PilotGuy's First REAL 

Emergency Landing

The Plan:  To fly to Santa Maria Airport for my first flight to Southern California on a BEAUTIFUL VFR day!

Here we go, downwind departure from Reid-Hillview's 31L 

(click the above link for a runway view of RHV)

A view, just south of the airport, a partial view of San Jose, California

Today was one of those days where you could see clear to the ocean!  This was going to be a gorgeous flight!!!

Approaching our first waypoint, Hollister Airport (3O7).  Little did I know this airport would play an important role in the upcoming adventure.

....... And then the adventure begins: 

(no pictures here,,,, things got busy!) :-)

I'm at 7,500 going over the hills that precede Salinas Airport which is my second waypoint (my first waypoint was 3O7, Hollister Airport , in Hollister , California which was now directly behind me).  Suddenly I noticed the RPM dropping and first thing I thought was that I had the mixture a little too lean,,, so I enriched it, but the drop became more pronounced and severe (like the engine was trying to quit).  So, I thought,,, no problem,,,, perhaps I picked up some carb ice (I had heard a pilot calling into a local airport announcing that he had picked-up and dispensed with some carb ice, earlier in my flight) so I turned on the carb heat.......  Fine,,, the engine seems to be running normally,  now....  Then all of a sudden the tach winds way down and the engine makes the sound that you normally hear when you are shutting down the plane and pulling the mixture to idle cut-off (but obviously I hadn't done this). The engine stops for a few seconds and the prop windmills, then the engine resumes,,, but at lower rpm.  I turn the plane around 180 degrees to the flat area (since I was looking at nothing but hills ahead and below me) and airport that had been 8 or 9 miles behind me.  I thought that perhaps the carb ice (if that's what it was) might clear at a lower altitude (I had sampled the fuel and checked the tanks visually during preflight, I knew that I had plenty of fuel and there were no contaminants in the fuel).  I began a descent that would take me (even if I lost all power) to the Hollister airport and I had also picked out numerous landing options in the nearby farmland just in case.  Even at the lower altitude the engine continued threatening to stop.  Even though the engine would run (kind-of) it kept making repeated 'threats' to quit and the rpm it was generating wasn't even enough to maintain altitude.  

I was going to need to land and soon.  So, I eyeballed Hollister Airport (it has two intersecting runways) and announced on the CTAF that I was experiencing intermittent engine failure and must land immediately on 31.  Actually, I never said 'must', I told them that I WOULD be taking runway 31.  I was at 2000 feet (1000 feet above TPA) because I planned on having a 'glider' at that point and was not going to rely on power (which kept trying to cut out to nothing, quite a few times already).  

So, I flew a downwind and made a turn to base and final.  All the way along pilots were announcing that they would remain clear of the airport until I was down.  One very comforting thing (something I will personally file away in my memory for something to share with someone else who is in a similar situation) a pilot calmly said to me on the radio were just the words, "Just don't fall".  I remember thinking that was an odd thing to say, because planes just don't fall out of the air without power, they continue to fly...  I smiled a little, because it dawned on me that this was exactly the point the other pilot wanted me to keep in mind.  While I was very grateful for the other well-intentioned calls made to me, at one point I told them all "Thank you all very much but I have to land this plane [then the sound of the engine sputtering like it is about to quit]. Damn I'm losing the engine again".  From that point on (don't know if the other pilots heard my engine starting to die over the transmission) there were no other transmissions from pilots.  And everyone seemed to be quietly watching.  As odd as it sounds I apologized for the unintentional 'damn' J  by saying "Sorry about THAT, but things are getting 'exciting' up here". So, I announce myself on HIGH short final and the airport manager (I believe it was, anyways) tells me on the radio that I should be aware that the winds were at 8 to 10 knots at 270 degrees on runway 31 and that most of the flyers were landing on runway 24.  I replied with "I am landing on runway 31 and I will just deal with the crosswind" [sound of engine trying to quit again].  The airport manager once again announced that all pilots would/were to remain clear for the pilot emergency.  

So, I'm on high final, engine doesn't have any useful/dependable RPM,,,, there is NO opportunity for a go-round (and I had NO intention of doing one anyways,,,, I had a glider, at this point, in my assessment) and notice the plane weathervaning for the crosswind, that was indeed there.  I forward slipped all the way to the runway, rounded out straight-n-level, kicked in the crosswind correction without a thought,,, flared and touched down beautifully on the runway slowed down the plane.  As I touched down and was slowing down for the taxiway I heard a voice on the radio say,,,"Now THAT was 'textbook',,,, great job".   I announced myself on the CTAF that I was clear of runway 31 taking taxiway 'XX' (whatever it was) and continued and told everybody "Thank you everyone, can't thank you enough,,, the pulse rate is returning to normal..... :-) "  I heard some PTT clicks in succession, 'saying' "your welcome" that sounded kind of like applause from the other pilots around and near the airport as a the clicks went across the radio.   

The airport manager and a friend/coworker came up to me in a 'golf cart' to the tie down area where I tied down the plane.  The airport manager (I think) got out of the cart and came over to me, smiling and shook my hand.  He said, "Son,,,, that was 'textbook'!!!" (I then realized who the radio voice belonged to on my touchdown).   I told them that I realized that I just had to 'keep my head' and all would work out just fine.  The three of us talked for a brief while and I told them that after you get your 'ticket' you always hope everything you've been taught to do in an emergency will come to mind (and even after my ticket I have continued doing 'mental chair flying emergencies'), but you are never sure until it happens.  Well IT happened and I'm proud to say that it was all there when I needed it, plan AND skills to deal with it.  I told them that though the situation was certainly tense, I had no reservations about hopping in a plane and continuing to fly,,,,, if anything it made me feel even better about flying and what I 'knew'. 

I walked over to the Ding-A-Ling airport cafe and decided that I would have a 'celebratory' hamburger (though I skipped the fries,,, 'cause I do want to keep passing those medicals <wink>).  It was quite a contrast, sitting there in the cafe watching the calm chit-chat going about in the cafe and yet not more than 25 minutes ago, I was in the air performing an emergency descent with an engine continually threatening to stop and barely running at idle,  to a runway  where a crosswind was waiting...... and now I was sitting here peacefully sipping my root beer.... Life is such a wonderful 'trip' isn't it? J 

Well, while I was waiting for my hamburger I called the FBO the plane came from and told them what had happened and that they would need to send out some mechanics to Hollister airport to take a peek at the plane.  Though I told them I had initially suspected carb ice,,, it had become less and less of a probability as the situation progressed and the engine needed to be looked at.  So I left my cell phone number so that they could call me back after they decided what to do to get there.  I got a call back from one of the mechanics telling me that they were going to fly out to Hollister with another plane and that I could fly the one they brought, back (if there was some reason that the plane required more work). 

So, I had a wonderful hamburger,,,,and as odd as it may sound to some, I just relished the whole experience and found it nothing but reassuring and positive.

So, the mechanics arrived and replaced the lower plugs, did a run-up check and told me it was clear to go and asked me which plane I wanted to take back with me.  I told 'em the one I came in would do just fine.  You can bet I did an unusually critical mag check during my run-up just to be sure.  

So I announced my intentions to take the active runway and headed back to my home airport (it was too late by then to complete my originally planned adventure)


On the way back, I will say that I found myself even more diligent than I am normally at picking out emergency landing sites along the way!!! J

I got ATIS for Reid-Hillview, reported at 10 miles.  Soon I was cleared for landing on 31R and found myself purposely making a high final approach,,,, just in case the 'adventure' wasn't completely over yet,,,, and forward slipped down to the runway..... just wanted to be careful,,, just in case J .


After talking with many pilots and CFI's, most agreed that the issue was more likely a result of really bad carb icing and that a lower plug fowling wouldn't have produced the phenomenon that I experienced.  Carb ice is kind of where I am leaning on this incident, in terms of its' cause.

By the way, until I got encouragement, I was debating whether or not to post the account, because I didn't want to scare any students or people lurking in the wings,, thinking about whether or not to begin pursuing their life-long dream - learning to fly.  Suddenly, it occurred to me,,,, THIS was the perfect story to tell, not only because true engine failures are extremely rare in general aviation (in fact most general aviation. pilots go through their entire flying career without ever experiencing an engine failure) , but because it shows that your training will be there when you need it and that you just need to keep your head. 

  It was nothing but a GREAT experience for me, because it reassured me about my capabilities (something one always questions until those capabilities have the chance to be tested, for real),

and you know what????? .........

I can hardly wait to go flying again!!!! J J J .  



Below graphic designed by: Jeff Bucchino,

"The Wizard of Draws" (copyright owner) http://www.wizardofdraws.com

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