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Engine Failure After Take-Off

Is Our Training Fit for Purpose?

Matt Lane is concerned about the partial engine failure. It is at least as likely as a total failure but there is little training, if any, for the appropriate reactions in such a case.
Everyone knows in single engine flying, from the early days of PPL training right through to ‘sky god’ status (whatever that is), that there are two main engine failure scenarios we train for and practice: the engine failure in flight leading to a forced landing, and the much feared Engine Failure After Takeoff (EFATO). The practising of various emergencies in flight, often including smoke, fire, rough running and so on, is a well known part of initial and refresher training. Indeed, much has been written and published on techniques and considerations for forced landings and their practice, including in this magazine.

The focus of this article is on the EFATO scenario. I firstly ask you to think about how you have experienced EFATO practices in your flying career, or if you are an instructor / examiner how you train/test them. I’m willing to bet that the general run of things goes like this:

Aircraft established on climb out.

Instructor judges adequate height for exercise initiation, or there may be local orders (e.g. not below 500ft AGL) that are to be complied with.

Instructor retards throttle to idle and announces simulated engine failure.

Student identifies situation, adopts the glide attitude / speed, carries out any appropriate drills and proceeds with forced landing ahead.
Instructor calls for go around when he/she judges the exercise aim has been satisfied.

Aircraft climbed away back into circuit.

Sounds familiar? Well, a straw poll of flying internet forum users thought it was fairly representative of their training. In addition, examination of various respected sets of instructor notes and the RAF elementary flying training instructor notes generally agree. The bit of particular interest to me is the initiation – which is generally ‘close the throttle’. Therefore we can summarise that the scenario being induced is a total power loss, which then progresses into a glide approach to land.


Pitch down to select an appropriate attitude to ACHIEVE AND MAINTAIN AT LEAST BEST GLIDE SPEED



If above 500ft and able to climb or maintain level flight:



When time permits, carry out non-mechanical failure actions If engine does not
recover, position for GLIDE APPROACH

When committed to landing approach, CLOSE THROTTLE and carry out FORCED LANDING actions.

If below 500ft and unable to climb:

Commit to landing ahead, CLOSE THROTTLE and carry out FORCED LANDING actions.

An aircraft is at one of the most vulnerable stages of flight shortly after takeoff in the initial climb.

An aircraft is at one of the most vulnerable stages of flight shortly after takeoff in the initial climb. It is short of energy; momentum is low due to slow speed and potential energy is low due to the lack of height. Should the engine fail suddenly at this stage, speed could rapidly decay and the aircraft could stall with minimal height to initiate recovery action unless prompt action is taken. Rapid1 selection of a nose down attitude to retain flying speed is essential to maintain a safe glide and successful forced landing. For this reason, EFATO training is rightly deemed important, and the acquisition of a correct, instinctive recognition and response to the engine failure is a key skill required for solo flight and licence issue. This is all well and good, but how does this translate to the practical realities of what a pilot could face out of the training environment? When I teach or examine and employ Threat and Error Management, I like to look at the ‘loss of power’ THREAT in three forms:

Mechanical Failure

Non-Mechanical Failure


Fire would hopefully be identifiable by signs and/or smell of smoking or burning and is clearly a serious airborne emergency. The priority will always be to try to isolate the source of the fire (probably by shutting down the engine) and making a prompt forced landing. Mechanical failure is indicated by an engine that completely or suddenly stops, or is labouring with much mechanical noise and/or vibration. This may be resulting from a component part of the engine structurally failing or component seizure (perhaps following oil loss). Again shutting down the engine and a prompt forced landing is order of the day. I would say that in both these scenarios, the initiation of EFATO training by closing the throttle is not a bad training technique. However, now let us look at the Non-Mechanical failure. These can be said to be a failure where the propeller gradually runs down and windmills for no apparent reason or there is a reduction in engine power,2 perhaps accompanied by rough running. Possible causes are an incorrect control selection in the cockpit, a fuel flow issue, engine airflow issue (e.g. carb icing), minor mechanical or ignition system issues. In all these cases, a reduction in power rather than a total loss of power may be experienced. Therefore is always closing the throttle to idle in EFATO training representative?

Thinking over my own flying career, apart from one total engine seizure in the circuit in a Cessna 152, all my engine issues on climb out have been a partial loss of power and/or rough running. Canvassing friends and colleagues suggests this is not uncommon, indeed suspected carb icing getting a regular mention. I could at this stage go on to quote some swept-up analysis of incident trends that gives you a nice pie chart of engine failure causes and trends. However, I haven’t had the time or inclination to do that and as a friend of mine once said ’76.8% of statistics are made up on the spot".  Therefore let us agree that there is a fair risk that an engine failure after take off could be of a Partial nature (call it a PEFATO) and consider whether we train properly for such a scenario.

Seized by this idea of the PEFATO, I have over the last few years regularly given students and test candidates a PEFATO scenario by reducing power on the climb out to something like the normal straight and level flight power setting for the circuit. I then announce something like ‘simulated rough running and vibration, touch drills only, continue your response until I tell you to go around’ or suchlike. The reactions to this scenario are usually quite interesting and are generally one of (in most likely order):

Immediate pitch down and attempt at forced landing ahead, throttle left untouched and resulting forced landing approach badly handled as we end up fast/high due to residual power.

Aircraft levelled off and staggers onward at low level while student wonders what to do.

Some form of unbriefed and uncontrolled turn back towards the airfield.

Vain attempt to maintain climb while speed decays and we approach the stall.

In all those cases, the resulting outcome is likely to be less than desirable and we may have missed the opportunity to recover the situation safely. A common trait is the complete surprise of the student who has previously been conditioned to expect a total loss of power and conversion to a glide forced landing. My contention is therefore that a PEFATO is a possible event and our training does not sufficiently expose our students to the PEFATO scenario nor potentially how to deal with it.

There is a fair risk that an engine failure after take off could be of a Partial nature ...... 

So how should we deal with a PEFATO? Well, we effectively have three possible outcomes and some associated considerations:

Resolve the problem so that we can safely climb away.
– This will require some form of checks and engine resolution such as selecting carb heat, or checking fuel pump on etc… It could be as simple as that the throttle has vibrated away from full power or a passenger has knocked it.

Commit to a forced landing ahead.
–  This will require us to remove the residual power, shutdown the engine and perform a forced landing.

Use residual power to manoeuvre back for a landing on the runway or a more favoured landing area.
–  This will have people spraying out their beer/coffee as they read this and ranting about the heinous ‘turnback’ but the reality is that it is something we need to consider, especially with poor forced landing terrain or options on the climbout.

At this stage I would like to refer to my other life as an RAF A2 motorglider instructor for the Air Cadet Organisation on the Vigilant (military Grob 109B). Interestingly, the Air Cadets actively train and test both partial and full Power Loss on Take Off scenarios and standard drills. I don’t intend to go into the full detail of this as that would take too much space, and much of the procedures are tailored to motorgliders and a one type environment where distinct height gates can be derived. However, the general process is useful and drawing on this and my experience I would like to suggest the following PEFATO emergency actions, remembering of course that FLY THE AIRCRAFT is always the priority:

A PEFATO is a complex case and I know much of the above could (and hopefully will) stimulate debate. There are many variables, you could argue over 500ft (I picked it as a viable low level circuit height) and of course the engine could totally fail at any stage. There will also be many different local circuit patterns and terrain influences. Some aircraft glide well, others are like the proverbial house brick. No matter what you think or decide to teach / practice, I hope this article at least gives you some food for thought on a very real possible engine failure scenario and ways in which we may think about dealing with it.

Note: If unsure, always seek the guidance of a qualified instructor, experienced on type, before attempting engine failure training manoeuvres near to the ground.


1. I acknowledge that ‘rapid’ is a debatable term, ‘prompt’ would also be fine. Semantics aside, the point is you haven’t got time on your side and the need to select a suitable glide attitude from the climb attitude is pressing.

2. I use ‘reduction in power’ rather than RPM to cover the types of variable pitch propeller engine readouts and even diesel engine aircraft that may express power in % output terms.


Matt Lane is a CPL/FI/FE and currently Head of Training at RAF Brize Norton Flying Club; he also trains and examines for a number of schools around the Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire area and is on the AOPA Instructor Committee.




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