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A deadstick landing, also called a dead-stick landing, is a type of forced landing when an aircraft loses all of its propulsive power and is forced to land. The "stick" does not refer to the flight controls, which in most aircraft are either fully or partially functional without engine power, but to the traditional wooden propeller, which without power would just be a "dead stick". When a pilot makes an emergency landing of an aircraft that has some or all of its propulsive power still available, the procedure is known as a precautionary landing.
All fixed-wing aircraft have some capability to glide with no engine power; that is, they do not sink straight down like a stone, but rather continue to glide moving horizontally while descending. For example, with a glide ratio of 15:1, a Boeing 747-200 can glide for 150 kilometres (93 mi) from a cruising altitude of 10,000 metres (33,000 ft). After a loss of power, the pilot’s goal is to maintain a safe airspeed and fly the descending aircraft to the most suitable landing spot within gliding distance, then land with the least amount of damage possible. The area open for potential landing sites depends on the original altitude, local terrain, the engine-out gliding capabilities of the aircraft, original airspeed and winds at various altitudes. Part of learning to fly a fixed-wing aircraft is demonstrating the ability to fly safely without an engine until prepared to make (or actually making) a landing. Gliders, unless they have an auxiliary motor, do all their flying without power, and a trained pilot can touch down on virtually any spot he or she picks from the air.
The success of the deadstick landing largely depends on the availability of suitable landing areas. A competent pilot gliding a relatively light, slow plane to a flat field or runway should result in an otherwise normal landing, since the maneuver is not especially difficult, requiring only strict attention and good judgement concerning speed and energy. A heavier, faster aircraft or a plane gliding into mountains and/or trees could result in substantial damage.
Single engine failure
When a single engine aircraft suffers an engine failure, it must do a dead-stick landing. Pilatus Aircraft established the procedures following an engine failure in a PC-12 after flight tests : the turn-back procedure necessitates a 1,200 ft (370 m) altitude in visual meteorological conditions and 2,500 ft (760 m) in instrument meteorological conditions. At a 15° bank angle, the maneuver takes 161 s., results in a 2,350 ft (720 m) loss of altitude and a 5,050 ft (1,540 m) turn radius while at 45° it takes 46 s. with a turn radius of 1,450 ft (440 m) and loses 1,005 ft (306 m). The flaps take 30 s. to extend to 40° and the landing gear 12 s. Its "glide envelope" assumes an overall glidepath angle of 4.5° (a 12.7 glide ratio) in a clean configuration, the propeller feathered and a best glide speed of 114 kn (211 km/h) indicated airspeed.
A danger in losing power comes from the pilot subsequently allowing a critical loss of airspeed, which will result in excessively fast loss of altitude and, when poorly handled, loss of control. The instinct to "stretch the glide" by pulling the nose up beyond its optimum point will simply make the aircraft sink faster. The other major concern is attempting a low altitude turn back to the airport, should engine power be lost shortly after takeoff. This "impossible turn" has killed many pilots because it very likely will result in a crash whereas a landing straight ahead (or within a few degrees of the initial flight path) would be survivable.
Deadstick landings of passenger aircraft
There have been several well-known instances of large jet airliners successfully executing a deadstick landing.
- The "Gimli Glider", 23 July 1983: An Air Canada Boeing 767 ran out of fuel en route from Montreal to Edmonton. The plane had insufficient glide range to complete a diversion to Winnipeg, but the crew managed to make a successful dead stick landing at a former airfield at Gimli (Now the Interlake Dragway), where a drag racing event was underway on, what was the runway.
- TACA Flight 110, 24 May 1988: A Boeing 737-300 traveling from Belize City, Belize to New Orleans, Louisiana, United States that lost power in both engines, but made a successful unpowered landing on a grass levee at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in the Michoud area of eastern New Orleans.
- Hapag-Lloyd Flight 3378, 12 July 2000: An Airbus A310 en route from Greece to Germany experienced a landing gear problem and subsequent fuel depletion, resulting in a deadstick landing in Vienna.
- Air Transat Flight 236, 24 August 2001: An Air Transat Airbus A330 ran out of fuel while flying across the North Atlantic, from Toronto to Lisbon. The crew glided the aircraft over 100 miles (160 km) and made a deadstick landing at a military air base in the Azores.
- US Airways Flight 1549, 15 January 2009: An Airbus A320 en route from New York City's LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina that lost both engines when it struck a flock of Canada geese on take-off and successfully ditched in the Hudson River adjacent to Manhattan with no loss of life.
- Emergency landing
- Hard landing
- Space Shuttle
- Gliding (flight)
- List of airline flights that required gliding
- OED Online entry for "dead stick".
- Patrick Veillette (Jun 30, 2017). "When Your Only Engine Fails". Aviation Week Network.
- Engine Failure on Climbout Leads to Impossible Turn LAX07LA022