The deadly hazards of flying combat missions are obvious. Sometimes training a student to make a safe approach and landing on only one engine holds even greater and more subtle dangers. With little warning, routine training can suddenly become a matter of life and death. It is enough of a challenge to land a jet aircraft with two engines operating properly. With only one engine working a pilot faces the extra challenge of not getting behind the “power curve”. Let’s discuss what the power curve is all about. That is important because it is just as crucial in life as it is in a jet.
There are two critical factors a pilot always wants to have in his favor – altitude and airspeed. Nothing puts an end to the mission more quickly than hitting the ground before you planned! If the pilot has enough airspeed he can always pull the nose up and gain altitude when he needs to climb quickly. In the same way, if the aircraft is approaching a stall (the condition where the aircraft is no longer creating enough lift to maintain level flight) he can lower the nose, gain airspeed and escape the situation – if he has enough altitude.
To get a feel for this, hold your hand out as if it was an airplane flying level. Now point your fingers slightly toward the floor as if you were going into a shallow dive to gain airspeed. If there is enough distance between your hand and the floor there is no problem. You have enough time to gain airspeed while you increase power. Your engines begin to generate more thrust and you can level off or climb again. Now repeat this with your hand closer to the floor and imagine that you have allowed your airspeed to get too low. You need to lower the nose of the airplane to gain airspeed. Is there enough room to safely do that? If not a crash is inevitable.
If you lose power on one engine, it is obviously easier to “get behind the power curve” because you have less power to regain lost airspeed. This problem can be greatly worsened by adding the power on your one good engine too slowly to regain that airspeed. In this way, 100% power can be reached on the good engine, but still, the only way to gain airspeed fast enough is now to lower the nose. If you are trying to land the aircraft you may already be too low to trade altitude for the needed airspeed.
Because losing an engine creates such a potentially dangerous flight condition, a student pilot receives considerable training in how to make a safe single engine landing. The first thing the student needs to recognize is how vulnerable he is with only one engine available to maintain airspeed and altitude. He needs to see and feel what it is like to “get behind the power curve” to recognize the potential danger. To simulate losing an engine the instructor surprises the student by reducing one throttle to idle. That way it is realistic, but normally not too dangerous. One day I let a student go too far in giving him a picture of “power curve reality.”
We were practicing single engine landings at an airfield north of the main base. As the lieutenant began his final turn to descend the last 1000 feet and line up with the runway he set the power at a level appropriate for two engines, not one. Immediately we began to lose airspeed. He slowly lowered the nose and began to add power. Instead of aggressively adding the power on the good engine to stop our descent he merely inched the throttle on the good engine forward and was soon “behind the power curve.” Even at 100% power on only one engine, we could no longer stop our descent fast enough to make it to the runway. Now the real adventure began.
I told the student to “go around” – discontinue the landing. At the same time, the ground controller made the same radio command as our altitude was obviously too low. The proper procedure would have been to advance the throttle on the idle engine to 100%, level off and raise the landing gear. Instead, in a panic, he started to bring the good throttle back to where he could also grab the idle throttle with one hand. I immediately brought both throttles forward to 100%. However, it takes a second or two for the compression in a jet engine to build and produce the needed thrust. We continued to drop and were it not for a river gorge off the end of the runway we might have hit the ground before the engines delivered the power we needed.
How did we get in trouble in the first place? When the student was low on airspeed he didn’t act right away to supply the needed power with the one good engine. Soon we were “behind the power curve” and in a true single engine situation would have crashed and burned. He learned to anticipate the airspeed problems earlier. I learned to anticipate student problems earlier! We both learned that little things not dealt with in a timely manner can lead to unforeseen disastrous results.
The “power curve” is an invisible reality. It is real, but it can’t be seen or heard. As long as you have enough altitude to lower the nose and gain airspeed you can escape the danger. Life is like that. We may seem to get away with “little sins” from time to time, but sooner or later things add up. Being slow to respond to bad choices can put us in a crash and burn situation.
Can you think of someone in the Bible that little by little got themselves into a situation that they could not recover from?
Samson – Judges 16:15-21 David – II Samuel 11:1-5
Dad, when you were a boy was there a time when the little things started to put you behind the power curve? How did you recover or what price did you pay?
Son, what are the things in life right now that could get you behind the power curve?
How can you pray better for one another? Take a minute and do that.
Lessons For Flying Higher
“When I took a long, careful look at your ways, I got my feet back on the trail you blazed. I was up at once, didn’t drag my feet, was quick to follow your orders.” Psalm 119:59,60 (Message)
“A prudent man sees evil and hides himself. The naïve proceed and pay the penalty.”
Keep your airspeed up. Don’t let your life get behind the power curve. Let the Holy Spirit apply His power to the “little things” in your life today.