Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Emergency Approach and Landing Lesson by wifiCFI


To determine that the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with emergency approach and landing procedures.


The applicant demonstrates understanding of: 

Immediate action items and emergency procedures. 

Airspeed, to include importance of best glide speed and its relationship to distance 

Difference between best glide speed and minimum sink speed 

Effects of atmospheric conditions, including wind, on emergency approach and landing. 

A stabilized approach, to include concepts of energy management. 

ELTs and/or other emergency locating devices. 

ATC services to aircraft in distress.

Risk Management

The applicant demonstrates the ability to identify, assess and mitigate risks, encompassing: 

Failure to consider altitude, wind, terrain, obstructions, and available landing distance. 

Failure to plan and follow a flightpath to the selected landing area. 

Collision hazards, to include aircraft, terrain, obstacles, and wires. 

Improper aircraft configuration. 

Low altitude maneuvering/stall/spin. 

Distractions, loss of situational awareness, and/or improper task management.

Emergency Approach/Landing (AFH C17)

The different types of emergency landings are defined as follows: 

Forced landing—an immediate landing, on or off an airport, necessitated by the inability to continue further flight. A typical example of which is an airplane forced down by engine failure. 

Precautionary landing—a premeditated landing, on or off an airport, when further flight is possible but inadvisable. Examples of conditions that may call for a precautionary landing include deteriorating weather, being lost, fuel shortage, and gradually developing engine trouble. 

Ditching—a forced or precautionary landing on water.

Psychological Hazards

There are several factors that may interfere with a pilot’s ability to act promptly and properly when faced with an emergency.

Reluctance to accept the emergency situation—a pilot who allows the mind to become paralyzed at the thought that the airplane will be on the ground in a very short time, regardless of the pilot’s actions or hopes, is severely handicapped in the handling of the emergency.

Desire to save the airplane—the pilot who has been conditioned during training to expect to find a relatively safe landing area, whenever the flight instructor closed the throttle for a simulated forced landing, may ignore all basic rules of airmanship to avoid a touchdown in terrain where airplane damage is unavoidable.

Undue concern about getting hurt—fear is a vital part of the self-preservation mechanism. However, when fear leads to panic, we invite that which we want most to avoid.

Attitude and Sink Rate Control

The most critical and often the most inexcusable error that can be made in the planning and execution of an emergency landing, even in ideal terrain, is the loss of initiative over the airplane’s attitude and sink rate at touchdown.

Maintaining best glide airspeed is essential.

Terrain Selection

A pilot’s choice of emergency landing sites is governed by: 

The route selected during preflight planning 

The height above the ground when the emergency occurs 

Excess airspeed (excess airspeed can be converted into distance and/or altitude)

The only time the pilot has a very limited choice is during the low and slow portion of the takeoff. 

However, even under these conditions, the ability to change the impact heading only a few degrees may ensure a survivable crash.

If the emergency starts at a considerable height above the ground, the pilot should be more concerned about first selecting the desired general area than a specific spot. 

Terrain appearances from altitude can be very misleading and considerable altitude may be lost before the best spot can be pinpointed.

Terrain Types

Confined Areas

The natural preference to set the airplane down on the ground should not lead to the selection of an open spot between trees or obstacles where the ground cannot be reached without making a steep descent. 

Once the intended touchdown point is reached, and the remaining open and unobstructed space is very limited, it may be better to force the airplane down on the ground than to delay touchdown until it stalls (settles). 

A river or creek can be an inviting alternative in otherwise rugged terrain.

The pilot should ensure that the water or creek bed can be reached without snagging the wings. 

The same concept applies to road landings with one additional reason for caution: manmade obstacles on either side of a road may not be visible until the final portion of the approach.

Trees (Forest)

Although a tree landing is not an attractive prospect, the following general guidelines help to make the experience survivable.

Use the normal landing configuration (full flaps, gear down). 

Keep the groundspeed low by heading into the wind. 

Make contact at minimum indicated airspeed, but not below stall speed, and “hang” the airplane in the tree branches in a nose-high landing attitude. 

Avoid direct contact of the fuselage with heavy tree trunks. 

Low, closely spaced trees with wide, dense crowns (branches) close to the ground are much better than tall trees with thin tops; the latter allow too much free fall height.

Ideally, initial tree contact should be symmetrical; that is, both wings should meet equal resistance in the tree branches. 

This distribution of the load helps to maintain proper airplane attitude.

If heavy tree trunk contact is unavoidable once the airplane is on the ground, it is best to involve both wings simultaneously by directing the airplane between two properly spaced trees. 

Do not attempt this maneuver, however, while still airborne.

Water (Ditching) and Snow

A well-executed water landing normally involves less deceleration violence than a poor tree landing or a touchdown on extremely rough terrain. 

Also, an airplane that is ditched at minimum speed and in a normal landing attitude does not immediately sink upon touchdown. 

Intact wings and fuel tanks (especially when empty) provide floatation for at least several minutes, even if the cabin may be just below the water line in a high-wing airplane.

Loss of depth perception may occur when landing on a wide expanse of smooth water with the risk of flying into the water or stalling in from excessive altitude. 

To avoid this hazard, the airplane should be “dragged in” when possible. Use no more than intermediate flaps on low-wing airplanes. 

The water resistance of fully extended flaps may result in asymmetrical flap failure and slowing of the airplane. Keep a retractable gear up unless the AFM/POH advises otherwise. 

Airplane Configuration

Since flaps improve maneuverability at slow speed, and lower the stalling speed, their use during final approach is recommended when time and circumstances permit. 

However, the associated increase in drag and decrease in gliding distance call for caution in the timing and the extent of their application; premature use of flap and dissipation of altitude may jeopardize an otherwise sound plan. 

A hard and fast rule concerning the position of a retractable landing gear at touchdown cannot be given. 

In rugged terrain and trees, or during impacts at high sink rate, an extended gear would definitely have a protective effect on the cabin area. 

However, this advantage has to be weighed against the possible side effects of a collapsing gear, such as a ruptured fuel tank.

Deactivation of the airplane’s electrical system before touchdown reduces the likelihood of a post-crash fire. 

However, the battery master switch should not be turned off until the pilot no longer has any need for electrical power to operate vital airplane systems. 

Positive airplane control during the final part of the approach has priority over all other considerations, including airplane configuration and checklist tasks.

Private Pilot and Commercial Pilot ACS Standards

Establish and maintain the recommended best glide airspeed, ±10 knots. 

Configure the airplane in accordance with POH/AFM and existing circumstances. 

Select a suitable landing area considering altitude, wind, terrain, obstructions, and available glide distance. 

Plan and follow a flightpath to the selected landing area. 

Prepare for landing as specified by the evaluator. 

Complete the appropriate checklist.

A, B, C, D

A = Airspeed

Trim for Best Glide Airspeed (Vg)

B = Best Place to Land

Select your landing point and head toward it

C = Checklist

Run the proper Emergency Checklist

D = Declare an Emergency

Declare Emergency with ATC

A and B are always mandatory! C and D are time permitting.

FAA Sources Used for This Lesson

Private Pilot Airmen Certification Standards

Commercial Pilot Airmen Certification Standards

Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH) Chapter 17

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