Updated: Dec 8, 2020

Systems and Equipment Malfunctions Lesson by wifiCFI


To determine that the applicant exhibits satisfactory knowledge, risk management, and skills associated with system and equipment malfunctions appropriate to the airplane provided for the practical test and analyzing the situation and take appropriate action for simulated emergencies.


The applicant demonstrates understanding of: 

Partial or complete power loss related to the specific powerplant, including: 

Engine roughness or overheat 

Carburetor or induction icing 

Loss of oil pressure 

Fuel starvation 

System and equipment malfunctions specific to the airplane, including: 

Electrical malfunction 

Vacuum/pressure, and associated flight instruments malfunction 

Pitot/static system malfunction 

Electronic flight deck display malfunction 

Landing gear or flap malfunction 

Inoperative trim 

Smoke, fire, engine compartment fire. 

Any other system specific to the airplane (e.g., supplemental oxygen, deicing). 

Inadvertent door or window opening.

Risk Management

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

Failure to use the proper checklist for a system or equipment malfunction.

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

Engine Fire

An in-flight engine compartment fire is usually caused by a failure that allows a flammable substance, such as fuel, oil, or hydraulic fluid, to come in contact with a hot surface. 

This may be caused by a mechanical failure of the engine itself, an engine-driven accessory, a defective induction or exhaust system, or a broken line. 

Engine compartment fires may also result from maintenance errors, such as improperly installed/ fastened lines and/or fittings resulting in leaks.

Engine compartment fires can be indicated by smoke and/ or flames coming from the engine cowling area. 

They can also be indicated by discoloration, bubbling, and/or melting of the engine cowling skin in cases where flames and/or smoke are not visible to the pilot. 

By the time a pilot becomes aware of an in-flight engine compartment fire, it usually is well developed. 

The first step on discovering a fire should be to shut off the fuel supply to the engine by placing the mixture control in the idle cut off position and the fuel selector shutoff valve to the OFF position. 

The ignition switch should be left ON in order to use up the fuel that remains in the fuel lines and components between the fuel selector/shutoff valve and the engine. 

This procedure may starve the engine compartment of fuel and cause the fire to die naturally. 

If the flames are snuffed out, no attempt should be made to restart the engine.

An oil fed engine fire will be evidenced by thick black smoke.

A fuel fed engine fire will be evidenced by bright orange flames.

The pilot must bear in mind the following: 

The airplane may be severely structurally damaged to the point that its ability to remain under control could be lost at any moment. 

The airplane may still be on fire and susceptible to explosion. 

The airplane is expendable and the only thing that matters is the safety of those on board.

Electrical Fire

The initial indication of an electrical fire is usually the distinct odor of burning insulation. 

Once an electrical fire is detected, the pilot should attempt to identify the faulty circuit by checking circuit breakers, instruments, avionics, and lights. 

If the faulty circuit cannot be readily detected and isolated, and flight conditions permit, the battery master switch and alternator/generator switches should be turned off to remove the possible source of the fire. 

However, any materials that have been ignited may continue to burn.

A fire in the cabin presents the pilot with two immediate demands: 

Attacking the fire 

Getting the airplane safely on the ground as quickly as possible. 

A fire or smoke in the cabin should be controlled by identifying and shutting down the faulty system. In many cases, smoke may be removed from the cabin by opening the cabin air vents. 

This should be done only after the fire extinguisher (if available) is used.

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

Describe appropriate action for simulated emergencies specified by the evaluator from at least three of the elements or sub-elements listed in the K1 through K5 above. 

Complete the appropriate checklist.

FAA Sources Used for This Lesson

Airmen Certification Standards (ACS)

Airplane Flying Handbook (AFH) Chapter 17

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