Image courtesy YouTube / Edward FryeA recent YouTube video posted by Edward Frye, the pilot and owner of a Cessna 210 Centurion, has been shared across the aviation community after he experienced an engine failure shortly after takeoff from runway 30 and executed a 220-degree turn to safely land on runway 8 at Tracy Municipal Airport (TCY) in California.
I recently heard a joke that a student and instructor were practicing engine failures and the instructor pulled the throttle to idle in a single-engine aircraft to simulate an engine failure. The student responded by saying to start the timer for 30 seconds to account for human factors.
In Frye's one-minute and 12 second weight-off-wheels flight, he had little time to analyze the various options following his catastrophic engine failure at a low altitude. He immediately flies the aircraft while continually evaluating the aircraft's performance during the turnback and approach to runway 8. An argument simply cannot be made about whether Frye made the right decision to turn back instead of landing on one of the flat fields in front of him since he walked away safely with no damage done to the structure of the aircraft.
It is safe to say that due to the engine failure Frye experienced, his engine will endure another long repair process before his Cessna Centurion sees the skies again. I used the word "another" because this event occurred on the first flight following the overhaul of the engine which consisted of the replacement of the camshaft, lifters, bearings, connecting rod bolts, rings, honed cylinders, propeller, and propeller governor. The subsequent result of the overhaul was a rod failing in flight, which pierced a hole through the crankcase causing loss of engine oil and oil starvation.
As I learned through glider training and doing Power Off 180s in commercial training, proper execution of returning to a runway for landing with no power or a simulated failed engine is all about airspeed management. Frye recognized when he was getting too slow and thus losing altitude faster, so he pushed the nose down to gain airspeed. Without the corrective measures he took to adjust airspeed, the risky turnback maneuver he executed would not have been so successful. However, he does put the gear down quite early when it is unclear whether landing on the airport environment is assured. Extending the gear creates additional drag and forces the aircraft to slow down.
I commend Frye because he was very receptive to all the criticism he received in comments on his video. I noticed in his video that he completed checklists in a memory flow pattern, but he didn't go back through the checklist to verify each item was accomplished. As a result, this caused him to unintentionally neglect his shoulder harness, which could have been potentially dangerous in the event of an off-airport landing. Additionally, he did not verbalize his pre-takeoff briefing. In a comment on the video, he indicated he said it in his head. Frye admits he was in a hurry to get off the ground before sunset. The word "hurry" being used in aviation can be linked with something called get-there-it is and what is, in my opinion, the 6th hazardous attitude.
As for developing good habits in the aircraft, I always verbalize briefings and checklists whether I have a passenger or I am solo. If I conduct a specific checklist from a memory flow, I go through my paper checklist and verbalize each item right after. In my past, I have flown an aircraft fresh out of an engine overhaul and although I was extra cautious during the run-up and ground operations, my outlook when I line up on centerline and apply full power is the same every time. I am diligent in monitoring my engine gauges and prepared following a thorough briefing if an emergency occurs.
Whether Frye should have landed in front of him or turned back will remain an active discussion within the aviation community. Due to his successful outcome, he displayed that with airspeed management and proper execution, it can be done. I would encourage every pilot to familiarize themselves with a safe altitude that is appropriate for a turnback and an altitude that would warrant an off-field landing in the event of an engine failure on climb out. It is highly beneficial to the aviation community that Frye shared this video as there is something everyone can learn by engaging in conversations of this nature.