It's something every pilot practices (or should) for the eventual day when all his knowledge, skills and nerve will be tested: the day when his or her airplane becomes a glider and the only way out is down. AVweb News Writer Liz Swaine had always wondered how she would handle losing an engine if and when it ever happened. Would she panic? Would she freeze? Like most of us, she was not particularly eager to find out. Fate, though, had other ideas, and on Sunday, August 27, Liz became one of the newest members of the Forced Landing Club. Now she'll never have to wonder how she would react again ... until the next time. How would you do?
September 3, 2000
|About the Author ...
Liz Swaine is
a member of the AVweb news writing team. A private instrument-rated
pilot, she owns and flies a 1966 Mooney M-20E affectionately known as "Mike" and
a Russian Yak-52 affectionately known as "Yak-52." Liz's love for aviation began
some years ago when, as a reporter at a TV station in Pensacola, Fla., she was
assigned the Blue Angels beat. From there, she moved to Shreveport, La. and, as
news anchor at the ABC affiliate, traveled the world covering the happenings at
Barksdale Air Force Base. She has traveled to Russia to cover the fall of
communism, to Saudi Arabia to report on the build up to Desert Storm, and to
Israel to look at the Arab-Israeli peace process up close. Her latest position
-- as executive assistant to the dynamic mayor of Shreveport -- is showing her
what the political world looks like from the inside, and she reports the sausage
analogy is right on ... you may enjoy what it tastes like, but you probably
don't want to see it being made. The fast pace of her life extends to her play
... she is a former triathlete and currently into high intensity weight
training. Liz recently married airshow pilot and airplane builder Steve Culp,
who likes airplanes as much as she does and can fix 'em, too. Their dark, hairy
daughter named "Mollie" looks suspiciously like a dog.
don't really believe in foreshadowing, but I must admit it was odd that a Ken
Hamblin column in the local newspaper sparked a spirited breakfast chat with
my husband the Sunday morning of my forced landing. Hamblin, a radio talk-show
host, syndicated columnist and pilot, had written about a conversation he
overheard between ATC and a pilot flying over southern California. Hamblin
listened as the pilot, who was in trouble, asked the controller for help. The
situation went from bad to worse quickly, and the end result was a downed
plane, a dead pilot, and four injuries on the ground, none of which had to be.
The local paper headlined Hamblin's column, "How not to kill yourself
when piloting a small aircraft." My husband Steve and I talked about the
column, and agreed again that we thought it was irresponsible of pilots to put
motorists' lives in danger. Steve then repeated a tip aerobatics legend Marion
Cole used to tell him. "If your engine quits and you need a place to
land, look straight down." Pretty basic stuff, that. Did I mention I
don't believe in foreshadowing?
I met Steve and some flying buddies for lunch later that day and afterwards,
we headed for the airport, our normal Sunday afternoon hangout. It was so hot
on the ground I thought chances were good I would spontaneously combust, so I
left Steve with his work and set off to find some cooler air at six or seven
thousand feet. I pulled our Yak-52 out of the hangar,
performed a relatively uneventful pre-flight and jumped aboard for the equally
uneventful run-up. Getting the temps into the green didn't take too long since
the Shreveport Downtown Airport (DTN) ASOS was reporting a blistering 39
degrees C at 2:00 p.m. I made my radio call, checked for traffic one more
time, pulled 207YK out onto the wind-favored Runway 14, pushed the throttle
and prop forward, and headed for heaven.
N207YK before its engine failure
Everything Seemed Normal, Until
Several miles north of DTN is an oxbow lake called Gold Point, which is
where pilots can begin their climb upstairs from 1,500 feet. Gold Point
appeared none too soon, and as soon as I crossed the south bank of the lake, I
pointed the Yak's nose up, pushed the throttle forward and started heading for
cooler temperatures. I really don't remember what I was thinking at that
point, but I definitely DO remember what happened next. "THUNK!"
That's it, just "THUNK." No grinding, no "chunka-chunka,"
no teeth-rattling vibrations, no oil on the windscreen, just "THUNK"
... and suddenly my Yak was nothing more than a big ol' Romanian glider. The
engine had seized so quickly and so violently that the prop was frozen in the
horizontal position. You know what people say about everything getting quiet?
It doesn't. The sound of wind whistling past is loud. So is the pounding of
I've always heard that time does weird things in situations like this, and
I'm here to report that is true. I don't know if this makes sense to you, but
time seemed compressed and at the same time, things were moving very slowly.
With less than 2,500 feet under me, I didn't have much time or terribly many
options. Random bits of information started zinging off the sides of my brain:
"DID I HIT SOMETHING?" "PUSH THE NOSE OVER!" "CALM
DOWN ... now, breathe." "Engine's gone, not a fuel problem. Forget
throttle, prop." "I'm losing altitude quickly." "Over a
field." "AIRSPEED INDICATOR, WHERE'S THE AIRSPEED INDICATOR?"
"There it is. 150 clicks ... above stall. Good." All that had taken
place in a matter of seconds.
I pulled my head up, looked around, and saw a crop duster strip that I had
flown over hundreds of times before ... GOT IT! The Yak was coming down fast
and the wind was whistling; there was lots of wind. I could make the
duster field, but realized I had too much altitude and airspeed. The grass
duster strip was roughly a 14-32 orientation. Though the wind was likely
favoring Runway 14 (it had been at DTN), I made the split-second decision to
land on Runway 32. Runway 32 was closer, and sitting at the threshold of
Runway 14 was a road, a fence, a ditch, a power line, an old hangar and three
silos likely filled with fuel and chemicals. Coming in short to Runway 14 and
running into any of those things was not an option ... neither was landing
long on 32.
The threshold of runway 14, looking
I pushed the nose over some more, turned for a wide right base, but I felt
too fast and I was definitely too high. I knew I had the field made, so I
dropped the gear ("Does the gear's air system work with no engine?"
"YES!"). I dumped the flaps, something I rarely do flying with
power, and put the Yak into a HARD slip left rudder and right stick jammed
and lined up on the center of the grass strip. Thoughts were still pinging
around in my head: "How long is this strip?" "How fast am I
going?" "I feel fast!" I realized at that moment how much I
have depended on the sound of the engine to guide me. With no auditory input,
it was all flying by feel. "Don't want to make the landing, then run off
the end of the runway." "Don't want to flare and float, PLANT THIS
CONTACT! The feel of rough sod washed over me. I hit the brakes, "not too
hard, don't nose her over," hit them again, released them. The Yak and I
coasted to an easy stop a few feet away from an abandoned hangar. I didn't do
much reflecting no crying, no rejoicing I just turned off the air
system, the engine instruments, the mags, my headset, and climbed out to walk
to a house down the country road to call my husband to come get me.
The failed engine after being removed for
All I Needed To Know I Knew
I learned many things from my forced landing, but these bits are the most
interesting, and maybe the most lifesaving. After the "THUNK!" I
didn't spend much time thinking; I just started doing. I can thank good
training for that. I discovered it was pretty easy to become fixated on a
landing spot and not see a better one close by. I realized it's darn hard not
to continue hauling back on the stick even when your brain is trying to
override your hand. I was proud that I not even once considered using the
stupid radio to ask for help. (What could someone do? Tell me to avoid the
cows?) I flew the airplane. My biggest regret is that when I slid the cockpit
full open while coming in for the landing, (in case of fire, for faster
escape) my favorite ball cap flew off. I loved that cap. It's the one I was
wearing in the EAA
AirVenture Oshkosh 2000 AVweb group photo.
The really spooky part of this story is that a few years ago a
friend of mine flying less than a mile away lost the engine in his Nanchang
CJ-6. He was a much higher-time pilot than me, a CFI working toward a
career in aviation. When his plane began losing power, he began talking to his
Dad who was flying alongside, who tried to help him troubleshoot. He continued
to pull on the stick, and when the CJ wouldn't fly anymore, it stalled and
fell to the ground, where it burned. Within just yards of where he crashed was
a river, two fields, and a lightly traveled country road. Both the pilot and
his passenger, who was flying in a small plane for the first time, were
The author's Yak-52, in the shop for an
I'm extremely lucky. My engine could have locked in any number of worse
places. But I'm also lucky and thankful that I had good training to fall back
on. I don't know how I'm going to feel climbing back into that Yak again, but
I can tell you, I'll be taking short-field landings and engine-out practice a
lot more seriously. I hope you will, too. Let's all be careful up there.