If you answered “a lot,” I salute you. If you said “not much,” I refer you to Wally Miller’s excellent 2002 article “Playing the What-If Game.”
I was doing a lot of thinking about emergency landing sites during my recent trip with AOPA’s Fun to Fly Sweepstakes Remos. During this multi-day trek, colleague Patrick Smith and I flew from Maryland over lumpy-bumpy terrain near Huntington, West Virginia, to Bowling Green, Kentucky, and onward to Mount Vernon, Illinois, for the Midwest LSA Expo. From Illinois we flew west and then south through Missouri, Kansas, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and then California.
A funny thing happened as we left Illinois for Missouri and then Kansas. The ground got progressively flatter, and my nerves—usually cranked up a notch or two on a cross-country—got flatter too. Everywhere I looked, I saw great expanses of farmland, with very few power lines or trees to interfere with a forced landing. There wasn’t any need to search for Wally’s “Jolly Green Giant’s footprint.” Middle America offers plenty of options.
In Waco, Texas, we stopped for an overnight visit with our friend Claire. She looked at our route for the next day—Midland, Tex., and then Roswell, N.M.—and snorted. “There’s not much out that way,” she said. “If you should have an engine-out, try to land near something. A town, a ranch.” The implication was clear: We had reached the part of the country where obstructions weren’t so much of an issue, but finding emergency assistance could be.
The Fun to Fly Remos’s 100-horsepower Rotax engine hummed along throughout the trip, but after that discussion you better believe I stopped taking the terrain for granted. Flat is good, but staying alert and having a plan for whatever you might encounter is better.
—Jill W. Tallman