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Let us say I got a time critical emergency right after the liftoff (like a fire, complete power loss) and I need do a return-to-runway and re-land maneuver. Which option is better, a 180-degree turn for a tailwind landing or a 360-degree turn for a headwind landing?

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    $\begingroup$ It probably depends strongly on whether you have any working engines left or not. A fire in the cabin is different from engine-out. But your question just groups these things together, and the answers all seem to be about the no-power case, where you can't power through 180 turn. $\endgroup$ – Peter Cordes 2 days ago
  • $\begingroup$ Ahem. A 360 is basically useless, as you end up exactly where you were, but just lower ! $\endgroup$ – kebs yesterday
  • $\begingroup$ @kebs I think you can assume the OP means a 360 back to the other end of the strip. LOL. $\endgroup$ – RockPaperLz- Mask it or Casket 23 hours ago
  • $\begingroup$ @RockPaperLz-MaskitorCasket Sure, got that. But I wanted to point out that the question was ill formulated. Technically, when you get ordered from ATC to "do a 360", that is... a 360 turn ! What he meant here (?) is just a "circuit", just a short one, to get back to runway. $\endgroup$ – kebs 22 hours ago
  • $\begingroup$ We've all answered for Single Engine Piston (or lower, in the case of the glider answer!). Can you confirm that was what you were interested in the answer for - as multi/jet etc changes things quite considerably $\endgroup$ – Jamiec 6 hours ago
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Neither! The right course of action with engine failure or emergency after take off is land straight ahead within 30 degrees of straight.

180 and land is possible, I've seen it done a couple of times. If it goes badly, it goes REALLY badly. The likelihood of being able to glide an entire circuit (traffic) pattern is almost non-existent unless you're quite far down the downwind leg - you only have to practice glide approaches from the pattern to realise that.

The only time I would even attempt it if I had a partial loss of power and was able to maintain straight and level flight, then I might limp round the pattern and land as usual.

But I re-iterate, any significant emergency below circuit height, with significant loss of power or significant need to get back on the ground ASAP almost requires an emergency landing straight ahead.

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    $\begingroup$ ...[within 30 degrees] and turn into the crosswind wind direction if you are at an aerodrome where emergency landing areas are equally good either right or left of RCL. $\endgroup$ – ob318 Jun 11 at 10:15
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    $\begingroup$ or in my case, panic because one end of the runway at my local airfield has nowhere within 30 degrees I'd be able to land :| $\endgroup$ – Jamiec Jun 11 at 10:16
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    $\begingroup$ give the G7 leaders a little airshow! $\endgroup$ – ob318 Jun 11 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @Jamiec You are 100% guaranteed to be able to land, unless you have an anti-gravity device on board. The real question is how many pieces the plane (and you) will be in afterwards. $\endgroup$ – alephzero 2 days ago
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    $\begingroup$ Once, about thirty some years ago, I was a student pilot, and my CFI pulled the throttle as we were climbing out and said, "You just lost your engine, what are you going to do?" I said, "I think I can make it back to the field." He laughed and said, "I'd like to see you try." So, I did try. Flew the pattern. It was his idea to turn base a little early. Turned final about fifty feet above the numbers. Landed it. Then he told me it was totally the Wrong Answer. But it was worth it. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow yesterday
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Some aviators have performed tests in various aircraft - see the video below, in short the results show that a 180 works for some aircraft, under some circumstances with some pilots. A 180 back to the runway landing in the opposite direction is more than 180° though.

The bottom line is however, it is better to land within 30° either side straight ahead.

And may I suggest, with modern technology, especially if your airfield is surrounded by urban sprawl, to study the after takeoff areas using your favorite satellite image app (mine is SASPlanet) and have predetermined areas in in your mind in case such an emergency arises.

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In glider training I was told to prepare for line break, ie the line from the tow plane would break (or other mishaps). Up to a certain height, straight ahead within a limited arc. Select and plan for the fields to land on (different due to season and type of growth). Up to next height, 180 degrees. Above that height a full landing pattern. Of course, the actual height would be different depending on type of plane and other circumstances.

The main point was (is): prepare for problems and create plans -- once there follow the plan and Aviate, Navigate, Communicate in that order.

When training for powered flight from a municipal airport, my teacher did show alternative emergancy landing sites causing as little problem as possible for me and innocent bystanders. Better to aim for a small lake than a large office building.

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  • $\begingroup$ To be fair, a glider has a much better glide ratio by nature, so a turn back to the field should be much less of an issue. $\endgroup$ – MD88Fan yesterday

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