Alyssa Miller

How realistic should impossible turn practice be?

June 9, 2011 by Alyssa Miller, AOPA Online Managing Editor

Last month, I practiced Barry Schiff’s maneuver for the impossible turn at altitude and recorded it on AOPA Live. As expected, many pilots wrote in offering their own advice.

The most common suggestion was to make the practice maneuver more realistic. Schiff recommended turning 270 degrees and noting the altitude loss. That’s because in a real emergency, a pilot is going to turn 180 degrees, then 45 more to end up over the runway, and back another 45 degrees to line up on the runway. It totals 270 degrees of turn. Others suggested practicing at altitude over a straight road to simulate a runway.

So I went up with my instructor, Sandy Geer, again and tried both scenarios in a Cessna 172, same model as before. I also applied some of what I had learned from practicing Schiff’s maneuver the first time.

First, I made sure that I added pitch-up trim during the maneuver (yes, I’m a weakling). I’ve been trained to do this in other practice emergency scenarios (pitch for best glide and trim), but I had forgotten to do this for the impossible turn maneuver. By using trim to relieve some of the control pressures, it was easier for me to maintain the 45-degree bank and airspeed while looking outside. Last month, each time I did the maneuver, I looked only at the instruments.

Setting up on a westerly heading, I climbed to 3,000 feet msl, pulled the throttle to idle, held the pitch-up attitude for five seconds, and then started the turn to the left. After turning 225 degrees, I immediately rolled out and into a 45-degree-bank turn in the opposite direction for another 45 degrees. After stopping my sink rate, I noted my altitude loss: 400 feet. That’s 100 feet more of altitude loss than when I practiced the maneuver with a constant 270-degree turn. But, Schiff also said that after doing the turn he described, add a 50-percent margin. After losing 300 feet with a constant 270-degree turn, that safety padding would put the minimum altitude to turn back in an emergency at 450 feet. With the more realistic 225-degree left turn and 45-degree right turn back to the imaginary runway, my altitude loss was still within the limits set by following his checklist.

Next, I decided to make the scenario a little more realistic by setting up the maneuver above a straight road simulating a runway. The first time, not so good: I lost 600 feet. But, I had let my airspeed slip from best glide (65 knots) to 80 knots. So, I tried again, focusing my attention outside, and lost about 400 feet. Now, I still did all of this at altitude, so I didn’t have the rush of the ground coming up.

I think Schiff’s recommended 50-percent cushion to altitude loss is wise and encompasses a number of factors that can crop up. However, I know my personal comfort level, and I still wouldn’t feel confident making 450 feet my turn-back altitude. However, I would keep the 750-foot mark that I established as my personal minimum after practicing Schiff’s maneuver the first time. Perhaps I will lower that altitude as I gain more practice, but I will probably never lower to it 450 or 500 feet agl.

One reader commented that he had practiced the emergency maneuver earlier in the year at an airport and learned a lot of useful information. That’s not something I’m comfortable with, so I will draw the line at practicing over a road at altitude.

Other readers pointed out the effect that wind could have on the maneuver, which Schiff addressed in his article, and that altitude loss will be greater with a dead engine than one at idle power. Readers also discussed the difference in aircraft loading, whether you have passengers or not. If you haven’t read Schiff’s article, I recommend it—he addresses many factors as he describes the maneuver.

They key is to set your own personal minimum. Practicing Schiff’s maneuver, or one of the others described above can help you establish that minimum, which may be never to turn back to the airport.

Hopefully an engine out after takeoff isn’t something I ever experience. But if it is, I am glad that I am practicing for such an emergency—whether I land straight ahead or turn back. None of my other emergency training had included that, and I would have been horribly unprepared.

So how realistically have you practiced turning back to the airport? Do you prefer Schiff’s 270-degree turn, do you use a road or other straight reference, or something else?

35 Responses to “How realistic should impossible turn practice be?”

  1. Bill Dino Says:

    There is an error in the article, a stopped prop produces less drag, not more drag as was written in the article. Another important consideration which is often overlooked in the “impossible turn” is that you don’t necessarily have to make it back to the same runway. A taxi-way, grass or different runway may all be options. If I am going to make a controlled crash, I would rather be near the airport than even one mile into the woods. Rescue workers will get to me faster on the airport proper but it could take them hours to go even a small distance into a wooded area. The key is to remain in control and not let the airplane stall before hitting the ground. This lowers, not raises, my safety margin.

  2. Peter Mann Says:

    It’s all about energy management. Even before the “Impossible Turn” is simulated, a pilot should go to altitude and glide for as long as possible for fun and experience. This will make the “IT” expirament more meaningful. Take the fear and mystrery out of a long glide first.

  3. Scott Jura Says:

    I heartily agree with Mr. Dino’s remaining in control, even considering an intentional crash. Ron Machado has a series on how little space it takes to survive a crash (slowing from stall speed to stopped over 10-75′, as compared to drilling straight into a rock or the ground, or [incompressible] water). Remember to consider how far (and how fast) a secondary fall to the ground may be, after crashing into tree tops.

    Also, Schiff’s “Proficient Pilot” (Vol.1) cites Cessna studies showing that a stopped prop has less drag than a windmilling prop. I suspect that was at least part of the basis for this article’s conclusion on drag.

  4. epubs Says:

    Bill and Scott, you are correct. I have removed the reader’s point on props from the blog. Scott, I believe this is the article from Barry Schiff, “Stop the prop,” that you mentioned. I have included it for other readers. http://www.aopa.org/members/files/pilot/2011/february/proficient.html

  5. David Hutzler Says:

    The windmilling engine is taking power to make it turn and create the low pressure in the intake manifold. I have never tested a stopped engine myself, but from all I have learned through the years, the stopped blades cause less drag.

    The ultimate consideration on the impossible turn is will you return to a safe surface or make an uncontrolled landing. I discussed the factors in my last email. Determining a formula for the impossible turn is no simple issue. I think the article encourages a maneuver which likely will have a low success rate in real life. If I were you I would put a big warning label on it.

    The demonstration flight fails to determine if the runway would be under the aircraft after the turn. It merely demonstrates that the aircraft can be turned 180 degrees in less than 500 feet of altitude. Again using a GPS with data recording in three dimensions would prove much more about the success of this maneuver.

  6. Robert Jans Says:

    My comment is not so much for a turn back to the airport, but a turn in a canyon you can’t outclimb. It is probably the quickest turn-around one can make with a minimum of lateral displacement. For fun I tried this many times. The drawback: altitude loss is probably greater, but I never checked this I must admit. Here it is: Bring the airplane to its minimum speed, against the stall. Now bank hard and steep while letting the airplane “fall”. Try “falling’ to obtain a zero G: no weight sensation. After a number of tries you’ll get the hang of it. Why zero G? Because the stall speed of an airplane at zero G equals zero mph; or the closer you are to zero G, the lower the stall speed. Roughly if you have 0.2 G, your stall speed will be 20% only of your normal stall. In other words, banking hard and steep will not stall the airplane; if you hear the stall indicator, relax the stick some more!. Because of your minimum forward speed, your lateral displacement is minimal; it takes only seconds to do a 180. I’ve tried it many times myself. Once around, you re-establish normal flight/glide.
    You can take it one step further, but only if you have sufficient altitude: stall the airplane, give full rudder: the airplane enters a spin; recover immediately after half a turn (180 degrees); in fact the spin has barely developed. It takes seconds to turn around with even less lateral displacement, avoiding the need for two more subsequent 45 degree turns.
    A last all-out approach to the “impossible turn” is only for the experienced aerobatic pilots among us: turn the airplane upside down and complete the second half of the loop. No lateral displacement at all, but I would not recommend this in a business jet full of passengers low to the ground. However, I’ve done it in a 150. And instead of going slow, the more speed, the better and quicker the airplane goes upside-down; in fact you could start your dive a little, turn upside-down and your second half of the loop is already underway. I would not endorse this close to the ground. I like to see comments on this ‘practice’.

  7. Dan Barrans Says:

    Take some glider training. One of the maneuvers practiced is a simulated rope break, which is done by the instructor pulling the tow rope release at 200 feet AGL. You turn into the wind to turn back to the runway, which means you’re closer to the centerline when you’ve turned around. Pretty much the same as the so-called impossible turn, except the altitude is lower. I’ve done a few dozen of them, and landed on the runway every time with no damage to the glider, to me, or to my instructor.

    - dan

  8. Joe Surowiec Says:

    Having been a victim of an engine failure at 500′ on takeoff, I can share how quickly things happen. Getting the nose down, and keeping the speed up is paramount. We were lulled into a false sense of security when the engine restart, and we attempted to return to the airport. That only put us over a lake when the engine died again. We ultimately made a safe and non-eventful landing on a road.

    EVERY departure that I make now includes a crosswind AND a downwind turn. At Vx, I am at pattern altitude by the time I make downwind. If there’s a problem, I can return to land either on the departure or approach end of the runway. If everything checks out fine, I ensure that the pattern is clear, and continue my climb. I know that there will be some instructors and FAR types that will question nothing less than a straight-out departure. Until I move over to a multi, I’m sticking to my routine.

    One thing for sure, (and I noticed myself doing this during yesterdays flight) from the moment of rotation until I am safely at a 1000′AGL, my main focus is “where will I put this thing down”.

    I recently switched my plane from a two blade to a three blade prop, and have noticed a significant drag increase during power off 180′s. I have yet to see how much more altitude is lost during the Impossible turn with the new prop. That’s tomorrow’s exercise.

  9. John Mulvey Says:

    My home field is 3000 feet surrounded by trees. Just to the left of the departured end of the usually favored runway is a small, but adequate field oriented 90 degrees to the departure path. I have always made a practice of intending to land in that field as I depart; sliding a little right then starting a left turn. If I lose the engine over the trees, I’ll land here (or controlled crash . . at least no trees in the way) I then always continue to a downwind, no matter where I’m going, so I can return to the runway. In areas where the surrounding terrain is unfriendly you should ALWAYS pre-brief the takeoff and answer “Where am I going to land?” at various points in the departure procedure. If you find you can’t answer that, then you need to rethink the departure. Because if it comes unglued you won’t have time to puzzle it out; you just must act right away.

  10. Dan Brown Says:

    I second Dan Barron’s comment about glider training. Simulated rope breaks at 200 feet gives one confidence about low altitude gliding turns. In my Taylorcraft, I have practiced the turn back to the field at several (very low traffic airports) and feel confident with it at 400 feet (lightly loaded) or 500 feet at gross. I also routinely let the ship drift downwind during initial climb out (or about 10 degrees from the runway with no crosswind) to make a possible turnback safer.

  11. John Hanson Says:

    One factor seemingly ignored in all the comments I’ve seen to date is the traffic taking off behind you, on the same runway. This boils down to situational awarenes: was there another airplane taking the runway behind you as you started your takeoff roll? If so, he/she will probably be just breaking ground as you start your turn back to face them! To complicate matters, they will be rotating to a nose high attitude, making it difficult for them to see an opposite-direction airplane that wasn’t there when they started their takeoff; and you will be so adrenaline charged and runway/altitude focused that you may miss them too!

  12. Tom Muller Says:

    One factor not considered in this article, is that pilots of many above average performance aircraft, particularly those with fixed pitch, climb out of the airport at significantly greater speed than Vy in order to improve cooling and allow the engine to develop full power. This is creates extra energy at the time of engine failure, energy that would increase the stall speed and thus the radius of a 45 degree turn. This energy needs to be bled off before the turn and can also be used to buy altitude. On my aircraft, Vy is 85KT, but typical climb out is 103KT. Best glide is 70KT. The impossible turn is exercised by continuing straight ahead and pulling up until approach speed is reached, then following the same procedure outlined by Ms Miller. By doing so, I usually gain 300-400’ before making the turn, reduce the turning radius significantly and often reach the reverse runway heading at the original altitude of the power loss. This also gives you useful altitude during Miller’s five-second reaction time. This maneuver can be done in conjunction with Robert Jans zero G turn, as you have to push the nose down hard anyway to accelerate back to best glide during or after the turn. My airplane clean stalls at 50KT and approach speed is 60KT, but turning at .2G reduces the stall to 10KT, turning a 10KT “stall reserve” into a 50KT safety margin.

    After practicing this maneuver a lot at altitude, I tried it near an airport. From 700’AGL power loss, my problem was not enough altitude, but too much. Even after slipping the airplane for most of the approach, we still had too much energy to avoid running off the end of a 5,000 foot runway. This would be particularly troublesome if the wind is strong. The solution, which needs lots of “at altitude” practice before trying it at an airport, is to use alternate runways and / or secondary turns once the reverse runway heading is achieved.

    In a recent Sport Pilot article, Bob Hoover is quoted as saying “The airplane really doesn’t know if it’s flying with two engines running, or one engine, or no engines. With enough airspeed you can let the aerodynamics do the work. Managing the energy is what matters.” While few, if any, of us have Hoover’s skill; the lesson here is to have as much kinetic energy as possible and to use it wisely.

  13. Mike Says:

    I think the discussion of this procedure is very useful. If can cause us to look at and think about more of the factors that will affect us on every takeoff. My personal feelings are as follows:
    1. You must have already reviewed your course of action before starting the takeoff role.
    2. If turning back is an option you must have decided and stick with the minimum altitude to attempt the manuever. If you don’t have the altitude, land straight(more or less) ahead on the best thing available.
    3. Where I fly we have lots of wind. I don’t relish attempting a downwind landing with a tailwind of 20 to 30 knots. In such a situation it is probably better to land straight ahead.
    4. FLY THE AIRPLANE! If you stall in the turn at low altitude you will be dead even if you had sufficient altitude to attempt the turn in the first place. The proximaty of ground to you is a huge psychological factor if you are not use to manuevering at low altitude, which most of us(hopefully) are not(unless you are a crop duster).

    I am aware of an instance when a new glider pilot had a rope break. He had sufficent altitude to turn back and he had great places to land straight ahead. He stalled the glider in the turn and killed himself and his friend who was along for the ride…We play this game keeps.

    From my training syllabus for my students; before every takeoff:
    1. If ANYTHING is not right on the takeoff role, abort; deal with the problem on the ground, not in the air.
    2. If sufficient runway remains ahead, land on it.
    3. If there is not sufficient runway, land straight ahead(shallow turns) and land on the best thing available. (We should know what that is going to be and where it is before we start the takeoff role. If the only options left involve hitting something, hit the softest thing available as slow as possible without stalling prior to impact.)

    NO matter what happens; FLY THE AIRPLANE!

    The above is initial training before first solo. I am blessed to have a field I do first solo’s at that is surrounded by open fields. Engine failure on takeoff? Lower the nose and land.

    I teached the turn back to runway as number 4. on the list above later in the training. It is a more advanced manuever and to be used only if it is the best option available.

  14. Guido Says:

    One thing that doesn’t seem to have been mentioned is keeping a lookout for 90 degree turn options. In the pattern at new airports I try to establish a rough idea of the roads and obvious power lines under the flight path when I leave. Am also very aware of the roads and power lines around my own field and that tought is part of my rolling on the runway mental checklist along with static RPM, oil pressure and fuel pressure.

  15. Paul Depperschmidt Says:

    In a Cirrus at 500′ we tap the chute handle. At that altitude the parachute is an option. We are now learning that in the 500′ engine out situation, don’t think, pull it. Prior to 500′ we are like everyone else, looking for a landing spot straight ahead. But our goal is to get the plane to 500′ as quickly as possible to give us the CAPS option. We are finding if you don’t think about it ahead of time, you won’t use CAPS when thngs go bad.

    My personal plan would be at 1000′ to make the turn back and then consider CAPS depending on the situation.

  16. Cary Alburn Says:

    I have concerns that some of the responders here are advocating pretty extreme maneuvers to accomplish the return to the runway. I believe that it is much better to keep the maneuvering within the typical experience of a low time pilot, rather than for this one-time scenario to advocate nearly aerobatic maneuvers. Just like when some people seem to advocate extreme maneuvers to turn around in canyons, the danger is loss of control due to loss of situational awareness. Much better to do something that the pilot is accustomed to doing.

    The fact is that a turn around can be accomplished in a smaller space at a lower airspeed. So I would agree that letting the airspeed bleed off to best glide before starting the turn makes sense–however, the next fact is that when an engine is lost, in most cases the airspeed will bleed off very fast, anyway. Again, situational awareness is important–the pilot must be aware of his/her airspeed. If the take-off was still in the Vx mode at the time of the failure, that will likely require a push over to maintain airspeed, but if the airspeed is already at Vy or higher as in a cruise climb, then maintaining the current pitch will result in both additional altitude (good) while causing the airspeed to reduce to best glide–but again, it will happen much faster than many will expect. How quickly depends on many factors, including weight, configuration (gear and/or flaps down or up), and whether the prop has stopped or is windmilling (in an engine failure, it might do either).

    A minimum radius turn at best glide speed will result in the minimum lateral displacement from the extended runway, making it unnecessary to draw big S turns in the sky to return to the runway. I would not suggest any steeper than a 45 degree bank–again because many pilots rarely if ever bank more than 45 degrees these days, and to increase the bank dramatically increases the likelihood of loss of control due to loss of situational awareness. As soon as the nose is pointed at the runway, stop the turn and glide toward the runway.

    Probably the real key to success in this maneuver is a combination of practicing it (at sufficient altitude) and flying often enough that the pilot is very comfortable with the airplane. Too often, pilots spend very little time practicing other than straight and level flight, other than when they take off and then come back to the pattern to land. Students practice all of these things, ostensibly to learn them, but that means that by the time they take their checkrides, they are pretty proficient. But then they stop doing them until a week before the biennial flight review–just like most pilots do. But in that 2 year gap, rust develops, and the lower the experience level, the more the rust.

    In summary, I firmly believe that the maneuver is doable, but it takes practice, and the maneuvering should be kept within the range of the skills of the average private pilot.

  17. Carl Clarke Says:

    I agree with John Mulvey; do a pre-brief, except do it every takeoff. Also remove the conditional statement, “if” and change it to “when” the engine fails in order to change the mind set “this can’t happen to me”.

    This maneuver requires more study. Also different techniques for different skill levels. Forty years ago, Ben, a senior Lockheed aeronautical engineer stated that his study and practice included a fast roll to 70 degree bank, followed by a fast roll out. The steep bank results in a faster course reversal and because of the quick roll in/out avoids a stall. The proper use of kinetic energy results in less altitude loss than a sedate 45 degree bank. Never wanted to try it myself, but I knew Ben to be pragmatic, and trusted his input.

  18. Michael Says:

    You might also keep in mind that you might have a convenient cross runway aligned so that the turn need not be a full 180 degrees and, in a pinch, a parallel taxiway also cuts down the amount of your turn time.

  19. Bruce Liddel Says:

    Good points all above, especially Cary’s. I don’t know if I was the same pilot to which Alyssa Miller referred, who said he practiced the maneuver at airports, but if so, then I should clarify that a little. After I had 400 landings in the logbook, and after most of them were in my Piper PA-12, and only at a nearly deserted airport with three good-sized runways and a very cooperative tower controller, did I do such practicing.

    Kyle Franklin and many other airshow performers have demonstrated the near absurd maneuverability of Cub-type taildraggers with enormous rudders. I was never any kind of Kyle Franklin, but I was pretty proficient.

    Would I practice emergency return-to-airport maneuvers at a busy airport in a PA-28-200R or a C210P? Heck No! Would I have done this before practicing touch and goes all day long got to be almost boring? No. Much like R.A. Bob Hoover said: “Know yourself, know your airplane’s limitations, but above all, know your own limitations!”

  20. Bill Hannahan Says:

    The instructor counts to 5 in 3.5 seconds.

    At idle the engine is still burning 3 gph, making heat, and therefore less drag than a truly dead engine. To simulate a truly dead engine pull the mixture.

    A dead engine that is rotating freely will make less drag with the throttle wide open.

    I think this video is misleading and likely to hurt more people than it saves. I suggest you do a somewhat more realistic video as follows.

    1… Pick a day with no wind.
    2… Load the aircraft to near max gross.
    3… On takeoff the instructor notes the point where the plane lifts off and the indicated airspeed.
    4… Climb to 3,500 feet and use a high quality GPS with WAAS correction to fly directly over the runway centerline in takeoff configuration, at liftoff speed.
    5… When the plane is directly over the liftoff point the instructor announces liftoff and goes to full throttle.
    6… The pilot gradually accelerates to climb speed without sinking back to 3,500 feet.
    7… At 4,000 feet the instructor pulls the mixture to cutoff and closes the throttle for worst case prop drag.
    8… After 5 seconds the turn back is performed and the pilot maneuvers over the centerline in the reverse direction; the GPS should be set to a short range for high resolution.
    9… To simulate a short runway the pilot is required to fly down the centerline to 3,000 feet from where the takeoff roll started.
    10… The altitude is noted at that point to calculate the loss.

    Some people will say this is dangerous because the engine may not restart. I ask them to describe the exact mechanism that could prevent the engine from starting and estimate the probability. I claim that fouling the plugs with the mixture in is as likely. A failure to start would leave the plane 3,000 feet over an airport with a CFI aboard, the risk should be minimal.

    This video may influence hundreds of pilots for better or worse. You owe it to them to make it as realistic as possible.

  21. Jack Hunt Says:

    In the impossible no one has mentioned what I was taught as a glider pilot on a rope break behind a tow aircraft at 200 feet. One make the turn into the wind as this will help get you back to the airport. Two as you are simulating this establish your glide speed as rapidly as possible and remember as you start the 45 degree bank you’ll going to have to push the nose down to keep the airspeed…

  22. Rob duran Says:

    If you want to make it more real, do yourselves a favor. take some one with for some touch and goes and have them pull the mixture lean and cut the engine at 600 feet unexpectedly. I dont want to hear about about what someone did in a flight simulator. I dont want to hear about practicing at flight levels in class A airspace. Do you people even realize the true difference between the thrust created at idle, versus the drag created by a windmilling prop? Do you have a basic understanding of what happens aerodynamically when your climbing uphill and thrust turns to drag, and gravity snatches you from the air? How fast will that airspeed bleed off? how much altitude are you going to lose in preventing stalls. Now, you have to increase your bank and stall speed too by the way. It increases to just under best glide speed. you cannot pull yourself through the turn without reaching critical AOA. So you have to accept the increased vertical descent rate such a bank angle produces. I have seen what happens when this happens for real. Let us do the dead a favor and think about what we are advising people to do here. Everyone seems to be advocating practice on computer games and in situations that are nothing like the real thing. And then you have the nerve to claim to be able to complete this in 400 feet under conditions that are nothing like the real thing? Didnt you people ever read the full story on AOPA? The guy landed with partial power. It was not the impossible turn, it was nursing an aircraft still developing power back to the runway. So, if you want to make it real as possible…dont talk about it…be about it. Man up and practice what you preach before you allow your opinions based on video games to be read by student pilots who may call about your guidance when they have their own emergency. And the impossible turn may seem possible until it happens. And we lose another fellow aviator to blind hope. Sad fact. We as pilots arent very inventive. We dont think up new and exciting ways to kill ourselves and bend airplanes, we stick with what works. dont believe me? Ask the ntsb. The bloody pages speak for themselves on the impossible turn. Which do you believe, random 1s and 0s in computer code written for a flight sim, or A B O + -??? Those who dont learn from history are doomed to repeat it…so they say. Dont agree with me? Fine. but know this. I have more time mixture lean engine off prop windmilling coming into the airport simulated emergency landing….than you do. I guarantee it. The impossible turn is just that.

  23. Roy haggard Says:

    1. Spending time in glider is invaluable. After a few hundred hours in gliders, losing the engine is less concerning, but even a little time gets the point across.
    2. Aerobatics and mandatory for anyone who is interested in becoming a proficient pilot. Especially spending lots of time right on the edge of a stall in all flight modes with emphasis on gliding flight in a turn. This includes spins, spin entries and aborted spin entries.
    3. With the proper experience and confidence, a pilot will likely make the right decision when choosing where to set down when the engine fails at an inopportune moment….

    As one of the Mike stated previously, “Fly the Airplane!”

    The minimum altitude will be used when flying as slow as possible in th lowest drag confiurgation. If there is isn’t enough altitude to complete the turn then on has to level wings flair and land in the best possible manner. That is, threading the needle amongst the obstacles, if that is what is required… Remaining cognizant that this could happen is paramount. The odds of it happening is slight, but considering it on every landing approach is preparation for if and when it may happen…

    RH

    Roy

  24. Scott Voichoskie Says:

    What is not mentioned here is that most of the time you are taking off into the wind or with a crosswind.

    As you turn back toward the runway environment you are now being pushed further down the runway and may have to make a mid-field landing or land with over-run and you are making a downwind landing at that. Remember, making a downwind landing has all the same characteristics of making a landing on a high density altitude day. And depending on which way you chose, you may have turned into the crosswind or may have turned away from it. All of these things will change the power management.

    So, I would be curious to know when they started their “flare” maneuver, where were they in relationship to their “take-off” point. I think this may have a factor in your decision making. As the wind is pushing you, and you are watching the ground speed under you even faster, you may get a bit nervous and over control the airplane trying to make the runway. And the closer to the ground you are the more exaggerated your senses are to your relative speed. This over controlling may be the precise problem with the “impossible turn”. Once you start over controlling the aircraft that affects the power management. And the worst case scenario that results from bad power management is a low altitude stall.

    Thank you for the report. I am not saying it is wrong. And I will certainly try this with my students. I am just saying there might be some other things to consider.

  25. Paul Miko Says:

    There is one very important issue that is not mentioned thus far. Will there be enough runway to land and stop after a turn back? If the takeoff was conducted into a strong headwind the answer is absolutely not. I practiced this maneuver several times on a 7000 ft runway, of which only 4000 ft were open and the remainder was an overrun/taxi area. I took off using the 4000 ft portion, simulated an engine failure at various altitudes and returned for a landing. The return was never an issue, stopping on the first 4000 ft of runway always was. Most times when I reached the “end” of the runway I was still going about 40-50 knots (ground speed). A lot of this was due to a 20 knot tail wind. Notice even with the now famous Mooney video, he only stops and gets off at the last taxiway. I am betting there was little to no wind that day. For more information, look up “cone of authority.”
    In many cases, the risk of running off the end of the runway going 40-50 still outweighs crashing in the woods, but this factor has to be included in every takeoff briefing. Thereby every takeoff must include a briefing.

  26. josh Says:

    The ideal glide speed for this maneuver has not been properly identified. Everyone is talking about the best glide speed. The “best glide speed” number for every aircraft is the speed (at gross weight) that gives you the greatest gliding distance. There is another speed, somewhat less, that actually gives you a slower rate of descent and consequently more time to complete your turn or figure out what you want to do. There was an article on this several years ago but I don’t remember which Magazine it was in. It is easly to verify. Set up your best glide at idle power and look at the VSI. Then trim further nose up and compare the descent rate. In my aircraft (and as that author suggested most aircraft), the slowest descent is with the trim wheel set at or nearly at full nose up.

  27. Russell Says:

    I had an actual total engine failure at 500′ and flaps 30 in a cessna 210 I had just started a left crosswind turn into the wind so the decision to turn or not had already been made. I contiued the turn as I established a speed slightly over best glide and declared a Mayday. I found myself too high to make the landing on the runway I just left and too low to make it all the way back around to the other end. I decided that I did not need a runway to land on or to survive a controlled return to the ground. There was over 200 acres of clear property with runways on it and I was confident that I could find a spot there somewhere to not hit anything so I actually drifted wide of the runway so as to give me room to desent and turn into the runway enviornment at a 90 degree heading to the departure runway. As I continued inbound I quickly lost all excess altitude in an exchange for excess airspeed (the 210 drops like a rock from 500′) I leveled out at six inches off the ground and held that altitude exactly untill the airplane actually stalled and dropped onto the ground and rolled up onto the sholder and then onto the middle of the runway and stopped. This was not practiced this is not hypothetical this is what happened. The only thing I can say for sure is that there are many many runways that there is no place to land straight ahead or even slightly left or right….But every runway in the world has an airport and a runway right behind you when you leave and to say they are off limit no matter what is just plain silly…

  28. martin Says:

    ref Russell’s comment. the impossible turn may not get you back to the runway, but getting back to the airport environment for your forced landing can be a big plus.
    In my opinion.

  29. Tom Says:

    I have been a pilot for eleven years and a paramedic for 37 years. One thing is for sure. do what the experts say and land it as slow and controlled as possible – even if that is into the trees. If you stall and spin it (even into flat land) the emergency workers will have nothing to do but determine that you are dead. If you think about what you are going to do before you take off you will be in a much better position to determine if you should make the turn back or not. Practice beforehand and you will have a better grip on what is possible and what is not.

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