Water Landings (Ditching)
Preflight planning for any flight where a water landing is possible should include personal flotation devices for the pilot and occupants. A hook knife should also be accessible for the pilot and passenger. A beach or landing spot where an emergency landing can be made on land, is preferred to landing in water. If a water landing must be made, the aircraft should be positioned close to land in shallow water, if possible, preferably four to five feet deep to use as a cushion but still deep enough to stand in with the head above water.
With any altitude above the water, preparations should be made to get rid of any items that would make it more difficult to exit the WSC aircraft and swim once it enters the water. This would include removing boots for swimming, discarding any camera lanyards, headphones, or other unnecessary items that could hinder the exit from the WSC aircraft once underwater.
There are not many actual accounts of WSC aircraft ditching in water, but all accounts at stalling above the water or flying it in at minimum controlled airspeed stops the WSC aircraft abruptly and puts the occupants under water immediately. Depending on the speed, the WSC could tumble over the water before stopping. Another account of a BPS deployment provided a successful entry into the water. In any event, the pilot and passenger would most likely be under water immediately and disorientated. There are two alternate techniques that have been successfully used for ditching in the water:
- Flying to the water and stalling just above the surface
- Using the BPS
Stalling Just Above the Water’s Surface
With a stronger wind, flying to the water and stalling just above the surface is a viable alternative to landing in the water. It has been done a number of times successfully. The WSC aircraft should be flown directly into the wind to slow down the groundspeed as much as practical. Once the wheels are close to the water surface just above minimum controlled airspeed, abruptly push the control bar out to enter the water at the slowest speed possible. Take a deep breath and hold it before hitting the water.
Using the BPS
An alternate water landing technique is to use the BPS. This should not be used in calm winds because the parachute would come down over the WSC aircraft and the lines could entangle the occupants during the escape. A slight breeze or greater wind (some ripples on the water) is needed for this technique so the parachute does not come down directly onto the WSC aircraft. Use the BPS deployment technique discussed earlier. Take a deep breath and hold it before hitting the water.
Once Under Water in the WSC Aircraft
Once in the water, immediately release the seat belt, free yourself and passenger of any restrictions, and swim to the surface. If disoriented, swim toward light or follow bubbles upward to the surface. The WSC will be sinking, so escape must be made quickly. The control bar must be pushed forward at all costs to release the pilot to exit the aircraft and swim to the surface. The forces of the water could push the control bar back and pin the front seat/pilot into the seat. If the landing is in shallow water, the pressure pinning the pilot into the seat may stop when the WSC aircraft sinks to the bottom.
Emergency Equipment and Survival Gear
For any flight away from the airport, basic supplies should be carried in case there is engine failure. At a minimum, supplies should include a mobile phone/radio for retrieval, clothes appropriate for the environment, ropes to tie down the WSC aircraft, cash/valid credit cards, and food/water.
In the case of flying cross-country or over remote areas, emergency equipment should be carried for a possible extended period of being stranded. In addition to the basics listed above, supplies for the appropriate time in the elements should be carried. Survival gear for protection from the elements should include clothing for hot and cold climates, as applicable. Without proper clothing, someone can die within hours from hypothermia or heat exhaustion. Water is also very important for survival. Food is important, but a person can survive over a week without it. Additional items to include are a knife, signal mirror, extra portable radio and batteries, emergency smoke/flares, and a large space blanket doubling as tarp.
Other items specific to unique terrain and climate zone should also be considered. For mountain terrain, a saw, shovel, water purifier, and 100-foot rope would be appropriate. For large bodies of water, flotation devices, extra water, and a water purifier would be added to the basic survival gear. If in desert conditions, bring a lot of water and hats for shade. In situations of extreme temperature changes, add both sun shading and layered clothing to the gear as appropriate.
Engine Failure After Takeoff
As discussed earlier in Chapter 7, Takeoff and Departure Climbs, proper takeoff technique provides lower pitch angles during the initial climb to provide the slowest possible descent rate for an engine failure after takeoff. The pitch angle and altitude available for engine failure at takeoff are the controlling factors in the successful accomplishment of an emergency landing. If an actual engine failure should occur immediately after takeoff and before a safe maneuvering altitude is attained, it is usually inadvisable to attempt to turn back to the takeoff field. Instead, it is safer to establish the proper glide attitude immediately, and select a field directly ahead or slightly to either side of the takeoff path.
The decision to continue straight ahead is often difficult to make unless the problems involved in attempting to turn back are seriously considered. First, the takeoff was probably made into the wind. To return to the takeoff field, a downwind turn must be made. This increases the groundspeed and rushes the pilot even more in the performance of procedures and in planning the landing approach. Second, the aircraft loses considerable altitude during the turn and might still be in a bank when the ground is contacted, resulting in cartwheeling (a catastrophe for the occupants, as well as the aircraft). After turning downwind, the apparent increase in groundspeed could mislead the pilot into a premature attempt to slow the aircraft to a stall. Finally, it is more than one 180° turn. For example, it is first a 225° turn in one direction, then another 45° turn in the other direction, totaling 310° of turn. [Figure 13-6]
On the other hand, continuing straight ahead or making a slight turn allows the pilot more time to establish a safe landing attitude. The landing can be made as slowly as desired, but more importantly, the aircraft can be landed while under control.
At airports where the runways are much longer than needed, there is typically ample runway to make a straight ahead landing. If a tight pattern is being used and the crosswind leg is started at the end of the runway, turning back the additional 90° to the runway could be the best option, depending on the suitability of landing areas straight ahead.
Depending on the specific design of the WSC aircraft considering weight, wing, and carriage, this maneuver can be performed with no reaction time and as low as 250 to 500 feet AGL. However, the pilot should determine the minimum altitude that such a maneuver would require of a particular aircraft. Experimentation at a much higher, safe altitude, 700 feet AGL as an example, should give the pilot an approximation of height lost in a descending 225° and 45° turn at idle power. Starting high above the ground at low bank angles and monitoring the altitude loss while doing the required turns to line back up on the runway provides a good reference. Finding the best bank angle to perform the required turns for this maneuver with minimum altitude loss is key to optimizing this maneuver and developing a habit if this maneuver is needed in a real emergency.
By adding a safety factor of about 30 percent to account for reaction time and no thrust from the propeller, the pilot should arrive at a practical decision height. The ability to make these turns does not necessarily mean that the departure runway can be reached in a power-off glide; this depends on the wind, the distance traveled during the climb, the height reached, and the glide distance of the aircraft without power.
This is a highly advanced maneuver with turns close to the ground. This should be practiced well into the training program with the instructor. For example, consider an aircraft which has taken off and climbed to an altitude of 350 feet AGL when the engine fails. After a typical 4-second reaction time, the pilot pulls down the nose, maintains control of the aircraft, and elects to turn back to the runway, losing 50 feet. [Figure 13-6, A to B] The pilot performs the 225° turn and loses 300 feet. [Figure 13-6, B to C] The pilot must glide back to the runway, losing another 50 feet. [Figure 13-6, C to D] The pilot must turn another 45° to head the aircraft toward the runway, losing another 50 feet. [Figure 13-6, D to E] By this time the total change in direction is 310°, the aircraft will have descended 450 feet, placing it 100 feet below the runway.