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One episode I remember well from my training was a lesson on engine failure. To this day I am still a little uncertain about the takeaway from that lesson, which was by a secondary instructor, not my main instructor.

What happened is that we were cruising along around 3000 feet AGL and he reaches over and closes the throttle, putting the engine on idle: "You have an engine failure and cannot restart it, what are you going to do?"

I scan the landscape in front of me and see a muddy pond with a road next to it. From my glider experience I know I can land the plane in 50-100 feet on the bank of that pond and it will be an easy landout because the road is right there. So, I make for the pond.

The instructor says, "No, no, do a 360". So, I do a 360 and lo and behold there is a small 2500-foot private airstrip right behind me. What a coincidence. I line up and deadstick onto the airstrip. He opens the throttle before I touch down and the lesson is over.

So, in that situation I had a place I knew I could land OR I could do a 360 and look for an even better place at the cost of losing altitude. Doing a 1-minute turn at -500 feet/minute, the altitude penalty for doing the 360 is probably going to be between 500 and 800 feet (out of my 3000). Is it the right policy to do the 360 or go for the first landable location you see as I had done originally?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by David Richerby, abelenky, Federico, FreeMan, Porcupine911 Feb 29 '16 at 20:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ check your map to see if a airstrip is nearby. $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Feb 29 '16 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ I suspect the instructor's point was not to recommend doing a 360 to look for a landing site, it was that you should have known the airstrip was there because you were aware of your position. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Feb 29 '16 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ Even if you're unfamiliar with the area, instructors want you to constantly look out for potential landing spots and your description suggests that you more or less overflew the airstrip. I think he probably expected you to see it and make a mental note; many (most?) student pilots have had exactly the same experience and felt rather silly when the instructor pointed out the airstrip right under the wing. I know I did! $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Feb 29 '16 at 18:26
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    $\begingroup$ I believe it is also important whether, after completing the 360, you would be still able to make the originally chosen spot. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Feb 29 '16 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ Tyler this is a conversation you should be having with your instructor, not with people on the internet where you have no idea what their qualifications are. If you are unhappy with your instructor's response have a chat with your club CFI. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Feb 29 '16 at 19:14
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Unconditionally, NO.

The principle is that you should prefer worse result you can certainly achieve over better result you can possibly achieve. You had a landing spot where you could make a survivable landing. That is good enough. Look for anything else only if:

  1. You actually noticed your flew over a small airstrip. I would expect the instructor to hint that they actually expected you to notice it though if he expected it¹.

  2. The original landing spot is close enough that you can make a 360 and still make that spot if you find nothing else.

But by all means, you must never ever give up a spot for survivable emergency landing spot unless you see a spot that provides safer landing at is at least as certainly reachable.


¹ I do think it was the original point of the lesson, but I can imagine the instructor themselves didn't really get it when they learned it and therefore reproduced it poorly.

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    $\begingroup$ There is no indication in the question that doing a 360 would have made the original spot unreachable. $\endgroup$ – DJClayworth Feb 29 '16 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ Point #2 is the closest thing I have received to an answer. Thank you very much. In the situation in question I had the extra time to do the 360 because the pond was close by, so by that criteria I should have done the 360. Of course, then I would be cutting it closer if I had found nothing better, so I would have had less margin for error. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 29 '16 at 19:38
  • $\begingroup$ @DJClayworth, but there is no indication it would either. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Mar 1 '16 at 7:49
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The lesson here is not about the 360 but about locational awareness (the airstrip being there was no coincidence). One of the best quotes I have ever heard from an old pilot is

"A flight is not from point A to point B as much as its a series of hops from one potential landing spot to another"

-- An Old Pilot

The take away is that your instructor was checking to see if you knew where you were and thus knew there was an airfield behind you (and subsequently out of sight). In your case there is nothing incorrect about picking a field and heading for it. If you have sufficient altitude and no suitable field is found a 360 is not a bad choice to check for a field.

On another note, a pond is not a suitable field for landing for a variety of reasons. First off you were (presumably) in a fixed gear plane. While belly landing a retract on water can be preformed safely, belly landing a fixed gear plane on water can be dangerous since the wheels will create a lot of drag when they hit the water. Mud can also be dangerous as you wont really roll on it as much as you will sink hard into it, and potentially nose over.

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  • $\begingroup$ I learned to fly in mountainous parts of Washington State, where viable landing spots are often few-and-far-between. Keeping track of your nearest potential "out" was very important. I now fly in the flat parts of Kansas.... every field, every road, every "everything" is a potential "out", and I now give very little thought to potential landing spots; they're everywhere. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Feb 29 '16 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ This is incorrect. The instructor flew me around to make sure I did not know where I was. As for your ideas about landing on water and mud, you have obviously done neither. Are you even aware that Alaskan bush pilots land on muddy river banks every day? $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 29 '16 at 17:33
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    $\begingroup$ Landing on muddy banks with the proper tires and off strip landing skills is more than possible and I never claimed to have done either, doing so in a tricycle gear trainer like a 172 or Cherokee can be very dangerous. Even if you were lost you should have used VFR reference points to identify your position and deduce where the safe strip was. $\endgroup$ – Dave Feb 29 '16 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ As you wrote in your post, "lo and behold there is a small 2500-foot private airstrip right behind me." To me, that implies you passed right over it not 1 minute earlier. Whether or not you knew your location on the chart, you should have seen and remembered an airstrip that you just passed over, and your first reaction should have been to turn towards the closest airstrip. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Feb 29 '16 at 18:19
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Is doing a 360 a normal part of engine out procedures?

First, you should not even really be asking such a question here. For emergency procedures, you probably want to check the FAA Handbooks, or other training materials. Your POH will detail procedures, and your instructor is a reliable source of info.

Given that you did ask here: No, doing a 360 is not an advisable emergency maneuver, especially at 3,000 AGL. (You may be able to make an argument that the altitude loss is worth the value at much higher altitudes. But 3,000 is pretty low).


Why did my instructor ask me to do a 360?

He was encouraging you to locate an ideal landing spot that you already should have been aware of. Although he kept you busy, situational awareness, both with respect to the ground and other VFR aircraft, is a non-negotiable item. You cannot skip it when you're "busy". Spotting a 2,500 airstrip from 3,000 AGL should've been a no-brainer.

I'm confident that he was not instructing you in "normal" procedures when he told you to do a 360. He probably should have made that clear, both at that time and during the after-flight de-brief.


But I had a good landing spot picked out

I don't think you'll find many people who like your description of "a muddy pond with a road next to it" as a good landing spot, despite what Alaskan Bush Pilots are capable of. (Note that most bush pilots will make several passes over a landing spot before finally touching down. You don't have that luxury with an engine out.)

Can you imagine an NTSB report that says the pilot died after chosing a muddy pond when a perfect airstrip was less than 2 miles away?

You did not have a good landing spot picked out, and you may recall that over-confidence in one's own abilities is a major risk factor contributing to accidents. Please dwell on that for some time.

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  • $\begingroup$ What the instructor said in the debrief was "always go fully around before selecting a landing location". That was the debrief. So, your assumption is wrong. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 29 '16 at 19:34
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    $\begingroup$ You originally wrote, "Is it the right policy to do the 360 or go for the first landable location you see as I had done originally?" Now that I've answered that exact question, you still don't like the answer?? I also simply don't believe he said that. Ask him if you should go fully around at 1000 AGL? With a full airstrip already in front of you? In rising terrain? In all those situations, obviously, you should not go fully around. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Feb 29 '16 at 19:35
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah, and I don't believe you would notice a 2500 x 100 grass strip cut out of trees even if you flew right by it at 3000 AGL. So, I wonder who is right? You are claiming you would notice something like Asplund field just casually flying by it? Not likely. The strip in my case was even smaller than Asplund with tall trees literally right on the sides of the 100-wide foot runway. No way you are seeing that unless you are looking for it and even then you have to be right on top of it to see it. $\endgroup$ – Tyler Durden Feb 29 '16 at 19:56

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