One of the worst nightmares for a pilot of a single-engine aircraft, especially a student, is losing an engine. It’s a bad situation but it doesn’t have to have a bad ending, as this student pilot demonstrated with a pretty much textbook emergency landing.
On May 22, Brian Parsley departed Concord, North Carolina in a 1968 Cessna 150J for a “solo long cross-country” flight. At about 2,200 feet above sea level and nine miles from his home airport’s runway, the engine of the Cessna sputtered to a stop. With only 1,500 feet of altitude to work with, there was no chance of making it to the airport, so he took it in for an emergency landing.
In flight-training, the solo long cross-country is a point-to-point flight from the starting airport to a second and third before returning to the first airport. It covers more than 170 miles and the student pilot is flying by themselves without an instructor in the cockpit. This flight is required to obtain a private pilot license and is considered to be one of biggest challenges for a student pilot.
Parsley says that the engine began running rough about three miles before quitting. He initially thought that the rough-running was due to carburetor icing.
Air flowing through a carburetor venturi creates a pressure drop that draws in fuel. However, this same pressure drop that allows the carburetor to work cools it, sometimes to the point where ice forms.
If a pilot suspects icing, they can pull a lever in the cockpit that changes the airflow over the carburetor from fresh outside air to air blown from the hot exhaust manifold. Parsley engaged the carb heat and it seemed to work, but the engine later shut down anyway.
His Cessna 150J’s engine chose a particularly poor area to sputter out. Looking out of the windows there was nothing but trees, neighborhoods and power lines.
Still, Parsley acted fast, first setting the aircraft up to get the most distance out of his glide, then searching for a suitable field. Once one was found, he also attempted to get the engine back running. All of this happened while he was making radio calls and keeping the aircraft from stalling. He uploaded another video explaining just how huge of a workload it is:
In addition to all of those potential stresses, you want to make sure that if the field you’re landing in is a farm, you land the plane parallel to the rows of crops. Coming in perpendicular could result the plane’s landing gear bouncing through the ruts, or worse.
Student pilots, myself included, train for these exact kinds of situations. Flight instructors do their best to help prepare you for the unexpected. In this case, it paid off for Parsley. He landed the Cessna in the field and stopped without drama. He may not have done everything perfectly, but it was a safe landing without injuries, which is what matters most.
In case you were wondering, there are a couple of ways to recover an aircraft after a landing like this. If the plane can be repaired where it sits and the terrain allows, it may be able to take off where it landed. TACA Flight 110, a Boeing 737, took off in this manner after an emergency landing next to a levee in New Orleans, Louisiana. Otherwise, someone will have to come by, load it up and haul it to the airport. Hopefully, this Cessna 150J is back in the skies teaching more students to fly.