The FAA Safety Team released a notice Nov. 4, 2021, telling certified flight instructors that they should teach the “impossible turn.”
“Flight instructors should demonstrate and teach trainees when and how to make a safe 180° turn back to the field after an engine failure,” the notice reads. “Instructors should also train pilots of single-engine airplanes not to make an emergency 180° turn back to the field after a failure unless altitude, best glide requirements, and pilot skill allow for a safe return.”
The notice then provides several references for CFIs, including:
- AC61-83J Addendum A, including Paragraph A.11 “How to Teach Pilots to Avoid LOC” and Paragraph A.11.4 “Return to Field / Engine Failure on Takeoff.”
- The FAASTeam brochure P-8740-44, “Impossible Turn”
- Captain Brian Schiff’s webinar for the National Association of Flight Instructors on the Impossible Turn
- The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association “Real Pilot Story — The Impossible Turn,” which includes actual video of an event and comments by ATC and the pilot.
- The Air Safety Institute video, “Reality Check: The Runway Behind You.”
- It also encourages CFIs to search YouTube for “The Impossible Turn.”
FAA officials note they will be hosting a safety seminar on the impossible turn “very soon” at Sarasota/Bradenton International Airport (KSRQ) in Florida.
Brian Schiff says
My take on this topic:
Michael Townsend says
I taught for 20 years in Utah mountain flying throughout the Wasatch Front and Rockies. During the Summer months with high density altitudes this maneuver is dangerous. Ive tried it in over 15 aircraft from C-150, 210, Piper Archers and Arrows, etc. In Winter you have high winds, LLWS. Spring and Fall in the mountains often have adverse weather. I now fly in Kansas. You might be able to do this here if the winds are under 15kt, which is not to often, and temps under 80°F.
Fortunatly, there are lots of open spaces for most Mid-West GA fields to make a landing. I wouldn’t do a 180 at Afton, WY, Hayden, ID or Teluride, CO or dozens of other mountain airports Ive flown from.
Doran Jaffas says
As an Aviator of 37 plus years and counting with experience in many types of certified and EAB aircraft The terminology does not fit. The improbable turn under Certain conditions for sure. As in any aircraft I have ever flown irregardless of how many hours it has on it, whether it is being test flown for the 1st time or I am flying it for the 1st time and the airplane has several 1000 hours on it, I take it up and do a performance check not only of the airplane but of myself. I do it again after I have some time in it.. Practicing the turn back to the airport As well as the turn back to the runway which are 2 different scenarios, are of the utmost importance If you intend to do that maneuver when or if you are in the unfortunate situation of contemplating it.Taking off and practicing these at altitude is a must. Going up-and-doing them with an instructor at lower altitude I believe is also a must unless you are extremely familiar with your airplane. It is one thing to practice them that several 1000′ and understand how much altitude loss you have. It is quite another to practice them at lower altitudes where the visual references can be startlingly clear.. I have done stalls in the pattern and and it is a whole lot different than doing stalls at 3500′ or more.There is no one rule to doing these. I have had engine failures on take off and at altitudes as well as smoke in the cockpit immediately after takeoff.. I’m speaking from some experience that even though you have practiced them the adrenaline reaction can be pretty amazing. Fortunately all of mine have come out well with damage to neither airplane or pilot but again these along with stalls in various Atmospheric conditions must be practiced on a fairly regular basis regular basis to not only be familiar with the situation if it occurs but also to make you a more Is proficient and comfortable Aviator.
I practiced return-to-field landings one day with another CFI. Winds were calm, temperature about 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and we were flying a Cessna 172s.
We AT FIRST started asking the tower for a “90-270, return and land opposite direction runway,” which we did several times before realizing that was “cheating,” and started pulling the throttle to idle while flying STRAIGHT AHEAD, then returning and landing in the opposite direction.
We found we could easily return and land at 700 feet AGL, then 600, then 500, then at 400′ AGL, the return-to-field was possible, but we couldn’t line up with the approach end, “brick one,” and had to land down the runway a bit. At 320′ AGL it got PRETTY HAIRY, but we made it, and stopped trying to go lower.
So now I know that info, which is helpful, and that I don’t HAVE to land on the approach end of the runway, if it’s long enough, in a Cessna 172–anywhere lined up straight on the runway is fine, the aircraft doesn’t need all that much landing rollout distance.
I’m glad I had another guy on board to help watch the airspeed, etc. etc.
JimH in CA says
This is getting to be a tired’ subject. There have been 2 major studies and a major ‘white paper’ by an aero phd .
What should taught is a set of glide and turn tests that the pilot can do in the aircraft he flies. He can then determine if his aircraft is capable of returning to the runway, and under what conditions.
The Bonanza A36 is not capable under any conditions…see the recent AOPA Air Safety study.
J T Ruth says
Each engine failure is unique. One size does not fit all. Every takeoff has its unique set of risks. Are there smooth wheat fields or cornfield straightahead or are you taking off into a high-rise or congested city or an oil refinery the list goes on and on. If an engine fails on takeoff or any time the engine fails the insurance company now owns the airplane. The only thing you should be concerned with is how to get out of this thing alive. If you can restart the engine and have time to do your checklist, so much the better. I am not so concerned about landing on the runway I took off from. Landing anywhere on the airport is preferable to going into a high-rise building. Engine out requires practice and good judgment. If you are going to do the turn back to the airport you better be certain that you can make it.
I wish people would stop referring to the “Possible Turn” as the “Impossible turn”.
If you experience engine failure after take-off, there is an aircraft/altitude/airspeed/weight/pilot combination that will allow you to complete a ‘Safe Turn’ back to the departure runway.
It was always a given that if you had a combination of the requisite items noted above, you could always return to your departure runway if you lost your engine.
The trick was to pin down the exact combination of the five items noted above that would allow safe execution of the manoeuver.
The “land straight ahead or (say) thirty degrees either side of departure path came about because engine failure in the first few seconds of take-off puts the pilot in an extremely tenuous position: no speed or altitude to trade for turning performance. Any attempt to do so resulted in a broken airplane at best, and broken people at worst.
Hence, the “never turn back” dictum.
I view the present push to train for the “Impossible Turn” with trepidation: unless the pilot
1. Is going to maintain currency (minimum 75-100 hours/year),
2. Ascertain minimum altitude for procedure commencement with dead and wind milling prop (more drag with dead engine),
3. Routinely practice the manoeuver (which I doubt – most don’t even practice stalls/circuits),
then I don’t hold out much hope for the success in the event of an actual EFATO.
There’s nothing wrong with telling pilots to find the minimum altitude at which they KNOW they could execute a 210 degree turn back to the airport plus some more for runway alignment. Then add a fudge factor up to fifty percent for screw-ups.
Don’t become a test pilot on your first engine failure after take-off; half-way around the turn back is not time to find out you’re out of airspeed, altitude, and ideas…
Interesting that the next article is a student who didn’t recover from a simple high flair and pretty much destroyed the aircraft. And who is teaching what to who. I know…who’s on first.
Mary Margaret McEachern says
It’s not a “180 degree” turn; at its extreme, it’s 270 degs in one direction followed by 90 degs in the opposite. So many factors figure into the problem, including but not limited to altitude, airplane performance, weight, load factors, the airplane’s minimum maneuvering speeds, glide ratio, and whether there are safter alternatives, to name a few. It’s a complicated scenario. Having experienced an engine-out at 200′ in a climb, I’ve come to appreciate this type of scenario-based training. My CFI did this with me, and it probably saved my life.
It is indeed a complicated scenario. Same reason it’s always been taught to land straight ahead in a single.
My experience says individual personality will determine if turning will be attempted or not. Success depends on Jupiter aligning with Mars…lol.. Or a 15 knot wind gust from the runway side of your turn.
Warren Webb Jr says
It’s much less than 270 as shown in Brian Schiff’s video at 1h:02m:14s.
Because words matter? I think if you want proper procedures for an emergency return and land to be included an a flight training curriculum perhaps a name change from “”The impossible turn” would be more important than determining the possible gender of my student or a FAA representative.
As a temporary CFI I would much rather tell that FAA representative how to have sex rather than determine what or if that FAA persons sexual preferences are. .
ross nolan says
In the ‘archive’ (old posts) on homebuiltairplanes.com this was discussed in some depth -useful input to your survey. As a long time (50+years) glider pilot I have always kept this in mind on climb out -but not for ‘runt winged’ homebuilts (eg Stiits Flut R Bug which I have flown and actually soared (!) at idle -low AR aircraft sink like a brick in a turn – ruling out turn back . The ‘canyon turn’ is another manouvre that should be taught -basically a ‘wing over’ or chandelle with the turn back at low speed and so low turn radius at the top – pulling up even into low cloud and just making the positive control inputs to change direction is preferable to a flat turn into solid rock A stall turn is quite safe if the aircraft is pointed down even below stall speed . I also held a power licence and power glider, flew in the states in 1974 lived in Ohio.