Twin Proficiency: Checkride Circus Tricks

Twin Proficiency: Checkride Circus Tricks

by Thomas P. Turner

King Air B200 impacted the Flight Safety International building after departure and aircraft engine failure from Wichita, Kansas. The pilot, the sole aircraft occupant, was fatally injured and the airplane was destroyed. Three building occupants were fatally injured, two occupants sustained serious injuries, and four occupants sustained minor injuries. Visual conditions prevailed.

The airplane departed Runway 1R and was instructed to fly runway heading. One minute later the pilot declared an emergency and stated that he “lost the left engine.” According to witnesses, after the airplane departed runway 1R, a left turn was initiated and the airplane’s altitude was estimated less than 150 feet above the ground. One witness observed the airplane shortly after it became airborne and heard a reduction in power on one engine before it entered the left turn. Another witness saw the airplane from about 20 yards away. He said the airplane was in a left turn and approached the hangars east of FSI, then the wings were level as it flew west toward FSI. The airplane’s landing gear [was] down, the flaps were extended, the rudder was neutral, and the right engine was at full power.

CheckrideIIIn the final seconds before impacting the building the airplane was on a heading of 240º in a gradual, descending left turn. Both propellers were rotating. The nose of the airplane struck the roof of the building before a large explosion and post-impact fire.

Common comments I’ve heard include “this isn’t supposed to happen in a turboprop,” and “a King Air should have no trouble climbing out on one engine, especially with only one person on board.” The NTSB preliminary report, unusually detailed for a “prelim,” describes a 90º or greater heading change immediately after the engine failure, followed by a gradual turn in a shallow descent until impacting the building…not the classic loss of control scenario, but more as if the pilot experienced an initial loss of control but then regained at least some control over heading and bank before riding the airplane into the building. The landing gear remained down, flaps were extended and the propeller was apparently not feathered. Read the NTSB’s preliminary report and make your own (preliminary) judgment about this departure from the standard Engine Failure During Takeoff procedure.

Not only did the pilot perish, but persons on the ground doing the right thing – training, and providing quality flight training, including Russian language translation duties, – died or were hurt in the crash as well. The student in the simulator had traveled halfway around the world, in part (no doubt) because simulator training is so much safer than instruction in an actual aircraft.

Given what we know, and the apparent deviation from the engine failure procedures we all practice, I struggled to find a good lesson as a result. Only after much time thinking about this crash, an answer came.

There are a number of skills and maneuvers evaluated on Practical Tests (“checkrides”) that, for many pilots, seem to have no direct application to flying after the pilot certificate or rating is earned. Some of the evaluated Tasks we might call “circus tricks,” skills seemingly learned for the sole purpose of successfully passing the checkride. Flight at Minimum Controllable Airspeed (“Slow Flight”), S-Turns Across a Road, Lazy 8s, and Turns on Pylons are among those evaluated Tasks that might appear to be checkride circus tricks. Certainly they don’t have as obvious an application as crosswind takeoffs and landings, stall recognition and recovery, and engine failure procedures.

CheckrideOne such checkride “circus trick” applicable to multiengine aircraft is the VMC Demonstration. VMC is the airspeed, determined during certification of a multiengine aircraft, below which directional control is not possible with one engine inoperative and the other engine operating at full power. Flight controls become less effective as airflow decreases. Consequently, as speed decreases the pilot must deflect the controls progressively further to compensate for asymmetric thrust. Loss of directional control occurs at the point when the pilot reaches full control deflection and the airplane decelerates further.

The “VMC Demo” consists of climbing to a safe altitude and clearing the area, then establishing the demonstration configuration (flaps, power, gear and trim) with the critical engine (if one engine is identified as critical by the manufacturer) at idle power and the other engine at takeoff power, with both propellers at takeoff RPM. While maintaining heading in a climb at approximately 10 knots above VSSE (minimum safe single engine speed as defined in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook), slow the airplane approximately one knot per second (a very gradual deceleration). Add rudder and aileron input as needed. Recover at the first sign of inability to maintain heading or the first indication of a wing stall, whichever occurs first. (see “VMC vs. VS” in the July 2014 Twin and Turbine).

Recover by reducing power on the “operating” engine sufficiently to stop the heading change (generally to idle power, to quickly eliminate the asymmetry that causes the VMC effect), while simultaneously lowering the nose to increase airspeed and therefore airflow, making the controls more effective. Do so properly and within 20° of the entry heading, accelerating to VXSE or VYSE (as designated by the pilot examiner) +10/-5 knots, and you’ve passed this task on the Multiengine Rating Practical Test at the Private Pilot level.

Why do twin-engine pilots learn to fly the VMC Demonstration? Most say: “In order to pass the checkride.” The FAA’s Airplane Flying Handbook doesn’t emphatically state the purpose of this demonstration, but does say that:

A thorough knowledge of the factors that affect VMC, as well as its definition, is essential for multiengine pilots, and as such an essential part of that required task….

Seemingly, the VMC Demonstration is the ultimate “circus trick” maneuver, one taught for the sole purpose of giving pilots something on which to be evaluated. After all, you have to be at or below VMC (red radial) speed in order to perform this maneuver. Takeoff in most multiengine airplanes is recommended at VMC + 5 knots, and final approach speed is usually 15-20% above VMC. You’ll never be near “red radial” speed in flight, right?

The King Air crash is a perfect illustration of the reason pilots learn to perform the VMC Demonstration. What’s missing in the way most of us were taught (and teach) the VMC Demo is to put the maneuver into context. The purpose of the VMC Demonstration is to give the pilot an engine failure survival tool if he/she thinks he/she has done everything right and the airplane still begins to depart from controlled flight. The VMC Demonstration is a checkride circus trick no more!

Consider other checkride maneuvers that are often presented as if they are solely for the purpose of passing a checkride. Really think, and you’ll find a potential life-saving (or at least damage-preventing) reason for every one.

The highest level of learning is called correlation: the ability to relate what you have learned under one set of circumstances with the need for action under a different set of circumstances. The FAA’s Aviation Instructor’s Handbook defines correlation as “associating what has been learned, understood and applied with previous or subsequent learning.” Most flight instruction, however, is oriented toward teaching and demonstrating application. The “license to learn” we receive with a new, temporary pilot certificate or rating is the challenge to develop the experience, and learn from the experiences of others, to rise to the level of correlation.

The positive lesson from the King Air crash at Wichita is a reminder that all checkride maneuvers can be correlated to real, life-saving situations. We learn what we are required to learn for a reason. No matter what else he had done, if the pilot of the King Air had noted an inability to hold heading, he probably could have chopped both power levers, lowered the nose and landed more or less straight ahead – correlating the VMC Demonstration to an actual Engine Failure During Takeoff.

Your challenge is to retain at least the level of proficiency you once demonstrated to earn your pilot certificates and ratings, and to correlate those skills with others. Tempered with judgment, this gives you a much better chance of being ready if you think you’ve done everything right, but things are still going seriously wrong.

Thomas P. Turner is an ATP CFII/MEI, holds a Masters Degree in Aviation Safety, and was the 2010 National FAA Safety Team Representative of the Year. Subscribe to Tom’s free FLYING LESSONS Weekly e-newsletter at

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