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By Dan Sobczak
Editor's note: This article first appeared in America's Flyways magazine in July 2006. This content does not constitute flight instruction. Consult a certified flight instructor in your area for proper flight instruction.
Several years ago in 2006, with just over three years of flying experience and most of my flight hours at the time having been logged in a Cessna 172 Skyhawk and Fantasy Air Allegro 2000, both single-engine, high-wing aircraft, I had the opportunity to fly in a completely different airplane with a new pilot buddy.
Kevin and I were introduced to each other by Greg, a pilot friend we both had in common. Always hoping to learn from new aviation experiences, I jumped at the chance to fly right seat in Kevin's Velocity kit plane.
The Velocity is an experimental single-engine canard design with its powerplant and pusher propeller in the back. Thrust produced by this type of propeller pushes the airplane forward. The canard wings up front make the Velocity a stall-resistant aircraft.
A 2006 photo of N111VX, a Velocity homebuilt airplane named Deception. Photo by Dan Sobczak.
Built by Kevin and his wife Brooke over a three-year period, this particular Velocity (aptly named Deception) was a beautifully crafted airplane with custom designed features throughout -- a work of art, right down to its imaginative graphics and futuristic paint scheme.
Kevin and I took flight early on a Saturday morning into sunny skies over Phoenix, Arizona. Heading northeastward from the desert floor, we hugged State Route 87 through a pass in the 7,000' MSL Mazatzal Mountains in south central Arizona, enroute to the cool pines of Payson. Kevin wanted to shoot an instrument approach at KPAN, so I came along as safety pilot to watch for traffic and handle radio calls while he was under the hood.
Four Peaks, a prominent landmark in the Mazatzal Mountains northeast of Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Dan Sobczak.
Air traffic at Payson's non-towered airport proved busy that morning. No doubt other aviators had the same plan in mind: escape from the summer heat into the cool air of the Mogollon Rim for breakfast.
After securing Deception and chatting with a few other canard pilots who had arrived earlier, we made our way into the crowded Crosswinds Restaurant just steps from the tie-down area.
Conversation always seems to focus on past flying experiences whenever two pilots are together. This morning was no different. Kevin and I shared stories of our own emergency experiences we've had while airborne and what we learned from those challenging flights.
A few months earlier, Kevin experienced a true engine-out emergency, his first in Deception.
"I was 10 miles from my home airport and had just spoken with tower in making my arrival," Kevin explained. "Suddenly I could smell fuel in the cockpit. Moments later the engine quit."
I first learned of Kevin's emergency through our pilot friend Greg. Now having met Kevin, I was interested to hear his account firsthand and find out what he learned from the incident. I hoped to take away something from our conversation that I could use, should a similar incident arise on a future flight of mine.
"I radioed back to tower that I had just lost my engine," Kevin continued. "I declared an emergency. Tower cleared me to land on any runway. I was 2,000 feet above ground. At best glide I was descending at 1,100 feet per minute and knew there was no way I would make the airport. I picked an open wash just below me to put her down, and radioed tower that I would be executing a power-off emergency landing."
"How much time had elapsed from the moment you smelled fuel until the time you touched down in the wash?" I asked.
"The whole incident happened within about one minute," he replied.
"That's hardly any time to react to such a pressing situation."
"I had just enough time to complete my emergency checklist, give tower a position report, and circle down to the spot I had already chosen to land in," Kevin added. "I put her down in a dried wash as smooth as I could."
Considering the rocky desert terrain, Kevin did a phenomenal job at putting his Velocity down safely. Deception incurred relatively little damage. One wheel pant was ripped off and the landing gear struts were scratched up. Later inspection revealed a faulty fuel pump that starved the engine of fuel.
"Sounds like you handled your power-off landing in textbook fashion," I commended. It was clear Kevin had routinely practiced such emergency procedures before. He was able to respond to the situation promptly and carried out the correct procedure without hesitation.
"I only hope I can react as well when the time comes that I have an engine-out scenario," I added. "Now that you can look back on it, what did you learn from the incident?"
"Even though I declared an emergency and was able to speak with controllers in the tower who were willing to give me anything I needed to ensure I made it safely to the ground, once I made that decision to put her down, not one of those people could help me at that point. It was up to me."
Kevin's incident reinforced in my mind a rule every pilot should adhere to: know your emergency procedures so that when it does happen, you can react, and not have to think about what you should do in order to react.
After finishing our breakfast, we launched for home. Kevin demonstrated the unique stall characteristics of the Velocity and its canard wings for me enroute to Phoenix. Having completed our mission for the morning, air traffic control funnelled us back into the busy airspace of Deception's home base at Deer Valley Airport (KDVT) for landing.
With any luck, I will hopefully never have to experience an engine-out scenario. But hope and luck are two things a pilot should never rely on. Prepare as though you expect an emergency to occur during every flight. When it does happen, you won't be caught off guard, hoping for a bit of luck to get you out of a hairy situation.
The Flight Chain App team
Dan Sobczak is the founder of www.FlightChainApp.com, a mobile app that helps pilots learn from accident chains by making NTSB reports more convenient and easier to digest. Dan received his private pilot certificate in 2003.
Flight Chain App and its companion blog www.AheadOfThePowerCurve.com are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.
The only aviation accident app that helps you see and understand the accident chain from NTSB reports.
Flight Chain App and its blog Ahead of the Power Curve are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.