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Emergency Landings on Roads: Yes or No?

Posted By:
Fareed Guyot
Young Eagles Pilot or VolunteerAirVenture Volunteer
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#1 Posted: 4/7/2010 16:43:06

In the April issue of Light Plane World Joe Clark talked about the dangers of making a road your first choice during an emergency landing . What do you think?



Thank You for listening to EAA Radio. Afterburner Al - Station Manager-Emeritus, EAA Radio - http://www.eaaradio.net
Jay Fortner
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#2 Posted: 4/7/2010 19:27:22

Only as THE last resort.

#1 Most everyone on the road today is talking on their blasted cell phone and not looking ahead much less above, they probably won't see you until you're landing on their hood.

#2 If you're in and ultraligfht you'll be doing 30mph and they'll be doing 70.

#3 There are power lines crossing the road that you probably won't see until it's to late.

Starting to look ugly yet? wait it gets better.

#4 Cops will give you a big fine.

#5 FAA will give you a bigger one.

I'd just as soon take my chances stalling it in a tree.

Just my stinky opinion,        J.



John Eiswirth
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#3 Posted: 4/7/2010 22:55:40

I know of two pilots who sucessfully made emergency landings on roads.

  One was in the '70's.  He was towing a banner and experienced an engine stoppage in a Super Cub.  He dropped the banner and landed on the interstate.  After determining his faux-pas and switching to a tank with gas, he re-started the engine and the State Police stopped the light traffic for him to take off.  Other than filing a report, I don't remember him suffering any penalties, but I do remember he was sweating it out for a while.

The other one was flying a Cessna 172 on a night flight over rural terrain; also an engine stoppage (mechanical failure).  He managed to miss the poles and wires on the side of the road and coasted into a driveway.  The folks living there were real supportive and allowed the plane to stay tied down in their front yard until  he could return with help and a new engine which was installed with a large tree serving as the structure of the engine hoist.  He was able to fly it out of there and return to his home field.

Both these guys were Commercial Pilots and both were extremely skilled and also were lucky. 

I think you choose from the options available to you the one that has the least perceived risk to you and to persons on the ground.



Jerry Rosie
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#4 Posted: 4/8/2010 12:45:02

Both of these guys were very lucky.  The dangers of landing on a road have been outlined above, and in the referenced article.  Since I do all my flying off a grass strip, I feel much more comfortable landing in some farmer's field than I do on some interstate. (A field close to a road, not occupied by cows. is preferable 'cause you don't have to drag the airplane as far to get it on a trailer to get it home again.  One caution if you do land in a field full of cows - place a guard on your tube and fabric airplane.  Cows love the fabric and will eat your airplane before you can get back with the trailer to recover it - and then it will definately need recovering [pun intended].)

 

 

 



Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Jon Finley
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#5 Posted: 4/8/2010 18:31:14

 

Hi Fareed,

I’m afraid the question is much too broad for anyone to answer. The type of airplane being flown (size, landing speed, type of gear, etc…), the “road” (small dirt road in the middle of nowhere, Interstate in the middle of nowhere, Interstate downtown Chicago, etc…).

As phrased, everyone will answer this question with their own aircraft and experiences in mind and this will just lead to arguments.

I've landed on the Interstate twice without problems, fines, etc... in my flying career.  Both times in fast-glass airplanes (that will not tolerate anything other than hard surfaces) on Interstates with VERY few cars (in the middle of nowhere). In that situation, a "road" is a great option.  Changes the variables and it might not be so great. 

Jon

 



RV-3B - "Daisy" - Lycoming O-320 http://jdfinley.com
Brad Kramer
Young Eagles Pilot or VolunteerHomebuilder or CraftsmanAirVenture Volunteer
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#6 Posted: 4/8/2010 19:02:23

The question of road or no road doesn't even make sense to me.  You need to look outside the airplane and pick the best landing spot.  If you are flying above Washington DC and the 'road' is the beltway you probably don't want to be landing there.  But here in ND with most of our roads being much longer than any runway and no cars in sight it might be a completely different answer.  Of course the electrical lines, radio towers, time of year and condition of the farmers' fields also comes into play.

When all else fails, just hit the cheapest, softest thing you can find at the slowest possible speed.

Airplanes are disposable.  You are not.



Bill Evans
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#7 Posted: 4/8/2010 20:28:05

Roads and Highways are your first and best choice in the case of an emergency landing.

Trees have a bad habit if cutting aircraft /pilots in two. many many many aircraft will flip over on landing on a farmers field. In too many cases the pilot remains trapped while the aircraft burns.

If you land on a road, at least there is an improved surface, You will be found, hopefully alive. As hard as signs and light standards may be they are much less rigid than the 12" maple.

 



John Eiswirth
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#8 Posted: 4/8/2010 21:30:32

One of the justifications that Preasident Eisenhower used for building the Interstate system was military aircraft use as dispersed runways, if needed, in time of war.  They were designed for that possible use with long straight runs with enough clearance for tactical (fighter) aircraft use.  They would of course barricade off the normal traffic.  The traffic on each side of the Interstate is at least going ONE WAY.  I'm not saying it would always be a choice, but in light traffic it might be.  The more populated the area, the fewer good choices you have.



Richard Yaskiw
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#9 Posted: 4/8/2010 23:00:17

while flying in northern canada i had a dead stick landing in the bush  and i only wish that there was a road close by    my second dead stick was while spraying potatoes on the manitoba prairie in late summer   and ended up landing in a stuble field     what i am saying is that when i flew for a liveing    most of the time low level     i would in most instances have picked a road   it all depends on the terrain     the weather   and your flying skills      



Tony Scholes
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#10 Posted: 4/8/2010 23:14:57

Urban myth alert - there's no connection between the interstate system and airstrips

 http://www.snopes.com/autos/law/airstrip.asp



John Eiswirth
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#11 Posted: 4/9/2010 06:49:27

I guess I'm myth-stified.  I heard that in the 60's and have believed it ever since.



Jerry Rosie
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#12 Posted: 4/9/2010 08:45:11

 If you land on a road, at least there is an improved surface, You will be found, hopefully alive. As hard as signs and light standards may be they are much less rigid than the 12" maple.

How does a 12" maple compare with an 18 wheeler coming in the opposite direction at 65 MPH ?




Cheers, Jerry NC22375 out of 07N
Bill Berson
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#13 Posted: 4/9/2010 11:03:55

In the  Canadian remote wilderness along the Alaska and Cassiar Highway system they have areas of the road that have been made much wider for use as  emergency landing strips. They have a road sign to advise the motorists at each end. 



Marshall Lowry
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#14 Posted: 5/5/2010 12:39:17

WOW,  I am amazed at the responses here...    I suppose it does make a difference if you are in the middle of the Dusty plains with a dirt road and no vehicles, power lines or parking meters for two hundred miles.  But except in the WORST of circumstances, you should never land in a road.   If you are in an unpopulated rural area, then a field is the best bet.  in some cases even a very shallow pond will do. But as outlined in the article, the hazards of roads are far outside of the advantages of a hard surface.  Hmm..   do we want to have a landing on a hard surface?  well depends on your stall speed, level of control and room to run out.  In my part of the world there is lots of flat land, in the Mountains, it may he harder to find anything but an interstate.  But in summary, remember that as pilots we all have a responsibility to our passengers and those on the ground.  I.E.  If you are landing on the beach and there is a jogger, try to miss him. - perhaps by a slight shift up beach or down to the water. May not save the G1000 but still the better choice.

And as stated before, hit the softest, least expensive thing possible at the slowest speed.  but NEVER, EVER try to turn back just after take off................



Zack Baughman
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#15 Posted: 5/5/2010 14:27:38
Tony Scholes wrote:

 

Urban myth alert - there's no connection between the interstate system and airstrips

 http://www.snopes.com/autos/law/airstrip.asp

 

I'm fairly certain this myth stems from the fact that portions of the German autobahn were reserved for use by the Luftwaffe during World War II.  Since Eisenhower's decision to have the Interstate Highway System constructed is based at least partly on his experiences with the German autobahn during the war, it's easy to see how this myth came about. 

Zack

 



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Rodney Tuft
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#16 Posted: 5/13/2010 10:42:10

As I drive in my home area, I take note of the back roads that are clear of power lines and other obstructions such as trees and road signs.

Most of these areas you can see traffic for miles and they have pull-offs for the farmers to get in the fields. The crop fields in my area appear deceptively smooth, when in-fact they have large gear-ripping, plane flipping dead furrows and bumps running through the fields.

With a engine out you may not have a choice, but for a precautionary landing and if reachable in a engine out, I would choose the secluded, clear, back road to land and taxi to a pull-off and park.

 



John Cortesy
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#17 Posted: 5/20/2010 22:25:20

I agree with most of the comments that road landings are safe. How do I know?  Because I use roads a lot. I fly low and slow and follow roads when the mountainous terrain offers few landing options.  I can pace the traffic and adjust my speed for a gap in the flow because I have  an outstanding view of several miles in each direction.

 

Interstates have one way traffic and the median offers a bail out once you are down.  Secondary roads have less traffic and the gaps are usually huge, at least out west they are. Farm roads and dirt roads have the most obstacles but by far the least traffic so you can usually take your time instead of being rushed to find the traffic gap.

 

The biggest fears are first wires, then signs. If you are carrying enough airspeed (and why wouldn't you be) then a loft over or a dive under a set of wires is not that big of an issue.  With a 32 foot wingspan on a skinny road any signpost could be hard to miss. My high wing is ok, most low wings forget it.

Do you ever look at how smooth a field looks from the air then get a chance to see it from the ground up close. When I an selecting emergency landing options I'll bet 75% of those I choose from the air would not keep the plane on its wheels once contact was made. Again I am talking about the mountain west where I normally fly so your region and terrain may differ.

 

The variables of field condition can be traded for the variables of traffic (if that is even an issue) and obstacles paralleling a road.  That is one of those last minute decisions that every pilot has to make for himself. I have landed and exited paved and dirt roads many times safely. I have also created my own unintentional landing strip in a sagebrush field and was surprised how quickly the aircraft came to a stop. The sagebrush acted like an arresting cable on an aircraft carrier. It stayed on its wheels though.

 



John Cortesy
Dorothy Klapp
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#18 Posted: 6/12/2010 13:31:57

Ah, if I'm flying to Eklutna Lodge and the snow on the strip is rotten, the road is the other standard strip. 'Course, if there are any stray tourists that time of year, you have to gently and politely tell them to move their RV after you finish fueling at the pump, because you can't fly out if they're blocking the way and taking pictures.

One thing the article didn't mention that's pretty critical if you're in a tailwheel, and good to know in a nosewheel - most roads are crowned in the middle for rain runoff. This means if you don't land on centerline, your tail is going to want to swing downhill. On busier highways, those same ruts that are a pain when they fill with water or ice are going to be a challenge in your plane, so taxi straight ahead until you're going slow enough not to nose over or bust a tailwheel .

If it's an emergency, I'm picking the best place to land for the slowest, softest landing that I can manage. Saving the aircraft is a nice bonus, but planes are ultimately disposable, and people are not.



Ian McFall
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#19 Posted: 7/22/2010 12:20:49

As an ex-competition sailplane pilot, I can truthfully say that I've made more non-airport landings than most power pilots have had hot breakfasts...all without a major incident. Of course gliders land pretty slow, but the long wings make things more difficult than a high wing Cessna. However "dead stick" landings are the norm in gliders and sooner or later you will be flying one!

In a rural area, if there are roads, there are usually fields. Fields are better every time, even soft fields, even fields with barbed wire fences and irrigation ditches. If you are in a retractable, don't pull the gear up....ripping off the gear dissipates energy and may save your butt.

Urban areas present different problems.  A golf course, parkland, or a large vacant building site is better than a road. Even a big empty parking lot with those concrete bumps is better than most roads. Often the road is the only open space but the risks are high to you, the airplane and people on the ground. The first rule is to land upwind and up hill if possible. Highways with a big grass central reservation are good but overhead wires, bridges and, of course, traffic are major issues.

 Like most things, practice makes perfect. Have you ever practiced an engine out landing, even at you home field? If you haven't, the chances of making an incident free engine-out landing on any road is pretty slim.

 

Ian McFall

EAA 873586



B. E. Wynkoop
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#20 Posted: 4/11/2011 18:27:06

As a sailplane pilot I have to agree if you have not done some dead stick landings at your home airport you should practice them.  I fly both power and sailplanes in about equal measure, so I too have many dead stick landings under my belt.  Flying sailplanes made me less worried about engine out events in powered aircraft.

In the NY/NJ area where I do most of my flying I find it hard to locate a road where the 36 foot wingspan of my ship will not be an issue, and when flying something like a Grob 103 or 109, or an SGS-233 with their wider wing spans I think it is a forgone conclusion that the wings will be coming off with most road landings, so if I can find a field I will, but I will take a road with the possibility of ripping the wings off one of the long winged birds I fly over trees any day.

As one poster said in many places the roads have on horrid hazards along them.  In the mountains of PA there are many places where I would pick Interstate 80 over any other place, even though my wings might not clear the sign posts on the edge.

I hope I never have to make the choice of where to land besides an airport, but I keep my options open and will not rule out any obstacle free zone.

-Brett

 

 

 

 




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