Unintended touchdown

image: Civil Aviation Safety Authority

As it was a nice day, I thought it would be good to take the plane out for a trip around the local area and was wondering about performing an engine-off landing as I had practised doing them now and again quite successfully, just to be aware of a real engine-off landing should it ever really happen.

On the way back to the strip after a pleasant flight, I was wondering about how much further the plane would glide with the engine switched off and the propeller stopped.

So, joining downwind I throttled back to idle and then switched off both mags—the propeller was still spinning at 80 knots, so I slowed the aircraft back to 60 knots and the prop finally stopped. I then increased the airspeed up to 70 with the propeller still not spinning.

Now this was going to be a real engine-off landing. So, I thought, allow for a slight increase in gliding distance and extend my downwind leg just a bit more than I normally would, as if the engine was throttled back in a simulated engine-off landing, and with the prop still rotating. Everything was looking good as I turned base, and then onto final, putting in one stage of flap.

Looking to the airstrip I could see that this was going to test my judgement, so again, I slowed the plane down to 65 knots by raising the nose, and thought ‘um’ yes everything was still looking OK, so maybe slow down to 60 knots.

Now getting lower and closer to my intended touchdown and somehow realising at this point that I am not going to quite make it, I press the start button. The propeller turns but the engine does not fire up. With a dry mouth and getting even lower, I press the start button again. Still no power. ‘Heck, what is going on?’ I knew for sure l wasn’t going to make it to the strip and only had a few seconds left before touching terra firma and hitting the fence.

OK, it’s time to forget about trying to start the engine. Now only about 100 feet from the ground, I do a 90-degree turn into an adjoining paddock clear of any cows and fences and land safely, but with the stall warning blaring.

Wondering why the engine did not start, l realised I had not flicked on the mag switches before engaging the starter.

‘Bloody hell’, I thought. With my concentration fixed on trying to land on the strip with no power, and thinking I may not make it, why hadn’t I thought about those darned switches?

Contemplating my stupidity, l then switched on the mags, pressed the start button and the engine fired up instantly.

Luckily, the paddock was long and smooth enough to take-off out of, and I soon landed back at the strip with, need I say it, ‘power.

An elderly woman driving past spread the word around town than an aircraft had landed in the paddock near the airport. No one believed her. Everyone thought it must have just been a farmer in his ute, as nobody else had seen it, or maybe she was just a bit confused, poor old dear.

I kept quiet about this incident for a while, but then eventually owned up, admitting the woman was spot on recognising an aircraft in that paddock.

I learnt a couple of things that day. The aircraft did not seem to glide any further with the propeller stopped than with it spinning, so no need to switch off the magnetos to test that theory. And if you are practising engine-off landings, do not switch off the mags, just in case the motor does not fire up when you may need power for your intended touchdown, and causing little old ladies much concern.


  1. This all seems counterintuitive to expect a longer glide with engine off and to extend the down wind longer than usual. A re visit to engine failure procedures would seem in order. This was one lucky flyer.

    • Longer, flatter glide due to reduced drag, because the propeller is not windmilling, right? It takes a lot of energy to spin that thing.

  2. I am looking for an aeroplane that can execute a 90 degree turn with engine off from 100 feet agl. There is one coming to a paddock near you!

  3. I applaud the writer for finally coming clean, I only hope his utter stupidity sinks in to those that “think” they know better. Engine off ldg’s are totally unesesary and frankly bloody stupid! This guy was lucky he didn’t ball it up! There’s many reasons why you never deliberately shut and engine down for practice, one is what happens when you are on short final and someone pulls out in front of you? Where you gunna go? There’s a reason why a Mayday is declared when an engine actually fails, to alert others for the need of priority, among other things. Airmanship and regulations go hand in hand, make sure you guys out there don’t seperate those two requirements!!

      • Actually KM are you a troll? if not your the idiot here, all good advice from Walter to the unwary, I have a feeling I’m wasting my time because people that makes comments like that are invariably hiding behind false info but Meh at least I got it off my chest lol

  4. Well, returning from my PPL test (successful), my instructor closed the throttle, pulled out the mixture when I was 2/3 down the downwind leg, stopping the engine. I shortened the circuit, set the glide speed, kept the flaps up till I was sure of landing. Thinking ‘Bloody Hell!’ to myself as he comments “Notice the higher rate of descent with the engine off and the prop windmilling ” . Certainly got my attention. As we crossed the airfield boundary he pushed the mixture in, and pressed the starter as we were slowing on the runway so I could taxy after landing. Big sigh of relief from me!

  5. Having experienced the ‘read deal’… i.e. catastrophic engine failure, I think it’s a good idea to practice it from time to time… while over a nice large airport. High Key, Base Key, and Low Key are good things to see and experience before we shoehorn our newly acquired non-powered (but once powered) aircraft into a small ’emergency’ landing site. I’m not one to criticize this pilot for practicing what might save the lives of all on board the aircraft some day. Thanks to the author for a thoughtful article. FWIW, my circle of friends includes quite a number of pilots who dealt with one or more of GA’s “very reliable” engines [that is an oft repeated myth, by the way] that quit. The problem occurs infrequently, but definitely not rarely.

  6. A great lesson for all! Aside from the immediate risk of misjudging the glide/landing, there are longer term consequences for air cooled engines being shut down in flight. The shock cooling will result in cracked cylinders, An acquaintance of mine used to do “dead stick” landings in his Lycoming O-320 powered aeroplane and couldn’t understand why he was cracking cylinders. Once he ceased his dead stick landings, the problems stopped.
    There is nothing to be gained from shutting an engine down in flight for practice. Having completed a couple of forced landings following genuine engine failures, the only difference I noted was the slight distraction of the prop stopping during the landing.

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