emergency just kind of came out ;). The real strange thing was I was so "into it" that the bird strike seriously freaked me out, my heart rate was elevated for at least 20 minutes. And, last I checked, my simulator is still just pixels on a screen... $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Jan 11 '15 at 18:27
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    $\begingroup$ The first question listed as related, aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/786/…, is indeed very relevant here. The point is, you have to know the altitude from which the turn is possible and should practice it if you want to manage the required tight slow turn without stalling. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jan 12 '15 at 20:16
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You will not find a "single rule fits all" but in general, on PPL training, you are taught < 700 feet, land ahead no matter what.

A skilled pilot, with good currency, in an aircraft they know well, in good conditions they have planned for and with enough altitude, might successfully turn around. Another pilot in the same aircraft with the same conditions might kill themselves.

The consequences of getting a turnaround wrong are worse then getting a straight ahead landing wrong and, by turning around, you might very well put someone else at risk. You have much better prospects mushing down straight and level into those trees ahead than stalling out of a turn in an attempt to get back to somewhere you may or may not make.

Forget the flight sim heroics. Nose down aggressively for best glide (you should already know what that looks like!), then start looking, or even better, go for the area you know is good because you pre-planned for an EFATO.

Bottom line, when you do start training (good luck!), do whatever you are trained to do.

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    $\begingroup$ if you don't know what Vbestglide airspeed and attitude is, you're not qualified in the aircraft $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 10 '15 at 19:32
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp Agreed, but that's not how PPLs are trained. High power, steep attitude, engine fails. Instant panic. Now what was that speed again? And let me push the nose down until the sight picture is correct. Nope, correct IA is nose down aggressively, then sort it out. $\endgroup$ – Simon Jan 10 '15 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ I was taught that if you have an engine failure on takeoff you race the tachometer needle down to zero while simultaneously looking for the landing spot you picked ahead of time (you do know where you're putting the plane, at least at your home field, right?). If you drill engine failures in takeoff configuration at altitude you'll find it is a pretty aggressive push to go from a Vy climb to best glide speed, and you should do that until you have a feel for what the "push" should be. It's not easy to push too hard, but you don't want to push so hard you accelerate through best glide speed. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 11 '15 at 5:17
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    $\begingroup$ @rbp exactly - In light planes where Vg and Vy are the same (or very close) you're likely either at or below best glide speed on takeoff. If you don't push the nose over immediately when the engine stops your airspeed WILL decay well below best glide speed pretty much instantly. If that happens you're sacrificing distance the same as if you push too aggressively (and if you don't push the nose over heading for a stall that will cost you even more distance/altitude). $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Jan 12 '15 at 2:28
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    $\begingroup$ Mostly this argument is funny to me because you all agree and mostly you're arguing semantics....just fyi. I read the initial answer to mean "nose down aggressively to best glide", but hey... $\endgroup$ – Jay Carr Jan 12 '15 at 8:08
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A real life emergency is not a chance for trying unnecessary risky moves, especially new ones.

One of the AOPA seminars (I forgot which one) actually mentioned such a situation: an engine failure very shortly after take off in a GA plane. They did some tests in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004, executing the 180 turn with varying degrees of bank. In the sim, if you bank steep enough (at least 60, or even 75), you have a good chance of making it to the runway. But then...

In real life, when you bank, you increase the stall speed. Worse, if you feel you can't make the turn, you may be prompted to pull back, increasing your stall speed even further. Now, you end up with a accelerated stall at a steep bank, engine failure, and very little altitude to work with!!

The best approach is to try at perhaps 3000 feet. Apply takeoff power, pitch up to take off attitude, then pull back throttle to simulate a sudden loss of power (don't forget to clear the area of traffic beforehand). Work out how much altitude is necessary to execute the turn, which varies from airplane to airplane.

When flying, it is best if you have a predetermined turn/no-turn altitude. If you don't know, either figure it out or ask your instructor. There is very little altitude, and very little time to think. If you're below that altitude, don't think about it, land straight ahead.

My instructor, who is an aerobatic pilot, can perform a "stall turn" (a.k.a. "hammer head") to turn the plane around. If executed correctly, the plane should end up in the opposite direction with almost no lost of altitude or speed. Bear in mind, though, this is because he has done this many many times, so he is confident to execute it a low altitude. Do not try this if you have never done it!

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    $\begingroup$ When I took the SIMCOM course for the PC-12, we practiced upwind engine failures from 800ft, which had been successfully accomplished in real life. It took a few tries, but it was certainly doable. The current literature from Pilatus says its possible from 1,000ft, and I would concur. pilatusowners.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/… (page 13-15) $\endgroup$ – rbp Jan 11 '15 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Depends on piloting skills and experience I guess. If I were to take up a new (no previous experience) airplane and test it, I'd want at least 2000 ft. Not that I intend, but just in case I managed to stall it (or even worse spin)... $\endgroup$ – kevin Jan 11 '15 at 16:16
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It has never happened to me, but in Spain we have a surplus of birds of all sizes, and the big vultures do usually insist in their right-of-way...

I believe that the first thing to do after a birdstrike is to try to keep calm and continue flying the plane straight and level. If the engine and the controls work, you should try to find a good place to land, but keep calm, above all, and fly the plane. If there is clear structural damage, you should land immediately, on any not-too-bad place you may find ahead, but it's better not to be picky... And don't forget to radio a mayday...

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The situation you describe is an engine failure on takeoff and your response is going to depend on the glide characteristics of the airplane you are flying. Most light aircraft require about 1000’ of altitude AGL before safely attempting a turn to a landing site 180° from current heading. Attempting to do otherwise leaves insufficient altitude available to execute the turn in. Worse yet, pilots have a tendency to pitch for the desired landing site and/or increase their angle of bank in order to expedite the turn, often resulting in an invariably fatal stall/spin accident at low altitude.

The general procedure for an engine failure (and it should be part of a before takeoff briefing) is as follows.

1) DON’T PANIC; FLY THE AIRPLANE!

2) If engine failure occurs >3000 ft AGL, attempt emergency engine restart procedure checklist, if <3000 ft AGL commit to a forced landing.

3) Pitch for best glide speed. At low altitudes in a climb you may have to do this very rapidly to prevent a stall.

4) GEAR - down and locked

5) THROTTLE - idle

6) PROPELLER CONTROL - max pitch/min speed

7) MIXTURE - Idle cutoff

8) IGNITION - Off

9) FUEL SELECTOR - OFF

10) FLAPS - as required to make landing site

11) Select Landing site: 0-300ft AGL land straight ahead, 300-600ft AGL select site +/-30° off the nose, 600-900ft AGL select site +/-90° off the nose, >1000ft AGL select site anywhere in vicinity of airplane within gliding distance including returning to the departure airfield, if able.

12) ATC - Declare an emergency and state intentions

13) IF TIME AND WORKLOAD PERMIT, complete ENGINE FAILURE ON TAKEOFF and/or FORCED LANDING checklist.

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Most times when there is a birdstrike in a propeller aircraft, the engine won't fail (I've never heard of it happening). However, a proper takeoff briefing should be done prior to every takeoff with ANY crewmember, this includes the flight instructor and student. My takeoff briefing in the Cessna 172 was, "Rotation speed is 55 knots, if engine failure prior to 55 knots, we will stop on the runway. If there is an engine failure above 55 knots and we are airborne, we will reland if there is enough runway remaining. If not enough runway remaining and we are below 1,000 feet AGL, we will land straight ahead. Anything above 1,000 feet we will look for other fields, most likely returning to the airport. Questions?"

Now I want to point out that I've practiced engine failures in a Piper Archer (similar v-speeds to the Cessna 172) on the upwind leg. At 700 feet AGL, I reduced power to idle immediately turned around and made the field. However, in the event of an actual engine failure, I would never turn around below 1,000 feet AGL. This is due to a couple of reasons. Firstly, when I "killed" the engine at 700 feet AGL, I immediately turned towards the field. I did not allow time for my brain to process what had happened and made the decision like I would in an actual engine failure. In addition, I took off with an 11-knot headwind which helped me keep close to the runway on the upwind leg and helped push me back to the runway when returning. I'm not sure if I would have made the runway in a calm wind scenario. I also tried the same failure at 700 feet AGL with a tailwind departure. This made an 11-knot tailwind on the upwind leg and 11-knot headwind on the return. I would not have made the runway and had to add power to keep me from landing in the grass about 500 feet from the runway edge. Lastly, even with the airplane at idle power, it is still producing some, very little I will admit, but some forward thrust. So I'm sure this little boost of thrust helped me return to the runway.

I would like to add I've seen people with engine failures in real life, that made the runway from 1,000 feet AGL or better in single-engine aircraft. Also, I witnessed first hand a multi-engine airplane try to turn around at about 800 feet AGL and entered a VMC roll and crashed nose first into the ground killing everyone on board. Moral of the story, practice for every scenario and do what you think you and the aircraft are capable of. Your job as a pilot is not to save the aircraft, your job is to keep the people on the plane alive. So don't try to make a runway if you know you can't.

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