In my usual line of work, the acronym P.F.L stands for Pre-fade Level, its the action of listening to something in your headphones before you play it on the radio. In aviation however the consequences of getting your PFL wrong are much greater than your listener having their ‘next song surprise’ spoiled.
A P.F.L. or to be grammatically correct an F.L. is possibly one of most important manoeuvres you practice while learning how to fly an aircraft. A forced landing is a make or break occurrence. Get it wrong and its going to hurt, a lot. Get it right and you and your passengers walk away with an extraordinary story.
Let me set the scene… you’re flying along happily, the engine coughs, splutters and cuts out. The FIRST thing you do, is push the throttle to full power (even though the engine is not running) and use the extra speed to gain some height, then maintain the best glide speed for the aircraft (glide speed is the speed at which you get the best distance, its where induced drag and parasitic/form drag are at their least intrusive). This will give you a little more time. Then, you need to look for somewhere to land… you might need it. As aways, the is a checklist, one which you commit to memory…
W – wind direction (you want to land into wind if you can)
O – Obstacles (power lines, fences, roads, buildings, trees property, people etc… anything you might hit)
S – Size (make sure your chosen landing area is big enough)
S – Surface (is the surface appropriate, flat, firm, furrows in the direction of travel etc)
S – Slope (a slight upward slope is desirable)
S – S(c)ivilisation (somewhere to summon help… and a stiff drink)
You’ve now found a suitable field, or other location to aim for (make a positive decision quickly). You can now get in an engine check – can you restart the engine… Check master and battery switches are on, check the fuel tank selection/switch tanks, switch on the fuel pump, force (switch to) fadec B (or suitable backup system on your aircraft) engine master on then off and try to start the engine… if it fires up, gain some height and plan an emergency landing at the nearest airfield and initiate a “PAN” call.
If the engine does not re-start, make a “MAYDAY” call, on the emergency frequency 121.500MHz (unless you’re already talking to an ATC or Air/Ground Radio) state your call sign, your location and your intention. If you can, and you’re not already assign a transponder code, set it to Mode C and 7700 – every radar in range will see this and look for you.
Remember though, FLY FIRST, then navigate and THEN communicate. If you don’t have time to make a call or switch codes, concentrate on flying the aircraft.
When you know you’re going to get into the field or the landing area you decide upon, switch off the master switches. Turn off the fuel supply. Crack open the door and check your harnesses are secure and TIGHT.
Get the aircraft onto the ground, you may need full flaps – (never get rid of flaps in a forced landing) and once you have come to a stop, evacuate towards the rear of the aircraft away from the engine and prop… then, raise the alarm.
It all sounds really scary, but actually I really enjoy this exercise. Its quite a thrill to go through all of the above and its comforting to know what to do in an emergency. This is now something that will be practiced in every lesson which are now getting really intense, its proper flying now.
Here’s my first attempt at a P.F.L