My Instructor told me, ‘ Always climb straight ahead to 500 feet before turning’!

My Instructor told me, ‘ Always climb straight ahead to 500 feet before turning’!

Perhaps he never flew off Runway 23 at Cambridge?

Climbing straight ahead to 500 feet may not be the best option at every airfield-Pre flight planning should involve the take off path too!

Climbing straight ahead to 500 feet may not be the best option at every airfield-Pre flight planning should involve the take off path too!

When you are learning to fly you are initially taught to fly by numbers, it’s simpler and safer. The only problem with this type of elementary teaching is that it doesn’t encourage situational awareness and good judgment which is essential for safe flight.

Lets go back to basic human factors:

Threat & Error Management (TEM)

Determining the threat and errors that can occur at any stage of flight and managing them.

I should point out that threat and error management is required teaching for all part FCL flying licences, including the PPL (this seems to be unknown by many instructors)

One of the biggest threats to any aircraft, regardless to how many engines it has, is an engine failure on take off. If you mismanage this type of failure by error the consequences are likely to be extremely serious.

In a multi engine aircraft capable of continued SE flight the main decision is to manage the situation so as to allow the aircraft to continue to fly the take off path and emergency procedure. In a single engine aircraft that is not going to be an option, so part of the decision has already been made for you, if the engine fails you are going to have land somewhere! You primarily aim is to just manage that landing so as to minimise the damage to the aircraft, yourself and any passengers with consideration for people on the ground too.

The first thing to understand very clearly is that the area ahead of the aircraft is very likely going to be unsuitable for a light aircraft to make a perfect approach and landing that you can just walk away from to the sound of applause from astonished locals. You need to be very realistic here as the aircraft is very likely to be damaged, what we need to achieve here is the minimum damage without fire and not becoming trapped in the aircraft.

In July 2011 a Piper Tomahawk taking off from Manchester Barton suffered an engine failure, this  was the outcome

barton plane crash 2

barton plane crashAmazingly the passenger survived this accident although he was very badly burnt, the pilot was killed. The aircraft was apparently in a stalled condition when it hit the side of the house. This very sad accident can teach us many  lessons.

The most important lesson is that it is essential to arrange your flight path on take off to put you in the best possible position should you suffer an engine failure. This very important obvious plan of action has never been given much attention by single engine flying instructors.

The second lesson is that it is essential to try to keep the cabin intact in any off airfield landing.

The third lesson is that it is essential to keep the aircraft under control, this aircraft clearly wasn’t, it was stalled. No pilot would consciously fly into the side of a house!

The fourth lesson is that in any emergency situation at low-level you need to act quickly, correctly and decisively. A take off brief in which you mentally rehearse what you are going to do is a memory jogger and can help prevent suroise and distraction. An early MAYDAY call is essential, make it as you push the nose over.



Single engined aircraft will have a very critical flight path with an engine failure after TO below 500 feet

Many airfield take off paths will have  a less than ideal landing areas ahead of the aircraft, forget the folklore that you cannot turn more than 30 degrees etc. Turn towards the clearest area with an unobstructed undershoot

Most PPL’s are low houred pilots with the minimum experience of emergency procedures and mostly have had zero refresher training.

The element of surprise can be one of the greatest factors in preventing a successful outcome to any emergency. An emergency that comes as a total surprise is always harder to deal with


Incorrect selection

Checklist discipline

Fuel mismanagement

Carburetor Icing

Two above are most common cause of engine failure in light single engine aircraft

Failure to lower the  nose attitude (push over) to preserve airspeed (Barton accident above)

Failure to choose optimum lateral take off path after lift off

Failure to climb to 500 feet at the best rate of climb speed

Failure to brief passengers on emergency procedures

Failure to self brief before take off on a possible EFATO (The emergency take off brief)

Failure to select a safe alighting area and undershoot

Failure to complete the emergency landing checks

Failure to safeguard the aircraft after landing.

The successful outcome to any emergency situation can only be enhanced by good planning and training.


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