Don’t land in the Pisco!
The other day I took my commercial pilot checkride with the Peruvian DGAC. The checkride was almost identical to the one I took nearly 20 years ago in the US, because the Peruvian DGAC uses boilerplate copy of the FAA regs. I took the commercial/instrument rating checkride, because here in Peru you can only take the ATP exam if sponsored by a local company.
Happy to say I passed!!! I’m so proud of myself mostly because I managed to speak aviation Spanish reasonably well during the checkride. Here’s my new Peruvian DGAC pilot’s license:
The one memorable moment during the checkride came as we did the simulated engine failure, in a single-engine Cessna 152. I had done a few practice flights with a local flight instructor before the checkride, but for some reason we had done the simulated emergencies only in the pattern, not away from the airport. That’s not to make excuses, just to set the stage so to speak.
To set the stage some more, I was a full-time flight instructor in Florida for nearly 2 years back in 2001-2002, and when doing simulated engine failures in Florida I used to teach my students to look for any green fields. No woods obviously, but anything green other than woods is usually a good landing spot in Florida. I used to teach students only to land on the beach if they couldn’t reach a better spot, because you might flip the airplane on the sandy beaches. Plus, better to land in a pasture and hit a cow than to hit a person on the beach.
Coming back to the checkride, as we were doing maneuvers just north of the “Rio Pisco”, about 10 miles north of the Pisco airport, the DGAC examiner cuts the engine. All 105 mighty horses in the Cessna 152 decided to quit on me at the very same instant.
We were at 3,500 feet at the time. I looked to Pisco airport in the distance and realized I couldn’t make the airport. I told the examiner I’d land on some green fields I spotted nearby. With some time and altitude, I ran through the emergency checklist, tried a simulated engine restart, etc.
All in all I didn’t do too bad on the emergency procedures, fly the airplane first, the examiner was happy with that. Around 1,000 feet or so, the examiner asked me why I didn’t pick the beach for a simulated emergency landing spot. I could tell by his voice that he would have preferred the beach over the field I had picked out. I replied that generally I prefer green fields, that the beach might be too soft.
I lined up with my field and when we got down to 300 feet I asked if we should go around.
“Let me fly for a moment! I want to show you something!”
The examiner took the controls, added some power and descended down to less than 100 feet over the field I had chosen (there’s nothing out there north of Pisco). And that’s when it hit me:
You’re in Pisco fer cryin’ out loud!!!! Namesake of the famous Pisco sour drink. Green fields in Pisco Peru are not lush pastures but Pisco vineyards.
If I actually had landed in my chosen field, we would have walked away but tore up the airplane and put a big dent in this particular farmer’s Pisco production for the year.
Still flying, the examiner headed over to the beach less than 2 miles away. We were just barely out of ground effect over the completely deserted beaches north of Pisco.
Here’s what the scenery in the area looks like:
“Look at all this! Here in Peru we have the best emergency landing strip in the world. Miles and miles of clean, unobstructed beaches!”
At the debriefing I explained to the examiner that I realized he preferred the beach as a landing spot when he asked me around 1,000 feet or so during the maneuver, but that at that point I felt we were too low to change our mind and were committed to my original field, which he agreed with.
Here’s a picture of the beach near San Andres. It wouldn’t be a perfect landing spot right here, but north of the town the beaches are perfectly unobstructed, and the beach sand is firm enough to support a light airplane any time.
So when doing simulated engine failures in single-engine aircraft, think about where you are. What looks like a perfect spot in one area may not be the best choice in another part of the world 🙂