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Revisiting the 180 Degree Turn After Takeoff


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If you ask a dozen pilots their opinion about doing a turn back to the airport if the engine quits on departure you will probably get two dozen different responses. Many people have died attempting the maneuver, which is how it got the name “The Impossible Turn.”

Lately, the question has come up again and the FAA has even entered the discussion by including in their 2018 revision of Advisory Circular 61-83J, which states: “Flight instructors should demonstrate and teach trainees when and how to make a safe 180° turn back to the field following an engine failure.” That implies that there IS a safe way to make the turn.

Retired airline captain and well-known author Barry Schiff studied the maneuver for years and in May of 2019 his son, Brian Schiff gave a presentation for the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) that included a worksheet for determining how your own aircraft might accomplish the maneuver.

The AOPA Air Safety Institute decided to test the disputed turnback theories, using a Piper PA-18 Super Cub, a Van’s RV-4, a Cessna 172N, and a Beechcraft Bonanza A36. Our study was conducted by highly experienced and proficient pilots flying predetermined profiles in near-perfect conditions. But the different results of turning back to the runway were surprising for each of us flying these profiles. You’ll see why in this Reality Check video.