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Power or Power-Off Approaches

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Mountain Pilot

Well-Known Member
Apr 13, 2010
Reaction score
A very interesting discussion is going on over at the Luscombe Forum about Power or Power-off approaches, this quoted part was posted by Dug Combs the HHIC of the Luscombe Group and one heck of a great guy. I have to agree with him totally....

"This is not a painted/polished or Round /square tail discussion. Its about safety.

In the golden age of aviation 1920-60, we took care of the equipment (pilot butt), by handling all patterns as if an engine might quit momentarily, AND we always wanted to be in a position where a successful forced landing could be executed – preferably on an airport. Competitive landing practice similarly values and teaches these skills- because of their safety value. The low compression engines of this period deliver little or no ill effect for these kinds of operations, they taught safe procedure, and these procedures forced pilots to learn/use best safest practice to save their butt.

In the 1970’s and 80’s we had a new breed of FAA who saw high performance high compression, turbocharged engines in use by relatively inexperienced ‘private’ operator pilots- some of whom did not read manuals or understand the issue of shock cooling when getting out of a C-150, and into a turbo 310/320 or C421. Sudden power reductions in these are game changers that can quickly cause engine failure with improper use. These ??wise?? FAA types insisted that CFIs teach the gradual power reduction methods to all students (including primary), just as they suggested flaps for all training airplanes, “so that the student learned proper procedure that he could apply later to more complex and faster airplanes he was likely to fly”. This policy shift and full(er) traffic patterns led to extended traffic circuits, fewer power off approaches to teach basic emergency landing techniques, and it resulted in pilot trainees who are unlikely to survive a forced landing when the mill quits. These folks are however usually capable of ALL kinds of weather flying (if the autopilot and GPS system is working properly) ;-). In other words, the policy shift was to teach an airline cockpit operation ab initio in even the simple airplanes.

IMHO this teaching method put the cart before the horse, and was generally valid IF you were teaching primary students in an Aerostar, in a P-210, or in a B-29; but the wisdom of the process had limited transfer and applicability in the cockpit of a C-150, a Cherokee 140, or a Luscombe. The mandated teaching technique was a violation of the long established ‘building block’ process of teaching simple processes, then expanding those over time to accommodate different equipment and different operational considerations. (Those of you who are not CFI’s or ATP’s might not understand that there is a whole art and philosophy of instruction related to what/when/how to teach various procedures and to develop ‘building block’ processes for best outcomes….

Many CFI’s have now learned the fallacy of this “too much- too early- too detailed”, training method, and we now have pilot people seeking out stick and rudder training, emergency training, and concentrating on the basics of flight operation- like power-off approaches, co-ordination, and skilled pilot operations while handling the airplane- long after they got their licenses, and usually after realizing their training was somehow deficient at the primary level….

This is not to say the power-on methods of gradual power reduction do not have merit. It is to say that they should be the procedural exception used when required by ATC, a full pattern, or other circumstance, only when the low performance, low compression engine powered airplane cannot be used for the practice of a safe, power off approach to the runway numbers. Given this parameter, we will get about 50% practice of engine outs, and 50% of power reduction approaches- and the pilot should be proficient at both, but prepared at any time to execute the power-off and safest - safe landing.

Most Sincerely, Doug Combs

ATP, CFI, 15500TT – 3000+ dual given. High priced (but worth it), CFIA for Luscombes

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