U.S. Department
of Transportation

Federal Aviation

St. Louis
Flight Standards District Office

10801 Pear Tree Lane
Suite 200
St. Ann, Missouri 63074


November 2002 




Thought for the month....
The primary goal in a forced landing
is to find the cheapest thing around and hit it as slowly as possible.

Look Out Below!...
There's the old joke that the purpose of a propeller is to keep the pilot cool. We know that because if it stops turning while in flight, the pilot begins to sweat. Generally speaking, forced landings are not fatal. The majority of fatal forced landings followed an engine failure on takeoff. Of the remaining number of forced landings, a greater number resulted in little or no damage than in a fatality. Even though death or injury may be the exception rather than the rule, the outcome often will depend on how much training we have had to deal with such an event, and a fair amount of luck.

Real mechanical malfunctions occur in less than half of all engine failures. That means that as a pilot, we have done, or failed to do, something necessary to allow the engine to continue to operate. Of course this includes such things as fuel exhaustion or starvation, and carburetor icing. However, it may also include such things as de-tuning a counter-balanced engine and sending a cylinder through the cowling as a result of improper throttle control. Whether real or pilot induced, the bottom line is the same, we're going to land at some location other than our intended destination.

Loosing power is not the only reason for a forced landing. In some cases, pilots have found themselves faced with rising terrain or obstacles that they couldn't out climb or turn away from and elected to put it in the trees. Other pressing reasons include deteriorating weather conditions, encroaching darkness, and low fuel. These could be placed in the category of precautionary landings, but the end result is the same.

Where we choose to go in a forced landing is dictated by conditions. A lucky few have been able to get into an airport and land without incident. Sometimes the close proximity of an airport can create worse problems as pilots try desperately to make it to the runway, only to stall and spin, end-up short, or even worse, carry too much airspeed and overshoot the runway. Here in the Mid-West we are fortunate to have relatively flat land and open fields to land in with varying degree's of success. Crops in the field, hidden ditches, holes, and fences, all influence the outcome.

If we're crossing some of the forested land also abundant in this part of the country, our choices may be limited to flying into the trees or trying to stall into the tops of the trees. Generally, airplanes with lower stall speeds fair better mushing into the tree tops than do high performance aircraft with higher stall speeds. In either case, the more structure we can involve in dissipating the energy of the aircraft, the better. One caution for pilots of high wing airplanes. The next time you perform a preflight inspection, lower the flaps all the way then look at the inboard trailing edge of each flap. In most cases it's lined up with the rear window. If the wings fold backward because of an impact, and the flaps are down, they're going to join the rear seat occupants. Perhaps a good reason for briefing passengers to fasten their belts, bend forward, and grasp their arms around their knees in the event of an emergency.

For a forced landing area, most pilots would find it difficult to turn down a straight hard-surfaced road. Unfortunately, roads often come with their own set of obstacles, not the least of which are moving targets - vehicular traffic. They also have overpasses, light poles, wires and drainage ditches which may make the level field a better choice. Additionally, depending on what State you are flying in, you may be handed a citation (not the Cessna type) and receive a fine for landing on the road.

The goal in any landing is to ensure that the forces experienced do not exceed human tolerance. The only way to do that is to have the airplane under control, and the only way to do that is by practice. One place to start is with the latest maneuver added to the Commercial Pilot PTS - Power-Off 180° Accuracy Approach and Landing.

An aircraft touching down at 60 mph, only needs to slide about 12 feet to dissipate enough energy so that a properly restrained person inside would survive a sudden stop. So, the old adage is accurate: "find the cheapest thing in the area and hit it as slowly as possible".

Upcoming Events

November 16th
Skyline Aeronautics
Spirit of St. Louis Airport
9 - 11 AM
Winter Operations

December 12th
Cape Girardeau Pilots Club Building
Cape Girardeau Airport
7 - 9 PM
Avoiding Aircraft Upsets and Plane Sense.

January 25th
Super Safety Seminar
Anheuser-Busch Auditorium
St. Louis University
8AM to 1PM

Operations Safety Program Manager
1-800-322-8876 extension 4835