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Precautionary Off-Airport Landing   By Chris Wilcox and Joseph Manor

The weather had been severe clear all the way north from Long Beach Airport in southern California right up through the central California valley. The pilot of the 1972 Centurion realized that his entire flight up to the Seattle area was probably going to be VFR, and good VFR at that. The autopilot held the aircraft on a heading direct to Manteca VOR, not far from Stockton. Following a bit of daydreaming, the pilot realized with a start, as we often do on long cross countries, that he hadn't been watching for traffic as diligently as he should have. He started to take a more formal look around the skies from his 9,500 foot cruising altitude when he suddenly felt a big jolt.  

At first he wasn't sure if it had been his imagination. He could have sworn that the engine had "missed" a beat, although it wasn't anything as definitive as that. It had been more of a momentary vibration. There it was again. He did what any pilot would do, he looked at the engine gauges and realized with a fright that the oil pressure gauge was barely above zero. He confirmed that the oil temperature was also on the rise. This flight was coming to an end.  

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Our 210 pilot wisely started looking for a suitable field in which to land the airplane. A number of factors usually come into consideration in selecting a field, not the least of which is the length and the nature of the surface. While it is true that most off airport landings will have shorter than touchdowns on the concrete back home, it is surprising how often pilots, particularly low-time pilots, will pick a pancake-flat field which would make a perfect emergency landing site except for the fact that it was only half or a third of the distance needed to stop the aircraft on the landing roll.
The practicing of engine failure during the various flight stages is common during training for private and commercial pilot  certificates. Some other emergency procedures, short of total engine failure, but which may require an immediate off  airport emergency landing, often do not get the same emphasis. A precautionary off-airport landing is an emergency  situation in which the pilot is forced to make an immediate landing while power is still available. In addition to the  indication of high engine temperature combined with loss of oil pressure that our Centurion pilot experienced, other  reasons for precautionary landings can include cabin or electrical fire, sudden deterioration of the weather or impending  darkness, or even a case where the pilot is utterly lost and running low on fuel.   
A pilot should consider a precautionary landing under such conditions that the continuation of  the flight might be detrimental to the flight's safety. A pilot should consider a precautionary landing under such conditions that the continuation of the flight might be detrimental to the flight's safety. Before initiating the descent, the pilot should consider the approach conditions including the wind direction and any major obstructions such as powerlines, buildings, etc.  
Once the landing site is found suitable for the approach, a descent to an altitude where obstacles can be clearly observed should be commenced. Entering from either base legs or upwind, the airplane is slowed to normal approach speed with the wing flaps set to the recommended position. The terrain has to be carefully observed for obstructions while flying a low pass on the upwind leg.  
An upwind climb should be initiated, and the wing flaps retracted at a safe altitude. After turning to the crosswind leg, a normal traffic pattern should be flown (a lower traffic pattern is maintained when the reason for the landing is low clouds) .  
On final approach, after the wing flaps are fully extended, all radios and electrical equipment should be turned off, and the cabin doors should be unlatched. Landing is made with a slightly low tail. After touchdown, brakes are applied as necessary while the ignition and the master switch are turned off.  

Many single engine airplane manufacturers include a procedure for precautionary landing in the airplane owner's manual.  For a particular airplane, a pilot should follow the manufacturer's procedure in an event the he or she is forced to make an off airport precautionary landing.  

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Last update May 17, 2005
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