Engine Failure on Takeoff: Should you always go straight?

Your thoughts on this article?


Should you ALWAYS go straight as pilots are often taught?

we'll be using selected feedback in our magazine article.

thank you.

Digital Product Manager
Piper Owner Society


  • I'm not impressed with the technical content of the article.

    Simply getting the airplane turned around and lined up with the runway without getting to zero feet AGL is not enough. It does not consider the airplane's displaced distance from the runway threshold. In other words, a slow climbing airplane will be much further from the runway at say 700 feet AGL than a faster climbing airplane.

    In this AOPA Air Safety video, one of the conclusions found that the type of aircraft has as much or more to do with the success of the maneuver vs only considering the altitude at which the engine fails.

    The rate of climb of the airplane vs the best glide rate will determine whether it is too far to glide back to the threshold from a given altitude. If the rate of climb puts the airplane farther from the runway than the best glide distance achievable from that altitude, you cannot make the runway no matter how perfectly you get turned around.


  • Thanks for your comments, DJ

    Scott Sherer
    Wright Brothers Master Pilot, FAA Commercial Pilot
    Aviation Director, Piper Owner Society Forum Moderator and Pipers Author.

    Need help? Let me know!

  • There's nothing wrong with academic articles about the EFOT scenario, but I doubt they make a meaningful improvement in outcomes. We should encourage everyone to regularly practice this scenario, whether at altitude with their favorite CFI, or in a model-specific simulator. Building up that muscle memory is the best way to be ready when disaster strikes. My $0.02. Bob

  • Excellent advice Bob. Worth every penny, lol.

    Scott Sherer
    Wright Brothers Master Pilot, FAA Commercial Pilot
    Aviation Director, Piper Owner Society Forum Moderator and Pipers Author.

    Need help? Let me know!

  • I think it is excellent practice to simulate an engine out and return to field at a safe altitude. With the abundance of GPS recording devices you can assess your performance in detail after flight.

    You should establish at what altitude AGL you can comfortably return with a 15 second delay in response to represent the confusion/hesitance in an actual emergency. Depending on the plane, pilot, etc this might be well above pattern altitude. Whatever it is make it part of your pre-flight briefing. "Below 1500 AGL I will land ahead in an emergency and above I will pitch to best glide immediately and execute a return to runway procedure."

    Also keep in mind the plane will be different when at gross vs practicing. You could enlist the usual suspects of airport denizens as ballast if you are willing hear the tales of your skill for the next x years. You can also try this in a sim with progressively heavier weight. For the last simulator flight you should be 20% over gross. Will be a good reminder to not fly over gross...

    Eric Panning
    1981 Seneca III
    Hillsboro, OR (KHIO)

  • Interesting article, when I was younger I also flew the very capable PC12-NG, but without the benefit of a simulator. The PC-12 has a superb L/D ratio clean, IIRC close to 16:1, and with the ability to bring the prop into feather. It also has an initial climb at low density altitude approaching 2,000 fpm. This sets up a very different dynamic than a fixed gear fixed propeller slab wing Cherokee climbing out on a warm day at 500 fpm.

    The ‘impossible turn’ rarely has a safe outcome, and only in relatively high L/D types. Manufacturers have not tested it with the rigour to include the manoeuvre in a POH, which would probably require correctly framed gathering of scientific test pilot data over 100’s of hours of testing and then applying safety factors.

    Outside the Ag community very few pilots are trained or current in low level manoeuvring with the skill required (steep low level turns while controlling G to keep Vs in check).

    The standard SE take off brief of picking a field 30, or 45 degree from the nose is well proven. Then ensure you keep flying the aircraft to the point of forced landing.

    I am not that fundamentalist that I wouldn’t consider a turn back from a crosswind departure at around 1,000’ AGL in my Warrior II, which with the taper wing is not too shabby in the best glide department.

  • Here is a stationair (C205) that made an engine out landing at Hillboro (KHIO) recently.

    They were at 9000 ft near the field and got in one 360. Descent rate was ~1500 fpm. They had some extra speed on final approach (good choice in my opinion).

    For a safe return to field from take off they would likely have to have been around 3000 ft AGL - but it does not climb that fast so by the time you reached 3000 ft you would be fairly far from the runway.

    One technique is to request a downwind departure where you would turn to join the pattern downwind but keep climbing. This will give you the most options and if you reach downwind at pattern altitude it would match the typical training scenario for engine out. Would still leave about 1000 ft and 90+ degrees of rotation where landing off field is the best option.

    Some planes like the DA40 and Eclipse DA20 have decent glide ratios (Piper Malibu as well). Most of the Piper series does not climb fast enough nor glide well enough to make a return to field practical from low altitude.

    Eric Panning
    1981 Seneca III
    Hillsboro, OR (KHIO)

  • I had a lengthy discussion on this topic with a CFII. He had served in the Israeli army and was responsible for takeoffs and landing drones so he had a lot of experience on the topic. He said that wind speed, altitude, distance from the airport, and pilot skills were key to the decision on whether to turn.

  • I am pleased the last comment mentioned windspeed, I would add direction. So say you are taking off in a 15 knot crosswind, or a 20 knot headwind or 0 knot headwind. I would love to change the sim ride to say have a t/o at max xwind component and see what happens. It throws into the emergency factors that are not cookie cutter. X wind turn down wind more distance from threshold, high headwind turn and have a high tailwind, you are probably closer to threshold but do you land with 20 knot tailwind on that grass wet strip. My problem is the return concept is a hail mary. Without true currency in aircraft type and practice almost all pilots are just not equipped for return and will inject more risk. Much better to land in a field of your choice, concentrate on getting that airspeed down to minimum and, using headwind components, crash/land at 30-40 knots g/s. Live then go buy a Navajo!!😁

  • edited April 2022

    Adding to the 'it depends' element starting to surface in this conversation. The overall terrain situation will also help drive whether to go straight or bank it over.

    If the path ahead has nothing but high risk collisions and the airport underneath / slightly behind has a huge amount of open space, I would weigh the likelihood of at least getting somewhere within the airport boundary and hitting turf versus something vertical.

    Water ahead in warmer temperatures? Might not rule this out.

    Water ahead in hypothermia range? Turn back might get the win. Even if the landing is successful, a dunk in the water while waiting for extraction might not go so well.

    Water ahead with too many boats to miss? Another nod toward turning back.

    Was beaten to the wind strength and direction factor elements.

  • Paralysis by analysis. Too many variables, too little time, not enough recency of experience, wind, density altitude, startle factor, aircraft design, unknown distractions, etc, etc, etc. For me, with a power failure on climb out, its PUSH!, landing basically ahead and, as the legendary Bob Hoover suggested, FLYING (not stalling) as far into the crash as possible. Hey, is not the runway behind you one of the three most useless things to a pilot? Better to spend the time and deep analysis on PREVENTING this scenario from happening in the first place, and sticking to the basics if it does.

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