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Ex 1E - Ground Emergency Drills

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Part 2 

Chapter 14: Exercise 1E - Ground emergency drills

You need to have your emergency drills memorised to the point that they become instinctive. Why? Because, in the unlikely event of an emergency, you will not have time to think. You must react. You must KNOW what to do. Anyone can fly an aircraft more or less straight and level. The reason you will be different to someone who does not have a license is that when the chips are down, you will be current and know what to do. They say flying is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror. I guess "they" must be referring to emergency situations. (I prefer avoiding the 1% sheer terror bit, and I very seldom find flying boring).

Flying is unforgiving of negligence, and lack of currency. Pilots have died with their mistakes. Make sure that you do not become one of those pilots. Know your Emergency Drills and remember to keep flying.

The emergency drills must flow smoothly and be in your muscle memory. To achieve this, picture yourself going through the emergency drills on a regular basis, or sit in the aircraft and pretend to go through the emergency drills.

You will find the procedure specific to your aircraft in your POH, but it will be similar to the checks below:

Emergency drills
- Action in the event of fire in the air

Cabin Fire / Electrical Fire

Master switch - OFF
Vents - CLOSED (sorry, I know it smells awful, but this is to prevent sustained burning.)
All switches - OFF

Unless the fire is established, this should stop it. If there is still fire, use the extinguisher.

You may need to open vents to facilitate breathing.


Check your circuit breakers for a clue as to which system is causing the unwanted excitement.  It should be popped right out.  Sometimes, though, a circuit breaker is popped out, but so slightly that it is not obvious at first glance.

Master switch - ON

Now switch everything electrical you need, ON, one at a time with a pause in between to check that your remaining electrics are behaving appropriately.

Sometimes an electrical fire is insignificant, like a light that had a tantrum. But if it is more serious, then you may need to divert or land as soon as practical. If you lose your radio(s), you will have to follow the Emergency Communication Procedure.

Engine Fire

If you have an engine fire in the air, then:
put your head between your legs and
kiss your arse goodbye.

Unless, of course you would like to continue living, something toward which I find myself rather partial.


If life is your choice, then do the following emergency drill:

1. Fly the aircraft!!!
2. Mixture - OFF
3. Fuel cock - OFF
4. Establish your glide
5. Sideslip if necessary to keep the flames away from the cockpit
6. Choose your landing site
7. Transmit your Mayday call
8. Before touchdown, Mags OFF
9. Battery/Alternator OFF
10.Door UNLATCHED (for a speedy exit)

If you descend faster than 80 knots, there should be insufficient air for whatever is burning to keep burning and you might extinguish the fire if you have enough height. Take care though, we blow on a fire to encourage it to burn hotter, so do this for too short an interval and you may find you are just stoking your engine fire. This would be great if we were coal driven, but since we prefer our fire INSIDE the engine....  Never try a re-start after an engine fire.

Also control your speed on landing. Remember a faster approach speed translates to a longer flare before touchdown. If you are too fast and crash at the end, you may have survived the fire but may not survive the crash. That would be a damn shame. Rule one: FLY YOUR AIRCRAFT! Control your speeds, and land where you choose in the distance you plan.

The Mayday Call
The emergency frequency is 121,5. Learn it. It is monitored by police, air force, ATC and others. Someone will hear you and come looking.

If you are transmitting on a manned frequency if/when you have an emergency, then transmit your mayday call on that frequency. No sense in wasting precious time fiddling with the radio when you could reach help on your current frequency.

Get attention:

MAYDAY MAYDAY MAYDAY (Say it three times. This makes you everyone's number 1 priority).

Give the information that will help people find you:

- your call sign

- your location

- number of people on board

- nature of your emergency

Repeat if time permits.

- Action in the event of fire on the ground

How to start an engine fire on a carburetor engine (rather don't)
Engine fires on the ground are usually the result of priming a hot engine with the throttle, which floods the intake manifold and results in a fire.

Don't use the throttle to prime the engine, especially when the engine is hot, as you will be asking for an engine fire. The throttle pumps the fuel past the butterfly and into the manifold, where it is then drawn down each manifold into each inlet, where the fuel is ignited by the spark plugs. Things can ignite very quickly in a hot engine, and so the flames can escape the compression chamber and back burn up the manifold.

You will most likely hear a backfire, and from the pilot seat are unlikely to see the fire unless it starts getting big.

Emergency Drill Prevention

Use the Primer and not the throttle to prime the engine. Prime a hot engine only once, or even starting without priming is sometimes sufficient. The Primer injects the fuel directly into the intake, which is where the fire is supposed to be. Follow the procedure in your POH.

Cure: Emergency Drill: How to handle an engine fire on the ground

If the engine hasn't started, then:

Keep cranking the starter

If you start successfully, than run the engine for a minute or so at 1700 rpm, then shut down and inspect the damage.

This will draw the fuel and fire out of the inlet manifold through the exhaust, where it can burn out. If the fire pushed back into the carburetor, it would have direct access up the fuel lines into the fuel tanks. You would be in for an explosion. Not good.

If the engine start is unsuccessful then continue cranking with the throttle full open.

If this does not stop the fire, then:

release the starter,

Master switch – OFF

Ignition – OFF

Fuel shut off valve – OFF

Smother flames with fire extinguisher

Inspect the damage and repair before next flight.

If you cannot extinguish the fire, grab the fire extinguisher and get out of the aircraft.

Emergency communication procedures

Squawk 7600 on your transponder under all circumstances with radio failure.

If you are outside controlled airspace, then:

Transmit blind beginning your call with "Transmitting blind", and keep your calls short and concise. Divert to the nearest unmanned airfield. Follow unmanned joining procedures and land.

If you are inside controlled airspace, but not cleared into or already in the circuit, then:

Leave the controlled area by the shortest route possible. Transmit blind beginning your call with "Transmitting blind", and keep your calls short and concise. Divert to the nearest unmanned airfield. Follow unmanned joining procedures and land.

If you are in controlled airspace in the circuit, or have been cleared to join the circuit, then join / continue in the circuit, keeping a very good look out, transmit blind as already described, land, and then go visit the Tower.

If you can hear ATC, but they cannot hear you, and you squawk 7600, they might ask you to do something like orbit to the left to establish if you can hear them even if they cannot hear you. Follow their instruction immediately. They can then still guide you to land, saving you a trip to an unmanned field. If you have a hand held radio, call them on that, or even on a cell phone. Although cell phones are not included in official procedures, as long as they have comms with you a plan can be made.

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I love teaching people to fly, and have enjoyed writing this book, and the ones that follow on.  I would mean the world to me if you’d send me a quick mail to say hi, or even to ask a question on something I have presented. I will respond personally.

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Other books in this series:

Ex 2 – Preparation for and action after flight

Ex 3 – Air Experience

Ex 4 – Effects of Controls

Ex 5 – Taxiing and taxiing emergencies

Ex 6 – Straight and level

Ex 7 – Climbing

Ex 8 –Descending

Ex 9 – Turning

Ex 10 – Slow Flight & Stalling

Ex 11 – Spin Avoidance

Ex 12 & 13 – Take-off, circuit, approach and landing

Ex 14 – First Solo Flight

Ex 15 – Advanced turning

Ex 16 – Forced landing without power

Ex 17 – Precautionary landing

Ex 18 - Navigation

Internalise the Basics and the rest will follow

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