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I have already read this post: How dangerous is flying in a single-engine plane?

Recently as reported in the NTSB accident database, a pilot of a light aircraft encountered engine failure after take off. The pilot found no suitable area for performing and emergecny landing and deployed the aircraft parachute, escaping with some injuries.

It appears that some phases of flight of a piston single, there are sections of the flight for which safe recovery from an engine failure is not possible due to the lack of reachable emergency landing areas.

For example, after take off, the aircraft may be in a position that a safe landing and stop cannot be made with remaining runway. After take off, the pilot may encounter a heavily wooded or built up area, but a few minutes later may cross a highway or an empty field. In any case, his chances for safe landing keep changing throughout the flight, going from high to low to medium and so on.

Is it correct to say that this risk has to be taken, cannot be avoided? Is it possible to reduce this risk with either better pre-flight checks and through purely technological means? Suppose I am taking flight instruction can I do anything to reduce the risk of engine failure?

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  • $\begingroup$ Engine failures are already extremely rare as it is, largely due to the very strict requirements for maintenance and regular checks. $\endgroup$ – J. Hougaard Oct 15 '16 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ For most pilots who fly well-maintained aircraft, mistakes, poor technique and bad decisions are much more frequent and important risks to consider than engine failure. That's not to say you should ignore the risk of engine failure, but you also shouldn't fixate on it. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Oct 15 '16 at 16:00
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The answers here are excellent. To make a long story short, there are dangers in anything you do in life. The thing to keep in mind regarding flying is the amount of care invested in safety. That was the first thing I noticed in anything aviation; safety. The school, the flying, the courses; everything revolved around safety. If you invest time in aviation you'll find the same thing. In fact, I would spend some time learning and getting closer. Keep safety in mind and ask yourself after some time: was safety something important in what I've learned so far? You'll be surprised at the answer. You won't even believe you asked the question. With regards to engine failure: if you ask a CFI he might tell you that he'd rather lose an engine in flight then lose an engine while driving a car.

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"A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."

You said in your question:

It appears that some phases of flight of a piston single, there are sections of the flight for which safe recovery from an engine failure is not possible due to the lack of reachable emergency landing areas.

This is true not only of piston singles, but also of anything that flies out of gliding distance of good landing sites - think about Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Electra.

You'll usually hear this called "inherent risk", but the correct term for the concept that you're describing is systemic risk. As you suggested in your question, this risk has to be taken, it cannot be eliminated. The only way to eliminate it is to not fly; and sometimes, when the risk of the flight becomes too great, that's exactly the decision that a pilot has to make.

Is it possible to reduce this risk with either better pre-flight checks and through purely technological means?

Yes, as long as you're willing to pay for it. Everything in aviation is a tradeoff, and it's usually a trade either between safety and cost or safety and weight. As an exaggerated example, you could build a piston single with 30mm armor plating to mitigate the risk of incoming artillery fire, but it wouldn't fly very well and not many piston singles routinely take artillery fire anyway.

Those safety improvements which are simple and economical to make, we've already made mandatory (for example, all IFR aircraft certified in the USA need to have an alternate source of power for their artificial horizon if the primary source of power is electric). Safety improvements which aren't simple or economical are left to the discretion of the owner of the aircraft.

Suppose I am taking flight instruction can I do anything to reduce the risk of engine failure?

Sure is.

  • Pay attention to your instructor and do what she tells you. You can't prevent an engine failing because an oil pump blows out. You can prevent the engine failing because you ran the fuel tanks dry.
  • Fly well-maintained aircraft. Talk to the mechanics who work on your airplane. Do what they say. Avoid operators who let maintenance slide. If you're the owner, don't let maintenance slide.
  • Fly aircraft that fly a lot. The worst thing for an aircraft engine is to sit in the hangar for three months, fly for an hour, and then go back into the hangar for three more months. The more that engine gets used, the happier it is.
  • Have a contingency plan. For example, examine the area at the departure end of the runway and make a plan of where you would land in the event of an engine failure at any point before a turnback would be feasible. - Thanks Jonathan Walters!
  • If you do go down in a field, have a 24-hour survival/medical kit on board, and wear clothes suitable for the climate. Rescue doesn't get there instantly. Speaking of rescue, you did file a flight plan, didn't you?
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    $\begingroup$ One of the most significant things a pilot can do to minimize risk exposure associated with engine failure is contingency planning. For example, examine the area at the departure end of the runway and make a plan of where you would land in the event of an engine failure at any point before a turnback would be feasible. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Oct 15 '16 at 15:26
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Steve V's answer is pretty thorough but I'll just add a few items specific to engine failure on takeoff over a populated area:

  • Always do a thorough runup check. This can include a full-throttle static check.
  • Run through emergency procedures before takeoff. I do it while taxiing, verbally stating the steps from memory: EP1 (engine out over the runway), EP2 (engine out on climbout), EP3 (engine out at cruise). If you do have an engine out on climbout, you don't want to lose precious seconds trying to remember what to do.
  • Climb at or near Vx for the initial climb. It might only be the difference of 10's of feet, but that might be the difference you need to make it back to the airport or get to a field.
  • Know at what altitude AGL you could safely return to the airport. At some point the impossible turn just becomes a turn. 800 ft? 1000 ft? Go out to the practice area with an instructor and do 270 degree turns back at altitude to see how many feet you lose and how quickly it happens, in ideal conditions.
  • Always run the numbers. High density altitude? Near gross weight? Your climb rate will be terrible. How long will it take you to get to a safe altitude on takeoff?
  • Always be looking for where you'd put it down if the engine went out at that moment.

It's all about managing risk. Mitigating risk where possible and being prepared if something does go wrong.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the answers, very useful and more or less completey answers the question. $\endgroup$ – stackex555 Oct 17 '16 at 7:34
  • $\begingroup$ Found some more information at these links: planeandpilotmag.com/article/… $\endgroup$ – stackex555 Oct 17 '16 at 7:36
  • $\begingroup$ That covers operational mitigation, but there is also design mitigation. The biggest factor is the Part 23 requirement for a single engine plane to have a stall speed (Vso) no greater than 61 knots (70 mph). that along with harnesses and seat requirements make crashes survivable if you keep the plane under control. To quote the recently departed great Bob Hoover, "Fly the plane as far through the crash as possible." $\endgroup$ – Gerry Oct 31 '16 at 12:53

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