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The Impossible Turn

"You just lost your engine," said my instructor Rick as he pulled the throttle to idle.

"Best glide speed, pull the prop, turn into the crosswind," I called out. We were just over 1000 feet AGL, climbing out after takeoff from South County airport in San Martin, California. As the A36 Bonanza started slowly coming around, it was clear we weren't going to make it.

"You're turning too slow," Rick said. "You need to use a steeper bank and get it turned around or you won't make it."

"Yep, I see that. OK, throttle up," I said ruefully as I aborted our little training exercise. Had it been a real emergency, the outcome could have been bad.

A lot has been written about the so-called "impossible turn," the 180-degree turn back to land on the runway after an engine failure on takeoff. Most airplanes lose a breathtaking amount of altitude in the time it takes to turn them around and many pilots have augered them in with a stall and spin when making the attempt. Several of my fellow flying club members have experimented with this turnaround at a safe altitude to determine just how much altitude you really need to make the "impossible turn" safely. Generally, they've found that 1000 to 1200 feet AGL is a safe minimum if you're prepared.

In April's AOPA Pilot magazine, Barry Schiff has a very interesting article about the "impossible turn." He offers a piece of advice that I hadn't considered before. Apparently, climbing out at a speed about halfway between best-angle-of-climb speed (Vx) and best-rate-of-climb speed (Vy) puts you in the best position to make the runway if the engine should quit, assuming you have enough altitude. I plan to experiment with this during my next session in the pattern.

A few weeks after my South County experience, as Rick and I continued my A36 checkout, we dropped in at Half Moon Bay airport on the San Mateo County coast. We were climbing out after practicing some takeoffs and landings. At just over 1000 feet AGL, Rick again pulled the throttle to idle.

"Engine out," he said.

"Best glide, pull the prop, 45 degree bank into the crosswind," I called out. "Come around, baby!"

The airplane responded sweetly and we were quickly established on a final approach for the downwind runway. I could see I had the runway comfortably made, so I lowered the gear, came to short-field approach speed, and soon touched down smoothly. With the tailwind, we used up a lot of concrete, but I had no trouble stopping with room to spare. Sweet!

"Your emergency landings are better than your normal ones!" Rick said with a smile.

I chuckled. "Hey, I'll take it!" I replied. "That steep bank made all the difference."

That was a really valuable exercise. I learned a lot about the airplane and the situation that I can apply if I ever find myself in it for real.

But what if the engine quits before we have enough altitude for the turn-back? More about that next week…

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Comments on The Impossible Turn Leave a Comment

May 24, 2011

df @ 12:29 pm #

G'day,

You might want to go to http://www.nar-associates.com and read the articles
at the bottom of the Technical Flying page.

May 25, 2011

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