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General Aviation

You are flying an L-39 Albatross, which is a two seat Czech trainer, single engine - straight wing jet.  You also have a crew member/engineer in the back (non-pilot).  You are flying VFR/day over the desert, on a live range and lose your only engine at 3K AGL, 225 KCAS, clean configuration.  You have a manual bailout capability with parachutes.  There are some semi-straight dirt roads and what appears to be a 5K foot old dirt strip or target runway less than 2 miles away, but it is not on GPS or any chart.  Additionally, it may have craters or unseen obstructions, it is tough to determine.  There is also a large, straight highway that you estimate to be about 3-5 miles on your nose.  Your engine has overtemped and did not restart on your first attempt, you suspect it is a fuel supply or engine computer issue, but at least you have control of the aircraft/glider. 

Your glide ratio is 1.3 miles/1000' alt @ 160kts.  You are still at 225kts, 3K AGL and have about 2 minutes to live.  What do you do?  (considerations in parentheses)

A:  Pull out your checklist and attempt to remove computer and normal fuel supply from the loop by using Emergency Fuel Supply. (Seldom used, requires a little time to go through)

B:  Roll upsidedown, trim full nose down, jettison canopy, and bailout.  (Min alt required 800' AGL, but you have your doubts if you both will clear the tail and what will happen when you pull the rip-cord.)

C:  Attempt a forced landing on a dirt road or the "target airstrip".  (Plenty of options with roads, they are long.  You are too low for proper SFO to the dirt strip and it looks like it may be too high and fast for a straight-in.)

D:  Go for the highway.  (You may not make it there, and you could get taken out by a Kia if you do)

E:   None of the above (describe below).

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10 Answers

  1. Sam Dawson on Jan 07, 2013

    Well, you probably have violated so many regulations at this point what’s a few more? Ejection seat pyro out of date? Well… Can’t really comment on that as I’m not sure what the FAA would say about operating the airplane in that configuration. I would think they would want them disabled and placarded inoperative, however.
    Vodka bottles coming out of the parachute? When was it last re-packed? Who re-packed it?
    Stupid question.

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  2. Bob Watson on Jan 07, 2013

    I would hope that I had trained for that eventuality before I got into the plane and that the equipment I needed to execute that training had been sufficiently pre-flighted and was up to the task (i.e. taken the vodka bottles out of the chute before starting the engine)..

    Otherwise, I’d make peace with my maker and realize that my ticket had just been punched.

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  3. Nine Lives on Jan 07, 2013

    This isn’t a hypothetical question, and I didn’t meet my maker. However, the part the old pyro was fictitious. I added that to give you another choice so I will retract that answer. (i.e. The seat is cold, no pyro – so the ejection scenario is out.)

    Replace answer A with: Pull out checklist and attempt another restart using Emergency Fuel Control. (You suspect it is a fuel supply/Engine computer problem and this will “take it out of the loop”)

    The sarcastic attempt at humor with the Vodka bottles was lost on some of you, sorry – so let’s just say that you were told the chute was “checked in accordance with the annual inspection of an Experimental Aircraft”, but it is still the original 30 year old chute from the Czech Republic and the bailout maneuver that I described (correctly), is somewhat… spicy.

    Also, the aircraft has its Airworthiness Cert, looked good for pre-flight, you are approved on the Range with positive two-way comms w/ range control.

    I am missing the “many rules I violated” – so please tell me what they are (besides the old pyro.)

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  4. Nine Lives on Jan 07, 2013

    The question has been reworded.

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  5. Best Answer

    Jim F. on Jan 07, 2013

    First, I’t pitch up to trade my excessive airspeed with altitude. At a Vl/d of 160 and 1.3nm/1K, that gives me right at about 4 nm, so I’d head to the old airstrip. Sure, there may be rough terrain and/or obstacles, but that holds true for the road and anywhere else. I feel the strip would be the best bet.

    As for the bailout option… I don’t know much about that stuff, but I’d be hesitant to use a 30 year old chute that’s never been used. Who knows what could have happened to weaken the integrity of it. Especially when you have a perfectly good glider.

    And even if the runway or other emergency landing site was rough and tore off the gear, you’re still safe and there’s less damage to the aircraft than the inevitable destruction caused by a bailout.

    (I don’t have any experience with larger/faster aircraft, so perhaps my thoughts are way off of SOP. This is how I see it as a low-time SE/ME commercial pilot. The largest/fastest plane I’ve flown is a BE-76.)

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  6. Sam Dawson on Jan 07, 2013

    There’s an old saying. Don’t ask a question when you may not like the answer.

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  7. Nine Lives on Jan 07, 2013

    Thanks for taking it seriously and giving what I feel was the best answer Jim. (I thought the Master CFI was going to get it.) That is what I did except for the trade alt for airspeed, I felt too high already. I chose a hard turn, over-speeding the gear skidding my way down what I estimate was a 15deg approach. The dirt strip was rocky, but there were no craters or obstructions. Aside from the engine, there was no damage to aircraft. They even got some crazy guy to fly it out of there after an engine change! I refused due to FOD potential and lack of a maintenance flight.

    I used to fly dual engine aircraft with outstanding ejection seats. Flying single engine aircraft always had me on edge. I read a similar post one month before this flight on an L39 enthusiast website; it was a discussion based on a guy who didn’t make it. It got me thinking about what could happen and when. I made some changes in my habits and it saved my life. That is why I posted this, maybe it will make someone think.

    I stopped flying low straight-ins (unless I had to) and always kept enough energy on the jet to make the field in case I lost the engine. Down low is where the birds are and you have no excess energy on the aircraft on a straight-in. Additionally, you will be out of the bailout envelope very quickly. Then you will have no choices left but one.

    I always look around for a suitable place to do a forced landing. If there are no airfields I look at roads and fields.

    I practice SFOs every chance I get. Several times per month from various positions and altitudes.

    I never think lightning can’t strike twice, because it did – 10 flights later. Luckily that time I was at 23K and right over McGhee Tyson. That was a cakewalk.

    Needless to say, I’m looking for a new job.

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  8. Brian on Jan 08, 2013

    Great read nine. I think you used up a few lives though 😉 In the future, as you can see we have quite a few cynics here these days. So if you ask a question with humor you will need to post a sign.

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  9. Nine Lives on Jan 08, 2013

    Thanks Brian, I noticed the seriousness. I always like to use humor, especially when writing a story. It keeps it interesting. I could just cut and paste stuff from the FAR/AIM, but there are plenty of more qualified guys here to do that. I prefer to relay stuff from experience and lesson’s learned. I’ll tack a bunch of disclaimers and winky faces next time!

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  10. Bob Watson on Jan 09, 2013

    I think it’s an interesting post, even for just a piston driver, like me. It’s interesting to see how the kerosene crowd rolls.

    One thing that’s common to both is to train and prepare for this type of decision making before taking off. Your (Nine Lives’) posts indicate that you approached this scenario with considerable proficiency and training in systems and procedures (always a good thing).

    Never mind the curmudgeons. Keep the stories coming!

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