Once upon a time, in an air vehicle, somewhere over your favorite flying area, you are living a Real In-Flight Emergency.  Oh, what do you do?

q       Panic….  Remain calm….  Get calm….

q       Stay focused….. Try and think….

q       Try and think of what your last instructor would do….

q       Try and think for what your Mom would do….

q       Try to remember that one FAA safety lecture!

I don’t think any of the above suggestions is an answer or even an action you should contemplate when having an emergency.  However, my advice to you, which aligns with all the advice I have ever gotten from the “Old and Bold” crowd, is that you definitely need a thought-out plan that you can rely on when you are presented with an in-flight emergency that is now happening to your in-flight air vehicle. 

I use what I learned many years ago in the Air Force.  Their approach was very simple; easy to understand and even made a lot of sense.  Their general rule, before you do any of the precautionary or emergency procedure, or any of the checklist reading, or any of the switches and buttons repositioning, was to simply take note and follow a few basic rules to sustain flight.  After all, sustaining flight will eventually get you from here to there; i.e., from the point of the emergency to back on the ground, and consequently, be the only real action that should be paramount in your mind at this time.

Therefore, when an emergency of any sort happens, the Air Force’s basic 3 rules apply and should be performed immediately.  These rules are:  (1) Maintain Control, (2) Analyze the Situation, and (3) Take Proper Action. 

Now, those rules seem too simple to work efficiently or effectively.  But they really aren’t “too simple”, for if you have had any occasion to be front-and-center in an actual emergency, your mind is going Mach 2, but not necessarily in the direction you want, and not necessarily in the calm cool manner you would have expected.  That is why we need to stick to the KISS theory, Keep it Simple Stupid, even and especially in emergencies. 

In reality, we actually all need more and varied emergencies, to get us accustomed to remaining calm, to get us accustomed to having bad things happen to our flight vehicle, and basically, just to get more experience in handling our emergencies.  Since this “numerous emergency lifestyle” is not actually desired, nor is actually going to happen to most of us, the rest of us are left with getting a KISS solution that will work when we least expect it!  And that is the problem! 

The “least expect it” time situation is the culprit in this whole analysis of handling an emergency.  And this gets us back to the opening of this paragraph; i.e., the need to have something in our flight bag of procedures and principles on how to handle an emergency.  We need something that can be easily stowed in the minds of all us 78 to 180 IQ pilots, which can then be conveniently and consistently retrieved from our mind and applied during that actual one-in-a-lifetime situation scenario that is happening around us during an actual in-flight emergency.  This is why simple is paramount and so vital to a successful outcome!  Complicated stuff doesn’t work, and unless you are spending your life in a darkened simulator, practicing the inevitable but in real life never anticipated emergencies, you will need the simple but practical approach, which is the 3 Step Air Force program. 

In addition to the Air Force 3 Step program, I add another action step or two for the airplane I am flying, for with each airplane, you have a reservoir of known and unknowns that will come into play during an emergency.  Action #1, my favorite one, especially when I suddenly realize that I don’t know much about the air unit I’m attached to, is to not touch, move, or reposition anything – essentially, don’t do nothing!  This is very important, as your mind will be running at 50+ input/ouputs per second, and your hands are attempting to follow all these thoughts.  This is the time I espouse to the theory that God gave you an even number of hands, in this case two, so that one hand could slap the other if it started reaching for a button, handle, switch, knob, or lever, with the intent of pushing, pulling, repositioning, sliding, or maneuvering these extrusions into some other position from which we have no idea what might happen. 

I also espouse the theory, be it Action #2, that everything was working OK until something happened, so who made this happening happen?  If it was you, then stop and think, watch those hands, with a plan of what hand will slap the other if it moves toward any of the aforementioned already mentioned buttons, handles, switches, knobs, or levers.  We don’t want to be pushing, pulling, repositioning, sliding, or maneuvering anything until we get that steel-trap mind working on what happened, what will happen, and how do we start correcting the problem, or at least bring this whole day to a grounding on the terra-firma ground, better know as KTG, Kissing the Ground.  This KTG maneuver is often seen in movies, when the hero overcomes the disaster, comes back to the damsel in distress, kisses her, then kisses the ground, and all is well.  And that is why we, as pilots, look expectantly, anxiously, and eagerly for the KTG event, for unlike the hero in the movie, we are not really expecting the distressed damsel, whether she resides just around the corner, under the bridge, over the hill—but, like the true heartfelt yearning of the movie hero, we all just want that opportunity, once more, to kiss the ground!

So, how do we treat an emergency? 

Start by applying step #1, Maintain Control. 

OK, that may or may not be easy.  Here, our inherent pilot stuff, that we brag about during our beer hall debriefings, is paramount.  We actually need to maintain, or regain control before any of the rest of the KTG can take place – this is a given! 

Step #2, Analyze the Situation.

This is second, for we now need to determine if we created the emergency, or did this air vehicle do it to us.  If we created the emergency, we would want to reverse the event, if that is possible.  This reverse process may or may not work, for some pilot actions really do screw up a good plane!

Step #3, Take Proper Action.

This is now in our face.  Our prior-to-this-time idle hands are itching to do the right thing.  Hopefully, we already know what this might be, based on our knowledge of this aircraft, our past knowledge of different airplanes, or our knowledge from having had lots and lots of emergencies in the past.

As for Action #1, reining in the hands and doing nothing quickly, and Action #2, reversing the inappropriate procedure, they may be applied during any of the 3 Steps, as they are basically corrective actions, and should be viewed as such.

So, lets see how these Steps might be applied to a real flight situation.  To illustrate the use of these Steps, I will use an actual real life in the sky flight event that happened to me a month or so ago, as it fits several conditions or categories that a lot of us find ourselves in from time to time.  These conditions or categories may be physical fatigue, unfamiliarity with the aircraft, concentration focused on something else, pure pilot error, mistakes that happen from time to time, conditions that are perpetrated by aircraft maintenance, or just real life aircraft breakage and wear.


This flight was flown in a small sports car type, 4 passenger, twin engine corporate jet aircraft.  The aircraft had been built within the last year, had flown approximately 20 flights during flight testing, but then had been put back into the hangar for additional modifications.  There, it had been modified with additional avionic systems, a cockpit pressurization system, as well as several changes to the external structure, including a very large passenger door on the good side, the pilot side.    

The flight was briefed as a performance verification flight, with a secondary mission of verifying the operational usage and compliance of the various aircraft systems.  The aircraft was fully fueled, and projected time en-route was planned for 1 hour.  All flight work was to be done within 100 miles of the airport, at an altitude up to 18,000 feet. 

On pre-flight, I inspected all the changes, making a mental note on what differences there were to the standard aircraft.  Of particular interest and inspection was the large door that had been installed in place of the much smaller original door.  As part of the door inspection, the mechanics and designers explained how the door was designed, how the 8 pin door retention pattern was structurally loaded, how the locking mechanism worked, and how the emergency exit system was designed and operated.  They also briefed how they had successfully completed the ground pressure check where the cockpit was pressurized, and then over-pressurized to prove the overall fuselage structure and conform with FAR23 regulations.  One of the last items was the expanded explanation on the intricate two-handled door locking mechanism.  And to keep in concert with my theory of (1) only moving the shinny switches and (2) not moving knobs and switches I have limited knowledge of, I had them perform the critical last action, which was having them perform the hands-on locking and verification of the door lock mechanism so as to be confident that the door was indeed locked and secured before the engine start.

Start up and taxi were standard, with no problems noted.  On the pre-takeoff check, I had not elected to pressurize the cockpit, as I still had some concern over the pressurization system and the cockpits structural ability to sustain this pressure.  I also noted that there was no caution light for an open or unlocked door, and the only way to check this was to note the position of the door lock/unlock handles.  Other than that, the cockpit check was complete and takeoff clearance was requested.  The runway takeoff direction was south, and the work areas were to the west, so the logical request would have been to just request a west turnout, a right turn.  Since this is not my cup of tea type of aircraft (not a fighter, no guns, no afterburner, no ejection seat) I felt some discomfort with the aircraft, like --- what it would do, how it would fly, what part would quit first, etc., etc..  So, this is why I requested a left turnout, with a 270 degree turnabout over the airport before heading westbound.  This would insure the flight would stay close to the airport for another few minutes, giving me additional time to analyze what sort of air machine this was before leaving the airport area and flying off into the west Texas abyss. The tower granted this request, and when power was added on both engines, the little jet screamed down the runway and became airborne with little to no effort. 

Once airborne, the first impression was that this puppy had significant power, so once established in the climb, I quickly pulled back the throttles to a low power, since the over-fly altitude limit of 1500 feet was going to be gained quickly, as well as the max tested speed of 200 knots.  As power was reduced, I began a shallow left turn to an extended base to over-fly the airport and continue westbound.  Approximately a minute into the left turn, while still extending away from the field, climbing and slowly accelerating through 160 knots, I noticed a rush of air along my left foot.  When I looked to see where the air was coming from, and much to my amazement, I could practically look past my left shoe and see the Texas terra-firma, noticing, detecting, observing, perceiving, and becoming fully eye-opening aware that the main cabin door forward lower corner had extruded 3 to 4 inches from the closed position.  I immediately grabbed the door handle, attempting to hold the door closed and avoid a worst fate. 

My hand on the door had little effect, as almost immediately following this extrusion of the lower forward door portion into the wind stream, the entire door proceeded to open, swinging up and ripping the structure from around the 8 retention pins that had previously been imbedded in the aircraft door frame.  As the entire door proceeded to open, it stopped opening at the vertical hinged door limit, where it stayed for a few moments, acting like a forward of the CG rudder, yawing the aircraft violently to the right.  As full left rudder was applied to counter this yaw, which is essentially Step #1, Maintain Control, the door proceeded to tear from the aircraft, bouncing off the right engine, colliding with the right wing, ripping into the fuel cells and allowing a flow of JP4 to stream in a highly visible pattern as the door departed from the aircraft, never to be seen again.  Immediately following this event, the now door absent full open to the wind gaping cavity in the left side of the aircraft was full face into the relative wind, acting as it’s own “barn door” rudder, so the aircraft immediately swung nose left.  You may have remembered, I had put in full left rudder to counter the door rudder effect, and now, as the nose started swinging left, I was reminded of this small fact, and quickly as Jack switched the rudder to full right rudder.  As I watched the nose swing to the left, all I could think of was two things: Will this puppy go all the way around? What would Chuckie Yeager do?

So, in keeping with what I believe Chuckie would have done (Step #1, Maintain Control), as he was also a steely eyed Air Force trained aviator, I continued to hold full right rudder, and happily, saw the nose settle out without going all the way around.  Once the aircraft settled out in it’s steady state of yaw, with wind whistling into the aircraft on the wide open and easily accessible port side, all loose items started leaving the aircraft interior, seeming to never end.  Papers galore, with no end in sight, left the aircraft, swirling around the instrument panel and windshield area, as well as anything and everything else, including a counsel computer with the keyboard sailing around my head, my Miss Ashley race jacket, my personal billfold, cell phone, flight equipment and flight maps, disappeared out the door, where it headed straight for the #1 engine inlet, lodging there, and unknown to me at that time, preventing any further use of this #1 engine.  An emergency was declared, with a stated intent to the tower to try for a landing on the north/south runway. 

Although I didn’t mentally think this emergency had progressed to Step #2, it actually had, for now the aircraft had completed Step #1, as control was maintained and now was the time for Step #2, Analyze the Situation.  The plane had suffered a large airspeed loss during it’s yawing around, so there was like no speed on the airspeed pointer gauge, and as I attempted to push the throttles up, to put power on both engines and put some numbers on the airspeed meter, the obvious became obvious, for the #1 engine rpm did not respond as the #1 EGT went through the roof, what little roof we had left! 

The #2 engine, still on the right side of the aircraft, appeared to operate normally, but any power advancement would dramatically yaw the aircraft to the left, as full right rudder was already being held to counter the mammoth open left side, the left door area drag.  Therefore, as #2 engine power was added, the aircraft would yaw to the left, and this left yaw only made the plane go further behind a straight line shot to the runway, making the straight line distance to the runway longer and harder to attain, and also obviously lowering the chance for a real cement type earth landing.

Step #3, Take Proper Action, was now critical, for the plane was flying, but was too slow, and was too far from the runway to make it without power.  The #2 engine worked, but any application of power would yaw the plane, which would turn the aircraft away from the airport and would severely impact another of my favorite rules:  Always crash on the airport!

So, Take Proper Action is a simple term, but unfortunately, not an easy one to predict, as the only real answer as to whether anyone took proper action is usually left to the accident investigation team, and is not a readily available component that is known real-time in the subject aircraft.  In this case, however, all was looking not-too-rosy, as even limited use of #2 engine power was still too much, for any more power would only result in the plane being driven into an angle turn away from the runway.  At this time, the plane path had evolved from the Take Proper Action Step #3 to the “It’s Better to be Lucky than Good” scenario, for in my mind, all the proper action that could be taken had been taken. 

The only part of Step #3, that was still in play, was to try for a very short approach, attempting for an approximate straight-on perpendicular path to the runway over-run as the only cement available to land on, with a calculated ever decreasing altitude and airspeed approach.  There was no backup plan except to bounce the aircraft off something like a hangar or a taxiway, in an attempt to get another 200 feet or so.  I’m not sure this last lunitactic tactic would or should be considered as a candidate for Step #3, Take Proper Action!

Anyway, the good news in aviation is that all good (or bad) things come to an end, as happened in this case.  The easy to see, fuel siphoning aircraft was iterated and reiterated by ground observers to be too low to miss the buildings or ever to land on the runway, but flown with what I think was a mix of “It’s Better to be Lucky than Good” to a continual upgraded Step #3 of taking proper action.  In this case, lowering flaps incrementally and gear at the last second provided the increased glide that enabled the flying unit to recover in a very low to a very high angle short turn onto the overrun, with a shuttle “power up” sliding, yawing, turning maneuver that amazingly and in concert with the Texas wind, allowed a landing and a rollout on the runway.  All systems and engines that were or were not operating were immediately shut down and a very easy egress was made from the rather large opening on the good side, the pilot’s side. 

The aircraft owner was also in the aircraft, as the copilot.  In keeping with airline directives of “ only official speech” below 10,000 feet, we did comply, and barely spoke a word to each other from the start of the flight to the finish.  Matter of fact, we abstained so well from any speech that it might be claimed that we were speechless!

The aircraft was met by the mechanics, as well as the still talking witnesses to the aircraft incident --- the Rescue, FAA, TPW, and of course, Environmental groups