Fly Girl in Training: When a simulated engine failure becomes a forced landing

Simulated engine failure turned actual emergency,
definitely got my blood pumping!

I pushed in the throttle. Instead of the usual roar of horsepower, the 182 wheezed. The prop slowed.

With a few hundred feet altitude, my instructor said, “Well, I guess we’re actually landing.”

We’d just taken off from the airport. At about 1,000 feet, my instructor, Stan, pulled the power on the Cessna 182, which means he reduced the power to idle to simulate an engine failure.

Without thinking too much, I configured for best glide, following standard procedure. Student pilots practice for emergency landings–a lot. It used to terrify me! But now that it happens once or twice a lesson, I’ve gotten into a good habit of quickly assessing the situation, configuring the plane to give me the most decision time, and planning for good landing spots. Well, month before last, this training was put to good use.

With the power at idle, I aimed toward a dirt road along the nearby levee. As we slowly glided downward, Stan drilled me on which instruments and components to assess (and potentially adjust) in the case of a real emergency. Together we checked that the gas was on the fullest tank, that the carb heat knob was out, that the mags fired, that our seatbelts were fastened tightly…

Landing on the levee. No big deal. Thankfully, we experienced no damage
as the dirt road was relatively smooth and free of obstacles. The biggest
issue? Me feeling like a huge dumb ass.

As the ground got closer, Stan instructed me to push in the power and climb again. Only when I advanced the throttle, nothing happened.

Instead of the familiar thrust of acceleration, I got nothing. Except wheezing and sputtering and then quiet. For a split second, the world didn’t compute.

And yet, as we landed on the levee, I felt surprisingly calm. The touch down itself? A lot smoother than our late Summer landing on a grass strip. Once down, safe and with no apparent damage, I remember laughing and thinking, “YOU’RE explaining this to Tim!”

It turns out, as we checked the fuel selector, it got knocked out of the detent which conspired to starve the engine of fuel. (I’m guessing I knocked it out of place while fiddling with my seat belt, but Lord only knows.) Thankfully, there was no actual problem with the engine or damage as we landed.

Desiccated land on the levy. Really glad for a hot, dry Summer which meant
that the road was firm.

In fact, we fired up the plane and headed out for my first experiences with instruments and night flying, the latter of which was way more disconcerting than landing on the levee. (More on that soon.)

Levity aside (see what I did there?), I’m really grateful for the concerted emphasis on emergency preparedness during my flight training. Although I’m hoping this blip is my only experience with in-flight issues, I know now how quickly decisions need to be made and the importance of scoping out good landing spots in advance!

In particular, I’m proud that my reaction to the mini-crisis wasn’t panic. In other scary-to-me circumstances, I’ve been slow to react due to nerves/fear, and had I been alone, I might have done damage to myself or the plane. In this instance, I stayed calm and executed (with help, of course) a good landing. Hoping that’s my first and last off-field landing!

And since I know my mom (and other concerned friends and family) will likely read this post, I want to quickly reiterate that although the event sounds scary, the landing itself was perfectly controlled and safe. As a matter of fact, the 182 is a great airplane to land on unprepared strips and high country locations. After this experience, I understand why pilots in remote locales favor the plane (to see what I mean, watch this quick video here).


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