Partial power loss causes Tiger Moth collision

Robert Frola | GFDL

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) is reminding pilots that they should consider options and actions in the event of a partial power loss prior to taking off after a Tiger Moth was involved in an accident in Queensland in 2015.

On 28 December, a Tiger Moth departed Pimpama Airfield, Queensland, for an adventure flight. The pilot had assessed the weather as suitable, with a headwind of 10–15 knots straight down the intended take-off airstrip.

Shortly after take-off, at an altitude of between 200 and 300 feet, the engine power unexpectedly reduced. In response, the pilot made a left turn during which the aircraft entered an incipient spin. The pilot attempted to recover from the spin, however, the aircraft collided with terrain. The passenger was killed, and the pilot sustained serious injuries. The aircraft was substantially damaged.

The ATSB examined the aircraft’s engine, its components and fuel system but could not find a reason for the partial power loss. The investigation also found that when the aircraft entered the spin, the pilot had insufficient height to recover before crashing into the ground.

The ATSB said, ‘Partial power loss of an aircraft’s engine presents a more complex scenario than a complete power loss, where a forced landing is inevitable. The scenario is further complicated when the partial loss occurs shortly after take-off.’

Pilots should consider options and actions in the event of a partial power loss prior to take-off. Factors to consider should include their piloting skills, experience, conditions on the day and the aircraft type-specific characteristics to decide a height below which a forced landing straight ahead is required, should a partial or complete power loss occur. Self-briefing on this subject before take‑off reduces the decision-making load if a power loss does occur.

When an emergency landing is required, flying the aircraft in a controlled manner, wings level and at the recommended glide speed has a better survivability outcome than when control of the aircraft is lost.

In 2017, Flight Safety Australia looked at how partial power loss can degrade aircraft performance before you notice a problem in in Losing the PLOT.


  1. Sadly pilots don’t learn from their counterparts mistakes over the years. It will happen again, like death & taxes it’s a certainty!

  2. The Merimbula pilot, who has been working for Tiger Moth Joy Rides for less than a month as operations manager, made headlines in mid-2013 when he won the world record as the youngest pilot to fly solo around the world and was also the first teenager to complete the feat.

    He did it in 70 days, making 34 stops in 15 countries and spending 200 hours in the air in his plane Spirit of the Sapphire Coast.

    Bit complacent maybe?

  3. Hmm, O Gage, a generalisation that achieves nothing and to me is contrary to the spirit of Flight Safety. to me Flight Safety provides articles, either first hand, or ones such as this from the ATSB or CASA, as a service to all pilots from which we can learn, or pass on our experiences without judgement.

    From my own experience of engine power loss/failure after take off, we end up being our harshest critics.

  4. Basic training by many schools is abysmal. An engine failure is no excuse for crashing an aircraft.
    Proper planning and execution taught correctly would save lives. CASA technocrats put emphasis on technical correctness of modern instructors but fail to demonstrate to the need for excellent stick and rudder techniques themselves. In 28 years as an “A” then Grade One Instructor I have had to fail numerous commercial pilots on pre-employment check flights on their inability to conduct a safe engine out procedure.
    Schools take note! In the unlikely event of a partial or complete engine failure the pilot has only one chance to get it right. The response must be instinctive. If the instructor cannot demonstrate and teach to that standard then the CFI is failing in her/his duty.
    Gliding experience to a minimum of “C” certificate is recommended to those who are serious about “GETTING IT RIGHT EVERY TIME”

    • Well said! Flight training standards are terrible. I blame vet programs and sausage factory mentality!

  5. It does call into question the standards of basic training when an accident like this occurs, tragic. On first glance there seems to have been a complete lack of understanding of the effects on performance of commencing a turn shortly after takeoff. Sometimes it is essential to ensure terrain/obstacle clearance and is often part of a procedural departure for large aircraft however the performance degradation is then taken into account. It beggars belief that anyone at all familiar with the marginal performance of a Tiger whilst climbing after takeoff with two on board would contemplate the flight path shown in this report. More to this than meets the eye!

  6. Agree with the above comments from obviously well experienced instructors. As a senior A cat instructor here in NZ I find the lack of ‘stick & rudder’ skill lacking in most schools and clubs appalling. Most schools have been influenced by airlines to provide a ‘product’ that is useful to them. The partial power loss scenario is not drummed into students, if ever we close the throttle they know exactly what to do but sadly we don’t train enough for the partial power situation which is a more common occurrence. Feel sad for the families involved, these accidents are totally preventable.

  7. As a pilot of a scant four years, I suspect most of the critics here are far more experienced than I am; it’s even possible that some of them have never made an aviation error. For my part, there are two things I’ll bear in mind before laying all the blame at the feet of the young pilot (or his instructors):

    1. Partial loss of power is much harder to handle correctly than complete engine failure, because it less predictable. Might the power come back? Might it proceed to complete failure? Is there enough power to manouevre – or not? Is it fluctuating?

    2. I wasn’t there, and don’t know all the circumstances. Was there rising terrain that he couldn’t outclimb with reduced power, forcing him into a turn? (It appears so). Was the turn initiated under adequate partial power which then further deteriorated? Was he turning to head toward a nearby open field?

    3. The text in the report above appears to conflict with the actual ATSB report (which is itself a little ambiguous). The diagram in the ATSB report strongly suggests the left turn was made before the power loss – from the time of power loss to the time of impact, the flight path seems strictly straight ahead. (The ATSB text doesn’t quite accord with the diagram, though; and there seems no doubt that the final result was a spin).

    With a dead engine at 300 feet, the decision is easy; with a half-alive one, not quite so easy. I suspect that anyone who is 100% confident they would have done better, is fooling themselves.

  8. Power + Attitude = perf. Total engine failure or partial is irelivent, the result is the same! A major reduction of power in a Tiger at low Alt especially in the climb phase means you are going down and rapidly due the high drag airframe. A turn other than minimal at that Alt is suicide as the pilot found out! Hope this sad event sinks in to those that think they are test pilots!

  9. the debate about the standard of our flight training system is of interest to me.

    I undertook my PPL in Mt Isa in 1985/6. At various times during my training I often wondered if we had the process back to front. Here I was with young pilots who seemed to be chasing hours in pursuit of flying for RPT. I used to think shouldn’t our FIs’ be more experienced pilots who, as well as delivering the required training, could also pass on the benefits of the years of flying experience.

    My thoughts changed 180 degrees as the result of an engine failure/partial loss of power just after turning cross wind, therefore above 500′ agl, on departure from Doomadgee in the Gulf. it wasn’t until I was on the ground that I really had time to think about what had happened. My first reflection was that I was wrong about my thoughts re FIs’ and hours. My reactions had been pretty much automatic and aligned with the mantra – aviate navigate communicate. I seemed to go through the processes of checking magnetos, trying to restart and moving into landing mode without seeming to think about what I needed to do.

    to me it is not necessarily the hours and experience an instructor has that is important but how they teach and train their students and develop the right mind set in them.

    It was also the last time I made any jokes with the CFI about wouldn’t it be terrible if I had a problem and needed to spend the night at X because it was the local white water canoe race weekend and a very social event. :-)

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