Precautionary Landings


The definition of precautionary landings should be derived directly from the students’ Flight Training Manual, and should include reference to a systematic and safe procedure for conducting a precautionary landing on an unimproved landing area, or an unfamiliar runway.  Reference here should also be made to the differences between an emergency landing, and a precautionary landing.


The aim statement should parallel the definition statement.


Reference should be made for the continued need by pilots to be prepared for the possibility of a precautionary landing, just as they would, for example, to be prepared for an in-flight emergency.  Try to draw on any experiences of others who have conducted precautionary landings, and also draw attention to the actions you have taken in response to landing at unfamiliar landing strips.

Background Knowledge


The discussion in the background knowledge section should first revolved around a list of possible causes of precautionary landings.  These of course can be derived from the Flight Training Manual, but they should be informally derived through joint discussions with your student—“Can you think of any other reasons why a Precautionary Landing might necessary, Frankie?  What about fuel issues?  Good.  What about mechanical issues? . . .”

Field Selection

The task of selecting a suitable field for landing area will likely have been discussed in the preceding PGI and air instruction on Forced Landings, keeping in mind that students venturing to the practice area for solo training are typically taught forced landing procedures first—so they are equipped right away with dealing with critical flight situation in the practice area on their own.  Also, in the early phases of solo training in the practice area, they are always close to the home airport.  Typically, precautionary landing procedures are taught later, just prior to students venturing off on cross-country training flights.  Therefore, in this PGI on precautionary landings, it would be suitable for you to simply review the field selection criteria previously taught.  It should be noted here, additionally, that there are special considerations for field selection when conducting a precautionary landing, as opposed to a forced approach procedure, and this relate to the proximity of a selected landing area to shelter and a means of communication.  Another consideration specific to precautionary landings, of course, is the suitability of the proposed landing area that would permit a takeoff of the aircraft once the factors or events causing the precautionary landing has resolved.  Obviously, the landing area should therefore be of suitable length for a takeoff.


Begin this how section with a review of the student’s Pilot Operating Handbook if in fact the manufacturer prescribes procedures to be followed for precautionary landings.  If this is not required, this section should begin with a simplified sketch of typical landscape laid out on the whiteboard; the drawing should include typical geographical field types, interspersed with highway, river,  and railroad features as are typically found in a rural setting, including a depiction of various farm structures found there, such as houses, barns, silos, etc.  The layout should depict various field types, and your artistic skills will be taxed here to convey such features as hay fields, cornfields, plowed fields, harvested fields, pasture fields, and of course forested areas.  The scale of your depiction should be such that an entire precautionary landing circuit could be shown on the whiteboard.  Some Instructors prefer to have this sketch already drawn on the whiteboard when the student arrives, while others sketch the board in in conjunction with the student, asking the student to identify the board features as various items are added

With respect to whiteboard layout, it might be a good idea to leave some space along the side of the whiteboard where the sequence of actions included the precautionary landing procedure can be listed as they are introduced and discussed.

The Scenario Start

After the landscape has been sketched on the whiteboard, take extra time to develop a rich scenario requiring a precautionary landing procedure that will trigger the imagination and participation of the student. Included in your scenario such factors as visibility and ceiling, and be sure to include any additional factors that might affect the speed at which the precautionary landing has to be performed, such as the rate of deterioration in the weather, etc.  Remember, your student cannot participate in your lesson unless you provide sufficient information to work with.  Also, your scenario should not revolve around an unfamiliar airport, as this scenario doesn’t really introduce the student to the full array of activity required for an off-airport landing.  Once the scenario is established, begin with a logical sequence of actions undertaken.

Initial Set-up

When faced the need for precautionary landing, your student should first consider the initial setup of the aircraft.  With respect to the initial aircraft setup, for example, consideration would have to be given by the pilot to the aircraft’s flaps and speed configuration.  In the case of deteriorating weather, in association with deteriorating flight visibility, the aircraft should generally be slowed to a speed that is less than normal cruise, but above endurance, and the aircrafts maneuvering flaps should be selected.  Explain how the selection of flaps will permit better visibility through the windscreen whereby the apparent angle of attack is reduced, and explain how a reduction in speed will permit greater time to examine the surround area, as well as respond to the appearance of terrain obstacles and hazards, such as, for example, vicinity antenna or rising terrain. 

Some experience flight instructors have argued that the precautionary landing procedure should simply be taught as a normal circuit procedure, with normal speed and flap selections, but this suggestion conveys the view that precautionary landing training is in fact superfluous and unnecessary, since the student is already familiar with normal circuit procedures.  It is, of course, more valuable for your student to learn strategies for dealing with poor visibility and low ceilings scenarios that require important modifications to normal circuit procedures.

Key Aircraft Configuration Settings

After establishing the aircraft in the initial setup configuration, students should note the RPM setting, as well as the trim setting that has been used.  These will become key when the aircraft is set up for the low pass over the proposed landing area, as the student will only have to select the RPM power setting to maintain accurate level flight, provided the trim hasn’t been altered from the original setting.  This also implies, of course, that the low pass—as well as the descent for the low pass—doesn’t involved alterations in the flap setting.

Laying out the Action Sequence

Being that the first step in the exercise is set-up, you must now somehow list this on the whiteboard, under which the other remaining sequential task will also be listed.  There are two options here.  In both cases, as you progress through the exercise with your student, you should progressively extend the flight track line on the whiteboard, showing the movement of the aircraft through the exercise, much like the diagram is depicted in the Flight Training Manual.  As one option, you can list the tasks along the track line to reflect where they should be accomplished during the precautionary landing sequence—this is like a progressive flow chart.  Alternatively, you can simply write the task number on the whiteboard along the track line, and make a separate numbered list next to the map view depicting the task.

Field Selection

If you have adequate artistic skills, your student should be able to locate at the map view laid out on the whiteboard a field that would be best suited for the precautionary landing.  You could add in some important features here.  First of all, you should have two hay fields of sufficient length, either one of which would be suitable for a landing, but only one of which is depicted adjacent to a farmhouse-type structure where shelter and communication is available.  Also, your layout should include a plowed field indicated by heavy parallel lines that show the furrows.  Be sure to also include a field containing standing crop, such as a cornfield, indicating a cross-section of the crop along the edges of the field.  Show a pastor field with stick-like animals, and you can also show another field with hay or straw bales.  Your artistic work here will be useful in stimulating discussion regarding field selection. 

With respect to wind, your map view should also depict wind indicators typically available in rural areas—one of the fields should have a pond with a depiction of the wave patterns showing the direction of the wind.  You should also have smoke trailing up from a farmhouse for the chimney, you should have trees that show the lighter leafs on the windy side, and you should have your animals with their rear ends pointed into wind (you better research this last one regarding animal behaviour, as it could only be a rumour).  When discussing the wind indicators, it is useful to use the mariner phrases windward side and leeside.

High Pass

The next task is of course the high pass of the selected field.  With respect to altitude, the high pass should be conducted at normal circuit altitude, in the event that there are no ceiling or visibility restrictions, or as high as possible given restrictions caused by the weather, etc. With respect to the aircraft track, your student should fly to the approach end of the field.  Students are susceptible to confusion regarding how to start the circuit patterns for the precautionary landing, and the clear direction of flying to the approach end will counter this. 

Once at the approach end, the intention is to fly a track down the length of the field, with flight path passing slightly right of the landing area, permitting the student the past few of the proposed landing area.  The student will be busy later during the low pass—a maneuver where there should be minimal distraction—so it is important to assess the suitability of the field length early on in the procedure, so it might be a good idea of the for your student to time high pass (rather than the low pass), using a part of the structure of the aircraft—such as the leading edge of the wing—to mark the aircrafts passage over the beginning and end of the landing area. Have your student perform the math revolving around the speed of 60 mph whereby the aircraft travels at approximately 1 mile per minute, and therefore approximately 100 feet per second.  This could then be compared to 90 mph.  From the math, you can derive a minimum length of 20 or 30 seconds, for example, to facilitate a takeoff.

Nevertheless, the main goal of the high pass is to assess the general layout of the landing area with specific concern to features that can be clearly identified at altitude, for example, obstacles, structures, trees, Godzilla nests, etc.  In contrast, the subsequent low pass will focus on the surface features of the landing area, which are best viewed low down. 

First Circuit

Upon completing the high pass, your student should be directed to fly a normal circuit with adequate spacing from the landing area so as not to encourage steep turns and a rushed procedure.  In the initial circuit, landmarks should be identified that will serve to provide guidance along the circuit tracks, keeping in mind that poor visibility scenarios may create situations where the landing area might not be clearly visible from the far corners of the circuit.  Land marks such as farm houses, road intersections, silos, barns, bridges, etc., should be included on you board layout out.  During the downwind leg of his first circuit, the pre-landing checks should be completed in anticipation of the low pass.

This might be as good as any a place to mention to your student the advantage of a left circuit, of course affording greater visual authority to the pilot during the maneuver, but mention right circuit may be required owing to, for example, geographic obstacles on the left-circuit side.  Flexibility is the word of the day.

Low Pass

The descent for the low pass, which is of course the next task, should be initiated in accordance with normal circuit pattern procedures.  Prepare and train your student for the eventuality that the elevation of landing area may be unknown.  In this regard, point out that the visual references to the landing area, as seen in the downwind leg, and as provided by the wing or wing strut, will be will be identical to normal circuit spacing regardless of the height above the landing area.  During this descent for the low pass, only the power should be reduced, and there should be no affective changes with respect to flaps are trim.  As mentioned earlier, if flap and trim settings are unchanged, the hazards of a low pass, including inadvertent drift-down during this inspection, will be minimize provided the power is accurately set to the initial setup settings.  If timing is conducted during the low pass, it should be conducted through verbal counting, rather than reference to a clock on the instrument panel, as in the activity requiring the pilot to look inside the cockpit during the low pass should be minimized. The focus of the low pass is a careful examination of the surface, looking for such hazardous features as trenches, ditches, potholes, fences, etc.

Second Circuit

With the completion of the low pass, a second circuit is flown for a possible final approach and landing, and the student should check off the geographic features mapping out the circuit pattern as it is flown.  In the downwind leg, is the decision has now be made to proceed with the landing, communications should be made to flight service via radio or cell phone, updating them of your position, intentions, and your ETA. 

Final Approach

During the final approach, the normal flap speed, and trim settings associated with normal landings should be abided by.  It is also important to emphasize to the student that any doubt or lack of certainty regarding landing area should be pursued using a second low pass, perhaps at a lower altitude.  If necessary, and if time permits, an additional low should be added. These are especially important where, for example, abnormal procedures are required owing to vicinity obstacles—a curved or arched final approach, etc.

Altitude Issues for Instructors

The question often arises concerning the appropriate altitudes that should be used while training your student to conduct precautionary landings.  In the event of an actual precautionary landing, the answer concerning the altitude of the low pass is straightforward—the aircraft should simply be flown at as low altitude as is safely necessary to properly assess the surface for landing.  If required, then, the low pass could be flown at 50 feet above the surface, provided this did not present increased hazard.  If you are actually landing on unimproved surface, you simply have to look carefully.  The low passes will also tell you something about your ability to takeoff after landing once the precaution has passed.

Clearly, this type of low is impractical during training for many reasons, including dissatisfaction of land owners in the vicinity of the practice area.  More importantly, it clearly would be hazardous for students to venture down to low altitudes, where there is little time and space to manage hazardous events that may occur during training, especially during the low pass.  With respect to dual training, it is good advised instructors not to go below the height of obstacles in the vicinity of the proposed landing area, such as trees, for example, and with respect to solo training, a hard deck of 500 ft. AGL should be imposed upon the student, certainly in the Vancouver area.  Be sure not to just tell the student the 500 foot rule, but elaborate on the rationale for its imposition, given the limited experience of students.  Discuss the hazards that could occur at low altitudes, including the hazards of inadvertent fuel exhaustion, carb icing, collision risk, poor altitude management, inaccurate power settings, inaccurate trim settings, etc.—in all these cases, point out how low altitude flight provides very little time and space to remedy emergency situations.

Unfamiliar Aerodromes

When you have completed the procedure as described above, you should ask your student which tasks should be used and applied to unfamiliar aerodromes.  With the exception of communication, and the need to conform to conventional circuit pattern flying, all of the procedure should be used so as to give the student the best advantage in assessing an unfamiliar runway.


With respect to the safety considerations for this exercise, begin with the risk of low flying, and the need to keep the eyes out of the cockpit.  Also, speak of the risks of collision with other training aircraft out in the practice area—there is high demand for suitable fields to conduct the precautionary landing drills, especially in the Vancouver-area practice areas.  With respect to collision risk, point out that low and slow maneuvering at low altitude restricts the pilot’s ability to maneuver for collision avoidance. The fuel pump should be turned on when maneuvering the Cherokee at or below 500 feet above ground level.