How to prepare to fly an airplane in an emergency

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How to prepare to fly an airplane in an emergency
How to prepare to fly an airplane in an emergency

In the event that the pilot has a medical emergency, the following steps provide enough information to get the aircraft safely to the nearest airport. These provide a realistic and workable guide as long as you have two things in mind:

  • It won't be easy, so preparing in advance is essential.
  • You will have to concentrate 100% on flying the plane and put aside the medical condition of the pilot. Goal number one is to land safely.

Modern aircraft have a very elaborate glass panel instrument system, but that is not covered in detail in this article. If necessary, you will be able to understand the more complex glass panel instruments and controls by familiarizing yourself with the six basic instruments on a Cessna 172, one of the most common aircraft.


Part 1 of 7: Learn About Basic Instruments and Controls


Step 1. Study the instrument panel of a Cessna 172 aircraft

It is a standard aircraft with a six "panel basic flight instruments", many times called" six pack"They are the ones in the center, directly in front of the pilot's seat. Also note that some aircraft have instruments and controls in the passenger position.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 2
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 2

Step 2. Familiarize yourself with the "six pack"

The six instruments are located in the following order:

  • Top left is the " speed indicator", which shows the airspeed of the aircraft, usually in knots (one knot equals one nautical mile per hour, plus or minus 1.15 mph or 1.85 km per hour).
  • Top center is the " artificial horizon", which shows the attitude of the plane, that is, how it is leaning in all directions, whether it is ascending, descending or rocking (to the left or right).
  • Top right is the " altimeter", which shows the height (altitude) of the aircraft in feet MSL (" mean sea level ").
  • Bottom left is the " turn and bank indicator", a dual instrument that indicates how fast the compass heading changes (turn indicator) and also if you are in a coordinated flight, feeling the proper gs (ground speed) from the turn (in the seat It is also known as a "turn and slip indicator" or "ball".
  • Down in the center is the " heading indicator", which shows the current heading of the aircraft. Note that small amounts of friction on the heading gyro cause this instrument to continuously calibrate. This is explained further down in the calibration process.
  • Bottom right is the " vertical speed indicator", which indicates how fast the aircraft is ascending or descending. Shows the rate of descent (or climb) in feet per minute. Zero means that altitude is being held and that it is not ascending or descending.

Step 3. Test your knowledge of the "six pack"

With the image above of the panel of a 172, and reading the instrument panel, do you know what the current situation of the plane is?

The answer is "the plane is ascending slightly to the left and is going at a speed of 110 knots, more or less at 3,100 feet (945 m) above sea level, at a heading of 178 ° (almost due south) "


Step 4. Study the controls or controls of the plane

The commands necessary for this mission will be the following:

  • The throttle it is a black knob that, if pushed forward, gives the richest mixture (used for takeoffs and landings at sea level), while pushed back indicates the engine is off. Just push the red knob in all the way when you're on the ground and ready to shut off the engine.
  • The carburetor heating It is used to warm the engine air intake in icy conditions and on long descents with the engine stopped, where an icy engine with icy air can cause icing. Take into account that for practical purposes it has to be fully enabled or fully disabled.
  • The flaps they are operated from a switch with a flat handle to select the position of the wing "flaps". They are used to slow the plane to a safe speed to prepare for landing. Note that the flaps should be advanced notch by notch, one position (10 °) at a time.
  • The fuel tank selection on a Cessna 172 it should almost always be set to "both tanks".
  • The steering wheel (yoke) sets the attitude (lift and turn) and speed of the plane. Make small adjustments to the incline in or out (to climb or descend). Twist the yoke left and right to rock the plane.
  • The motor RPM used to set engine speed (horsepower) to climb, descend or land.
  • The rudder pedals they are controlled with the feet. Press the upper end of the pedals to apply the brakes (of course this only works when you are on the ground). Pressing the bottom of the pedals allows you to steer the plane while it is still on the runway and helps to make quality turns in the air. The bottom of the rudder pedals are also used to stay aligned with the runway during the final approach.
  • In the panel offset adjustment there are two offset wheels which, when properly adjusted, give control where you hardly need to use your hands. It should not be used during an emergency. Also be careful if you use trim to land, as you will not have enough pitch control to gain altitude quickly in the event of a go-around maneuver (interrupted landing), but it is much better to stay away from this control and consider it "out. of scope ".

Part 2 of 7: Using the navigation and control equipment

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 5
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 5

Step 1. Familiarize yourself with the navigation and communication equipment

The radio o NAV / COM equipment is used to navigate the plane and, above all, to talk to the tower or ATC (air traffic control for its acronym in English). In an emergency, call them as soon as you have the plane under control.

Step 2. Ask someone to show you how to set or change the radio frequency to communicate with ATC (with the airport tower)

Changing the frequency may not be necessary, but you should know how to do it and take the time to practice before you are in an emergency situation, so that you don't get stuck with this when an unforeseen event really occurs. Communication is a critical aspect of surviving an emergency situation. There is little chance that you will be able to land safely without the tower's guidance.

Step 3. Ask the pilot for the emergency frequency

Memorize the emergency frequency in case you need it.

Step 4. Practice changing frequencies

Work on that until it becomes part of your nature and you can change and tune frequencies easily and naturally.

Step 5. Determine when not to change frequency

If you are already talking to ATC (air traffic control), stay on that frequency as much as you can. ATC will tell you when to change frequency. Don't go on the emergency frequency. Just tell ATC that you are "declaring an emergency". It will help you return home safely. Do whatever he asks of you and make sure he confirms anything you are unsure of before acting.

Part 3 of 7: Practice on the plane

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 10
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 10

Step 1. Learn on a real plane

It is best that you reinforce what you have learned about the "six pack" and the basic controls in a real airplane, preferably in a Cessna 172.

Step 2. Strengthen your understanding of the instrument panel and controls while on the plane

Using a copy of the steps above, see if you can point to and play each named instrument and control. At the same time say out loud what each thing is for.

Step 3. Ask yourself about each instrument

You should not only be able to quickly name them at a glance, but describe the information you receive from them.

  • Look at the indicators and see if you can determine the normal trading ranges. Then ask yourself what basic actions you would have to take to correct certain conditions. For example, if you were descending a bit and wanted to get back to level flight, what would you do? Take some time to think deeply about the scenarios you envision and visualize the action you should take. That will make your mind receive more lessons.
  • It is highly recommended that you spend enough time doing this so that you feel like you have mastered it, at that point. You should, at a minimum, have an idea of what information each instrument gives and how that relates to the position of the plane and the short-term flight path.

Step 4. Direct and master each of the instruments and controls:

  • The speed indicator (top left) has green, yellow, white, and red bows. A normal speed will mark green, and the lower end of the green indicates the stall speed of the wings. Try your best to keep the instrument in the green bow while sailing.

    • Use the yoke to adjust the nose up and down (the incline) to set the speed, but don't do the same with the throttle.
    • The red line is the "never to exceed" speed. Get away from there!
    • The target range is the safe decrease in flap speed and the low end of the target is the stall speed for completely off flaps (this is only used on the final approach for landing).
  • The artificial horizon it has a miniature airplane in the center. In a straight and level flight you should stay there. But if it starts to drift, use the yoke to relocate to the center or level the little plane on the horizon line.
  • The altimeter it can start spinning. If you want to stay in level flight, use the yoke to stabilize the altitude. You can see that it will be necessary to observe all six instruments to maintain control of the plane. That is why everyone is together in front of the pilot. Watch them often.
  • The ball It should remain centered when you are in level flight and turning the plane. When you spin, the ball will graphically display the quality of spin you are doing. Strive to make the turns shallow, less than 10 °. That will keep you free from dangers, which is what you are looking for every time you fly on a plane, especially if it is the first time and, particularly, if it is an emergency.
  • The heading indicator It must be on the heading you are trying to fly towards. If not, use the yoke to make a shallow turn (or several) to stay on course. But don't look too hard for it, just make small corrections and wait patiently for the reading to stabilize. That will respond to how you are doing it so you can correct again if necessary.
  • The vertical speed it must also be centered on zero in level flight. If not, make small camber corrections with the yoke and do not focus on the range of change of ascent or descent. Make a minimal correction, same as above, and keep watching the instruments.

Step 5. Develop the mindset and habit of making only minor corrections

When you incorporate the whole "six pack" into your observation routine, it will be more difficult to do. The "minor corrections" procedure is the same for all changes you will make to control the aircraft. Get this in your head and make it part of your being.

Step 6. Learn how to calibrate the heading indicator

It is critical to calibrate this instrument regularly, typically three to five times per hour. If he heading indicator it's off only a couple of degrees, you won't get to the airport where you want to land. Therefore, it is critical to get down to business with the instructions for calibrating this instrument. It is typically set to match the compass prior to takeoff and is periodically readjusted during flight to correct gyro precession errors. Set the heading indicator only for level, stable, and straight flight.

Part 4 of 7: Normal Flight

Step 1. Know the phases of a normal flight:

  • Straight and level flight
  • Ascent
  • Decline
5131779 17
5131779 17

Step 2. Work hard to understand straight and level flight

In this phase the yoke is used to maintain level while keeping the small plane level and centered on the "artificial horizon" line. During the day this can be done by simply looking out of the windshield towards the actual horizon. Alternatively, you can observe the "six pack" and use the information to maintain the level. In any case, always make sure to look outside and check the instrument panel when possible. Don't just rely on one action or the other when you can do both.

  • Make sure the RPM gauge indicates a navigation setting between 2100 and 2700 RPM (revolutions per minute).
  • When you are in a straight and level navigation (flight), you can adjust the RPM with the throttle.

Step 3. Understand the mechanisms of the ascent phase

The descent is usually done at full throttle, but if only a gradual climb is necessary, you can use the yoke to raise the nose of the aircraft by plus or minus five and no more than 10 degrees above the horizon while accelerating a bit. Remember to constantly check the instrument panel, "six pack", at all times to make sure nothing is changing. Doing so will let you know if you are starting a turn (if the plane is leaning) or if your speed is slowing down. If you start an unwanted turn, carefully turn the yoke in the other direction, and if the speed slows, level off a bit and accelerate a little more the next time you try to climb.

The Cessna 172 can stop its engine (in a turn) at roughly 65 knots (no "flaps"), so keep turns shallow and avoid speed below 80 knots to give yourself a margin of safety. Remember to increase your speed by lowering your nose a bit or speeding up slightly when necessary. Again, make subtle corrections and stay out of the danger zones indicated on the instruments

Step 4. Get an idea of what happens during the descent phase

There are two scenarios: one for landing at an airport near your current position and one for landing at one that is far away.

  • A descent to land at a nearby airport is made by reducing throttle to an engine speed of plus or minus 1800 or 1500 while setting the fuel or air mixture to its full richness (the red knob pushed in all the way). If the descent causes you to be at low engine power for a long time, then you will need to use the carburetor heater to prevent icing. At low RPM speeds, the engine doesn't produce much heat, so you need to turn on the carburetor heat. Do this only if the weather indicates frosty conditions. Here the tower can guide you, so ask if you are not sure.
  • If you are descending to land at a distant airport, reduce throttle to 2000 RPM to descend while maintaining high airspeed. However, don't go too fast. Check the speedometer and avoid going past the yellow arc.

Part 5 of 7: Land

Step 1. Get quite familiar with the landing phase

This is the most important critical part of your first flight. Again, there are two main ways to approach a landing at any airport: the standard traffic pattern (at a 45 ° angle to the runway) and the straight-through pattern, which is aligned with the runway emergency approach. After all, that's what it is, an emergency.

Step 2. Practice on a high-quality simulator or under the guidance of a qualified flight instructor

The landing phase is the most difficult to do successfully. Ideally, landings should be done in a simulator or on the plane itself if possible. It is recommended pretty practice landings well in advance.

Step 3. Consider the right conditions for a direct approach

The direct approach is the main one in an emergency, so maintain a high altitude until you can see the runway and then begin to descend without taking your eyes off the runway. Make sure to ask for the airport with the largest runway and preferably one where the tower (ATC) uses a radar.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 23
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 23

Step 4. Calculate you are about four miles (6 km) from the chosen runway at an altitude of 1000 feet (305 m) AGL (above ground level)

You may be in contact with the tower by then and they can advise you (with the help of their radar). If not, you will have to approach by yourself.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 24
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 24

Step 5. Descend to 1000 feet (305 m), level (above the runway), and slow down the plane

Set your throttle to 1500 RPM, with a vertical descent rate of 500 feet (152 m) per minute and an airspeed of 80 knots.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 25
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 25

Step 6. Lower the "flaps" at this point

Calculate lowering the flaps all the way when you are within five miles (8 km). If your altitude is at least 1000 feet, set the throttle to idle with the mix at full rich (turn on the red knob). Use the carburetor heater only if the weather indicates conditions of possible icing.

Each time you lower the flaps one notch (10 °), push the yoke a little to counteract the tendency of the flaps to lift the nose

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 26
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 26

Step 7. Lean more to maintain speed at 75 knots if necessary

Now you can slow down slowly to 65 or 70 knots.

Step 8. Stabilize the plane in line with the runway at four miles (6 km)

Airspeed should be 65 knots, flaps in full and a descending rate of 500 feet (152 m) per minute.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 28
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 28

Step 9. Make sure throttle is still in idle mode

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 29
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 29

Step 10. Use the rudder pedals to stay aligned with the track, not the yoke

At this point just use the yoke to control the lean (nose up and down), unless there is a crosswind and you have to use the yoke to lean into the wind a bit. Use the pedals only to continuously align yourself with the track and keep going.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 30
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 30

Step 11. Maintain your attitude and speed

Keep everything the same until you are three or four feet above the runway, and then slowly begin to lift your nose as the plane stabilizes on the runway (this is known as a "flare" maneuver).

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 31
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 31

Step 12. Keep holding the nose wheel off the track after the main gear is in contact with it

Step 13. Set the brakes as fast as the nose wheel touches the track

If you are going in a hurry (very fast), you can raise the flaps for better braking. Remember that the lower part of the pedals is for driving when on the ground, while the upper part is for braking.

Pilots often say "any landing you can get away from is a good landing." Good job!

Part 6 of 7: Engine and in the air

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 33
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 33

Step 1. Learn when to do an emergency "go and go" maneuver if necessary

Engine and air is a very dangerous maneuver, even for experienced pilots, and is not recommended for beginners. However, if at any point in your landing approach you see (or anticipate) problems that don't go as planned, you will need to get a go and go.

Step 2. Apply all the power evenly and increase the incline (nose up) to ascend

Make sure the carburetor heater is turned off and the fuel mixture is at maximum richness. Do this simultaneously while raising the flaps one notch at a time.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 35
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 35

Step 3. Re-compensate the incline for a climb

This action will help reduce the pressure on the yoke. Hopefully, you took the advice to consider the offset wheels out of reach, so this step won't be necessary. It is only included here as part of a complete list to perform the go-around maneuver.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 36
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 36

Step 4. Climb to 80 knots

Once the speed reaches 80 knots, do not raise your nose any more and, if instead the speed drops below 89 knots, lower the nose to avoid engine idle.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 37
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 37

Step 5. Grade 1000 feet (304 m) above ground level (AGL)

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 38
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 38

Step 6. Make a wide bow

Carefully turn the plane in a wide circle until you are aligned with the runway, staying 1000 feet (304 m) at ground level.

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 39
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 39

Step 7. Focus on landing again

Part 7 of 7: Prepare for Dark or Stormy Weather

Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 40
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 40

Step 1. Be alert to danger

The mechanisms of the human inner ear make it possible to detect a change in motion or a change in speed in any direction. Notice if your physical senses "change" and realize that your mind has been relying on your inner ear every day of your life for a long, long time.

  • This is something you can hardly detach from, but it is absolutely critical to be able to ignore what your body is saying because it could be wrong. Instead, if you don't have a plug-in visual input, just rely on the instruments.
  • Trust completely on instruments when you can't see clearly.
  • Once you lose the ability to determine the aircraft's spatial orientation by visible cues (be it the horizon, a beacon, or a landmark), you must force yourself to rely solely on the instruments and force yourself to ignore what your body tells you. say.

Step 2. Understand the nature of the hazard

The tendency for untrained pilots is to "do it without knowing how" and enter the "death spiral", a series of actions that inevitably lead to a crash.

  • If you go into an incline and stay there (in a coordinated flight) for about 20 seconds, your body will adjust to that incline and it will think that you are in a straight and level flight even though you are still on it. In the dark, or when vision is limited, you have no visual cues to correct the impression your body takes.
  • The "death spiral" begins when you realize that you are losing altitude (which is common in steep turns) and you pull on the yoke to gain more. The problem starts with being in a canted turn - pulling the yoke results in a narrow turn and more altitude loss, not altitude gain. The natural tendency in that case is to pull the yoke even further and that makes things worse. Moral of the story: trust the artificial horizon ".
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 42
Prepare to Fly an Airplane in an Emergency Step 42

Step 3. Reference the exact attitude of the small plane on the "artificial horizon" before attempting any altitude correction

Make sure you are in a straight and level flight before doing an altitude correction. That will be evident on the "artificial horizon" as long as the "heading indicator" is relatively constant.

  • Be well aware that any loss of altitude can result in entering a turn without knowing it. That will be evident in the "artificial horizon" and in the "heading indicator".

    If the course changes, you will turn.

Step 4. Only trust the instruments if you have little or no visibility

Step 5. Resist the urge to "just do it without knowing how."

Trust the instruments.

Step 6. Activate the autopilot

Under Instrument Weather Conditions (IMC), this is the best option for a safe landing.


  • Most Cessna 172 models have fixed landing gears, but there is a 172R with a retractable gear. Make sure to ask the tower this if you have questions. They will most likely ask you to do a flight to make sure that gear is controlled and secure in place.
  • An average student requires roughly 10-15 hours of flight time to test his first solo flight, and then must continue to complete private pilot exams after 60 or 80 hours.
  • Study and practice on an airplane or in a simulator and you will be surprised how good a pilot you can be.
  • Make a video of the entire flight: especially the landing process.
  • Study the "'autopilot" equipment. Practice turning the autopilot on and off whenever you can, or try doing it in the simulator.
  • It is highly recommended to take flying lessons to be better able to control the plane. If that is not within reach, do some flight training in a good flight simulator, such as "Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004" (Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004).
  • By the nature of an air emergency, you must fly the plane from the passenger seat. It is only convenient to reach the yoke and the pedals. Practice operating other controls from that angle.
  • If you are flying a Cessna 172 as a passenger, take that opportunity to view the instruments and review their settings on a normal flight. Look at the "six pack" to see how it looks during different flight maneuvers. See how the trim wheels are used and where the speed is in normal flight. Check fuel gauges, oil pressure, and temperature, and learn how to tune in to radio frequencies. Listen to radio procedures with the tower (ATC). Take every opportunity that is offered to you to fly for a few minutes. Practice everything you can.
  • Among the most useful controls for developing good flying technique is trim adjustment. However, you can get in trouble if you use it. If you compensate for a hands-free landing (no yoke pressure), with the engine at minimum and a nose approach, you will not have enough control to raise the nose to ascend in altitude with maximum power applied in a motor maneuver and at the air. It is a very dangerous situation.
  • Now that you have mastered the 172, try a sister aircraft, the Cessna 310.


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