So, say you’re flying along enjoying the scenery when you notice that its a little later than you thought and you are not sure you can make it home before dark. Or the headwinds are stronger than forecast and you’re concerned about fuel. Perhaps some weather moved in and stands between you and your destination. Maybe your passenger is spewing from her mouth and nose and you’re quickly running out of sick bags.
All good reasons to immediately consider a Precautionary Search and Landing. This is a standard practice wherein a pilot decides for whatever reason that it would be safest to be on the ground at a particular moment. Good airmanship dictates that you recognise a deteriorating situation and take decisive steps to neutralise it BEFORE it becomes an emergency. Almost always, such a situation is best thought out on the ground, without the stress of flying.
So for my first “post-graduate” lesson, I went with Brett to brush up on this technique. We flew out to The Oaks airstrip, SW of Camden NSW for a couple of reasons. Firstly, The Oaks is a fairly short grass strip which somewhat resembles a field or paddock. Secondly, if we were to just practice over a real field or paddock, we could not descend below 500 feet above the ground. Since The Oaks is an airfield, I can descend as low as I need, which would help in building the proper mental picture as well as the skills needed to fly very low and slow.
Why is this important? Well, without writing out the full PSL syllabus here, essentially what you are doing is identifying a potential landing spot, then doing a couple/few circuits at low speed and varying heights to assess whether you will be able to land safely (and be able to take off again).
We reached The Oaks in about 20 minutes and flew overhead at about 1500 feet above ground level to get an idea of the wind direction, then descended to circuit height of 1000 feet for the first pass. We’ve set up in slow-flight configuration – about 2600 RPM with flaps extended for about 70 knots airspeed.
If you are considering landing in a field, you need these flyovers to help determine the wind strength/direction, presence of obstacles, slope, surface conditions, overshoots/undershoots, adequate length, and ideally somewhere close to civilisation – even a farmhouse.
So far so good on our first pass. Having decided its worth a second look, we then repeat the process at 500 feet above the ground then go back up to circuit height. For the third run, we descend to about 50 feet off the deck and slightly to the right of the strip (field). This is so I can have a very close look at the ground to make sure the surface isn’t full of potholes or large rocks or tree stumps. We’re off to the right because I sit on the left side. The aircraft is trimmed perfectly for this speed and attitude and I am maintaining a constant cycle of scanning my heading, height, and the field.
At the end of the field, I give it full power to get back up to circuit height. Normally here you’d just do a normal circuit and land. We didn’t actually land, so as to avoid a landing charge 🙂
We headed straight back to Bankstown, and I am very pleased with the way it went, and feeling more confident with yet another tool in my box.
Here is a GPS track of the day’s work:
I basically followed some landmarks and a river to get out there, then when done made a straight line back to Bankstown.
Here is a link to the video, which is on the school’s Facebook page:
As the old saying goes, sometimes it is better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing you were on the ground. Stay safe everyone!