Before settling inside the cock pit of a Cessna 172, Mitch Bennett, a flight instructor at Sky Ranch Airport, went through the plane’s pre-flight checklist.
Bennett has been flying for nearly 20 years and is a certified flight instructor for commercial pilots, single engine and multi-engine pilots.
After learning about a local pilot landing in the Tennessee River last week, Bennett said it seemed as though that pilot followed his training perfectly.
To become a private pilot, someone must spend at least 45 hours of training in the air, Bennett said.
He said he usually makes his students fly at least 60 hours before he signs off on their certification.
During lessons, Bennett said that he often simulates engine failures so his students don’t freeze if it happens when they are by themselves.
“It just becomes automatic, you don’t even have to think. You just go right through the motions,” Bennett said.
How much time a pilot has to react depends on what phase of flight they are in.
Bennett said take-off is often the most dangerous time to have an engine failure.
There aren’t a lot of places to land after leaving the runway and there’s not enough altitude to give the pilot time to react.
Essentially, the higher – the better, Bennett said.
Once engine failure occurs, depending on how high the plane is, the pilot strives to enter into glide speed.
“These planes are designed to glide,” Bennett said.
Meaning, the plane doesn’t simply fall out of the sky after engine failure. It barely feels any different at all.
Pilots are trained to always think about an alternate landing spot, and Bennett said that’s the hardest part.
He said highways, waterways and large fields work as the best alternates.
Bennett learned the hard way that bean fields are not optimal.
Once the plane is at gliding speed, figuring out where to land comes next.
If there’s enough time, the pilot tries to figure out what caused the engine to stop, then tries to fix it if possible.
While all of that is going on, the pilot is contacting air traffic controllers, letting them know about the failure and the possible landing site.
If an emergency landing is still needed, pilots call in ‘mayday’ and try to land as smoothly as possible.
Of course, as Bennett said, many potential engine failures can be caught during pre-check.
Pilots must check the entire plane: Make sure the fuel doesn’t have water in it, oil is good, clean windshields, etc.
He said pilots must also go through a mental simulation of what they would do if they lost an engine on take-off, what would happen if they are less than a given altitude and above a given altitude.
Bennett said that flying is usually safer than driving cars. There are more car crash fatalities than plane crash fatalities, the National Safety Council reports.