The impossible turn

Comments (5)

William Davies

The myth of the impossible turn is unfortunately as long-lived as it's incorrect. I learned this during my FI training, where we practiced turning back from 400-500 ft during simulated engine failure. The reasons why the impossible turn is a myth:

1. The table of the increased stall speed with increasing bank angle is only valid in level flight. During climb and descent, the stall speed decreases.

2. During a turn back, you are strongly pushing the nose down during a very steep turn. The G-force is close to zero and thus the stall speed is actually much lower than during level flight (the stall speed is zero if the G-force is zero).

3. You are normally taking off in a headwind, so the tailwind will help you get back to the field after the turn.

4. During take-off, you should always be prepared for an immediate turn back, so the decision time is very short.

5. If there are no suitable landing areas ahead, the probability of a survivable landing are low unless a sharp turn back is initiated immediately. It's thus unreasonable to strongly dissuade from turning back.

In addition, the Sunny Swift article suggest a minimum altitude of 2-3,000 feet before considering turning back. This is not just incorrect as stated above, but actually the opposite is true. At 2-3,000 ft, you will probably NOT be able to turn back to reach the runway, since you are too far away (unless you have a very long runway and/or strong wind).

It's probably wise to teach "land straight ahead" for solo flights during initial training, but students should definitely learn how to make a sharp turn back from 500 ft, and to learn that it's an option if you cannot land straight ahead.

Pablo Moran

Hi William and community,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, I see some of them well supported. My point is that many factors play their role in this topic but the most important are location/surroundings and skill. My home airport where I fly is half surrounded by water, this is the reason I wanted to ask to you instructors and share ideas.

For me just to tag the issue as a myth sounds like a hasty, since there is still to much hype, especially in the US. Instead I encourage anyone interested to take a look to the following links and read about the experiences in this practice. One was published by the FAA long time ago and the other one was published by a well known instructor in the US, Max Trescott.…

He also has a GA dedicated podcast. Here one chapter about the “impossible turn” (It starts in min 37).…

I don’t mean your flight school where you had your course is wrong about teaching the practice. I am sure that maybe the turn at low altitude is the best option at that airport in an event of engine flameout. However, after reading and listening some well supported points from good and experienced pilots I doubt about the success of the impossible turn rather than a straight forced landing. Again, it all depends on several factors.


Marcia Nunes

Dear All, I love the publication and I share it with our Students in our monthly safety newsletter. However this month the quality of the image is not very good and it is hard to read the text. Can it be improved?

Dominique Roland

Dear Marcia,
We fully agree with you! Too much text... We were trapped by the complexity of the issue. We have acknowledged the mistake and the next issue (planned mid-December) should be better.

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