Who has actually had an Engine Failure?


Well-Known Member
Engine failures are probably the one emergency we prepare for and worry about the most, especially in light singles. I have just eclipsed 250 hours of flight time in single engine piston powered aircraft and am yet to experience any sort of real-life engine malfunction. However, the possibility is always running through my mind both during preflight and in the air.

We've all heard "stories" about Joe Smith or Peggy Sue who had to land their their plane in a field last month, but has anyone here ever had an engine fail on them personally? How did you handle it? Were there any warning signs leading up the event that you missed? What caused the problem? What would you do differently?
I had an engine fart once, not a real failure. Got me on the ground pretty quick, though.

I was working through some stuff for my instrument ride at the time. I decided to go up and just go through the motions of what approaches I figured I'd be doing, but without the hood on. I go to Lansing fine, then went over to Flint. I went to shoot the NDB 9 and did the approach fine, went missed at 500' and at over the end of the runway and then the fun started.

I put the power all the way in of course, took the heat off and called the missed to the tower. About halfway down the runway the tach went from redline (where it should have been) to idle, to redline, to idle. It did this 3 times I think. My stomach just about dropped out. I already didn't like this plane as it has had some engine failures before, so I figured I was just the next one in line. By the time this stopped (maybe 10 seconds later) I was already in a turn back to the airport. I called the tower up and told them I was turning into a modified downwind for 9 and I was going to be on the ground in a few minutes. He told me that I was cleared to land any runway and they asked if I needed emergency vehicles. I told them I didn't need anything right now, just needed to get on the ground and get the engine checked out.

Thinking back, I should have done some things differently. I didn't trim for 65 knots, didn't go through the memory items; I just turned and started down. I knew exactly where the runway was and didn't have a lot of time to d*ck around if the engine decided to completly cut out. I flew the plane first and then let ATC know what was going on (It was a Class C airport). I probably could have flown forward for a few more seconds while I called them, but I made the turn first and then let them know what was happening. The only reason I say that is I could have turned right into someone on a final for the perpendicular (sp) intersecting runway (which was about the point where the engine decided to fart).

I got on the ground, had the FBO call a mechanic in. He came in, asked me some questions and decided that I had a stuck valve. I said "Alright...what's that?" and he briefly explained it while he threw something in the fuel tanks that he said would prevent it from happening again. Handed him $40 and we were both on our way. Flint is only about 30 miles from where I train at so I jumped in, she didn't fart, and got back home. I thanked the tower about three times on my way out for dealing with me.

Know what the worst thing was? When I got back, my FBO kept the plane online. They didn't have a mechanic look at it, and my instructor didn't know about it until I told her about it I don't believe. I was kind of angry about that one. Hopefully the people that own it right now will sell the place and someone who cares more than them will buy the place up. Wishful thinking, probably.

That's my engine fart story. Hope someone can beat it, it's kinda lame.


John Herreshoff
I had to do a precautionary shutdown a few months ago. I wrote it up in a post called "I Have Seen the Elephant."

I also have direct knowledge of two people who have had engine failures. One was a pilot I had given several BFRs who ran out of gas in a C172. The other was the owner of an FBO where I worked who lost power in a C150 that had just had then engine remanufactured (he was taking the airplane home from the shop). Both landed successfully with no damage or injuries (although the 172 suffered a prop strike on takeoff from the field).
I probably could have flown forward for a few more seconds while I called them, but I made the turn first and then let them know what was happening. The only reason I say that is I could have turned right into someone on a final for the perpendicular (sp) intersecting runway (which was about the point where the engine decided to fart).

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I would say you did the right thing John. Fly the plane first that's the most important part then worry about ATC calls. If you would have flown straight ahead while waiting for a response from ATC then you may not have made it back to the field in the event that the engine quit completely. Then you have to land straight ahead and worry about houses, cars, power lines etc... Watch for other traffic and get yourself pointed toward the field if you have enough altitude then worry about the radios.

I once flew with the most unlucky pilot in the world. He had three forced landings. One after take off, didn't have enough altitude to make a 180 so he put it on the beach at the end of the airport. One after departing Prescott, this time he did have enough altitude to make the field. The last one was in field somewhere when he was right seat in a light twin that lost an engine on approach. The funny thing is he was pretty young too. I wonder what other mishaps he's had by now.
Never had an engine failure, just a few engine farts, a couple at night which made me skip a few heartbeats. I did however have smoke in the cockpit on departure once and I can tell you being faced with a "smoke in the cockpit" emergency is a bit hairy to say the least, especially when you have no idea where the smoke is coming form ...

I did everything I could remember and then went through the checklist real quick, the smoke began to subside when I closed the cowlflaps and shut off the cabin air and by the time we were in the pattern all that remained was the smell ...

Turns out oil had leaked from the filler neck onto the heat exchanger (the guy who flew before me apparently overfilled the oil or let a bunch of it drip and ended up not flying so I was left with the surprise) and when I closed the cowl flaps on level off the smoke had nowhere to go but in the cockpit ...

I can tell you after that experience I review emergency procedures more often than I used to ...
I had an engine fail on my MEL checkride in an Aztec E, the right (non-critical) engine quit on short final. It overheated (although the gauge didn't indicate that - still within the green), then put itself into feather and shut down because of the thin oil. Upon turning final it was sputtering and there was some vibration indicative of it trying to go into feather. Since I was on short final when it quit, I just landed and it was pretty much a non-event. The reason for the overheating was that we shut down the critical engine in flight and then had problems starting it back up and getting it out of feather, so the non-critical engine was working pretty hard.
I have had a bunch of single engine failures and one two engine failure in the EP-3. (four engine turboprop). At the Naval Air Test Center, we used throttle back number 1,2 and 3 engines and fly around on number 4; pretty high angle of attack, with the right wing forward.

(Warning: Sea Story)
so the non-critical engine was working pretty hard.

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At that point the non-critical engine becomes the critical engine since it's keeping you aloft!
The first time I went flying was with a friend of mine who had a 172. We were doing some touch and goes out at Lakefront airport in New Orleans. At Lake Front as soon as you take off you are over Lake Ponchatrain, so on our third or so take off at about 700 ft the engine sounded like it took a dump and our RPM's dropped from 2500 to right around 1500 we just flew a tight pattern and put her on the ground. It ended up being a fouled magneto. What a first flight! It made me want to become a pilot. I can't wait to start!
I had a "check-airman-induced" engine failure on my CFI ride (in an Arrow, yes it was intentional), but that doesn't really count. I'm still miffed about that...although more at myself for not being more confrontational about it.
Well I had an engine failure in the sense that it was no longer useable (it kept running, though). It was on my solo XC long for the private (go figure...). I'll keep it short (or try to...):

Climbing through 4000' AGL over El Toro only about 10nm from my departure airport (SNA) the RPMs went down FAST. The engine was really, really rough; I did the usual, full throttle, carb heat check, mag check, primer check.

Nothing worked, the whole plane was vibrating heavily now and I was having trouble maintaining airspeed / altitude so I told ATC that I was having engine problems and wanted to go back to SNA. ATC told me to report at signal peak. Well, anyone familiar would know that signal peak is actually PAST SNA from El Toro (by 5nm or so).

I said no way and declared an emergency and informed ATC that I would be direct to SNA. So I set the A/S at 60, power at idle (any power produced vibrations and I was worried about those good ol' engine mounts), I knew I'd overshoot the airport at which point I made one of the toughest decisions I've ever made, the 360 degree turn to lose altitude. It worked fine, I slipped it in and even made a decent landing out of it!

In retrospect it was all business in the plane, the first few moments were scary when I wasn't sure what was going to happen but after the fact you know what needs to be done. I will say that once I got out of the plane my legs were shaking a bit though! Though I feel ATC should have let me go direct SNA without me having to declare, that's just how it worked out; and let me tell you that they are GREAT. It's kind of a reality slap in the face when they ask 'sole's on board' (ONE!), and 'do you need any emergency equipment?' (NO).

I am really glad this happened to me; I feel like it made me more confident that I could really handle these types of things however I hope it never happens again.

It turned out to be a cracked cylinder BTW
I also had a "precautionary landing with power" a few months back at Imperial, CA. Wont bore with the details, but will say this:

1) I was surprised who how quickly I responded to training that occured years back (pitch for speed, fly straight ahead, etc..) to us CFI's... teach it right the first time.

2) I flew for about three miles with no climb rate.. just above treetops. All along, I looked for landing places and when I saw them, I found a strange peace about going towards them.... this is because I had decided LONG AGO that if I needed to do a off-site landing, I wanted the rationale to already be in place.

3) got some climb power.. circled over a field, re-entered patter and landed. a California Highway Patrolman (in a Stationaiar) was also in the pattern. He said I did a good thing and he could tell that I kept my head together. At that moment, the compliment helpd ALOT.

I survived and nowI think I have one more layer of thicker skin for this flying game...
If you go to airliners.net and run a search; there was a gentleman who did a water ditching years ago over the Channel Islands off the coast of California; he wrote about it in the Tech/Ops forum a few months ago.
Great Compilation so far. I've read all the stories that have been alluded too and I even found out about Doug's FOD engine problem at SLC.

Luckily, it doesn't sound like any posters have had the engine go completely dead on them in a single, although Ed's story sounds pretty close.
Closest thing to an engine failure that I ever had got pretty scary. My instructor had me flying with the foggles on, and he yanked the throttle to idle and said you lost your engine in the clouds. So I got to best glide, headed into the wind, and so on. Well, we got down to 500 feet, and he said, okay, you just broke out of the clouds, take your foggles off. I said to him, if we really lost our engine, we're in a world of s**t. There was no field I could reach, and my best option was a lake. Anyway, he said, okay, you got your engine back now and put the throttle in, but the engine coughed a bunch of times before it came back in. It scared the hell out of both of us!
I've got 8 friggen thousand hours and all I can say is I've never had a bad enough problem that I was scared. I had a carb heat failure in a Cessna that resulted in carb heat on without the knob pulled. I didn't know any more at the time other than I lost a couple hundred rpm. I turned around and headed for the nearest airport. When I got there the condition wasn't any worse, so I pressed on back to my departure airport which was about another 20 minutes away....later found out the carb heat had failed to a full on position. Had my F/O in a Convair shut down an engine by accident going into LAX early one morning (poor guy never did adjust to night freight flying). Just bumped up the power on the running engine slightly to maintain airspeed and glidepath....no big deal. Told the tower we had to "delay our taxi for a sec" after landing while we started up the engine. About the worst thing that happened in the 727 was a generator failure or a leading edge device fail to retract indication...non events.

The most scared I've been in a plane was when I tried to fly through mountain passes in bad weather in either a Cessna 150 (when I was young and stupid) or a Cessna 172 seaplane (when I was older and should have known better). Those events were of my own doing and cannot be blamed on the airplane.
John, I've had a couple of stuck valve problems as well. Definitely the best thing to do is to get it on the ground.
I cant say for sure that Ive had an engine failure but I was in the backseat of a plane crash while taking off last summer. Not a happy ending to say the least.

Other than that, Ive had a few other minor things. Ive had a rough running engine. Nothing happened. Ive also had smoke in the cockpit at night, not a fun time but again, a happy ending.