Just Out for a Spin
July 1, 2011
It was a particularly hot day during August 2010, and I was nearing completion of my second sortie with a young lieutenant. We were flying in a Zlin 242L, a popular fixed-wing trainer made in Czechoslovakia, taking advantage of the aircraft’s aerobatic capabilities to practice upset recovery and spin training.
Our flight had gone well until we decided to do one final spin and recovery before quitting for the day. The student entered the spin as instructed and the recovery was going very smoothly until he tried to apply power while pulling out. I watched as he applied power, but didn’t hear the sometimes-deafening roar of the engine. I asked him to try again, but nothing happened. I then asked for the controls and immediately trimmed the aircraft for its best glide speed.
My first thought was, “Is this real?” The situation was unfolding just as I’d been told it would during a real in-flight emergency. I’d practiced handling engine failures in flight many times during my initial training and it was ingrained in me to quickly find a place to land.
Earlier in the flight, I’d noticed and pointed out to the student a paved drag strip that, at first glance, seemed to be a good spot for a forced landing.
I asked the student to see if he could locate the drag strip. After a second or two, he said he couldn't. While he was searching for the drag strip, I reached for the engine failure in-flight checklist. Having run the checklist once from memory, I asked the student to read aloud the steps while I executed his commands.
After an unsuccessful second attempt to start the engine, I called dispatch to let them know I had an engine failure and asked them for any ideas.
After explaining that I had run the checklist twice, they said, “Find a place to put it down.” On my second radio, which was tuned to Cairns Army Airfield approach control, I declared an emergency for an engine failure. Remembering there were other Zlin's out that day with similar N-numbers, I wanted to be perfectly clear which aircraft was in distress. My radio call started with, “Cairns approach, Zlin 149FS,” and ended with, “Zlin 149FS.”
Meanwhile, my student was doing the three things I’d briefed him to do in case of a forced landing " shut off the fuel selector valve, turn off the master switch and crack open the canopy. I cannot stress enough the professionalism with which this student conducted himself.
Having chosen a field, I committed to landing and would not change my mind. That proved to be a hard impulse to fight, especially when I saw a nice empty road which, I found out later, was crossed by several power lines.
However, I was convinced that this nicely groomed peanut field would be soft and we could land into the prevailing north winds. As the main wheels touched the tops of the peanut plants, I noticed a ditch just ahead of us. Announcing, “Hold on,” I pulled hard on the stick as we floated over the ditch and landed softly on the other side. Neither the aircraft nor we suffered any damage.
I am absolutely certain that my training, from pre-solo through multi-engine, is what allowed us to walk away safely from this emergency landing. Also, the poise and composure which the lieutenant and I were able to maintain allowed for safe and productive crew resource management.
I was honored recently with the Broken Wing Award, which was presented by Brig. Gen. William T. Wolf, commanding general, U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center. Receiving that award was one of the proudest moments of my life.
Background on the author: Morgan McLeod has worked with Flight Safety of Dothan, Ala., for more than two years, helping U.S. Army helicopter pilots transition to flying fixed-wing aircraft. Students begin their training with the Cessna 182, then transition to the simulator training on the Beech King Air 200 (Army C-12), followed by training on the aircraft they’ll be assigned to flying.