Simulators and morbid realizations

So tonight I was doing some work on my next PC Pilot article and had a terrifyingly awful flight, even though I was expecting it.

The scenario…using the Rotate MD-80 coming out of an airport with a required climb gradient of nearly 7%. In addition to that, the departure procedure, if you choose to go old school and use green needles, is flying a track through a valley consisting of three separate NDBs as you climb. I set the sim to give me an engine fire at just a bit above V1, set the ceiling to be just a bit above the CAT I ILS minimums…and set out.

Engine fire/failure at V1…tried my best to hold V2 while squeaking out a climb rate. Made it through the first initial turn, crossed the first NDB, still climbing at about 700 FPM flipped the switch on the flip flop radio to bring up the second NDB. Still climbing, solid IMC…performance is horrible. Gear is up but the flaps are still at takeoff…maybe I should have tried the old school trick of leveling off at 400’ and getting cleaned up, but a climb gradient is a climb gradient and what is lurking out in the clouds?

Cross the second NDB, and that’s when it happens. I look down to try to enter the third NDB in the radio…and I get slow, sink rate goes through the roof…and soon the radar altimeter is chirping 1000, 500, …and it is inevitable.

Always interesting to crash in the sim as a professional pilot. Of course, I tried to set up a scenario that would be on the very edge of possible.


Akureyri, Iceland:


Was your copilot passed out from eating meal with fish?


That’s the situation when the co-pilot suddenly becomes useful for other duties than ordering coffee…


I know you would have assistance in the real world but that work load would cause a severe helmet fire (learned this term recently and I love it) in even the most seasoned professional pilot. It’s a nightmare scenario, task saturation dealing with the emergency. A difficult departure and you’re doing it alone.
I love practicing for these events on general aviation flights.

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Thank you for doing this. The only way to stay on your toes is to challenge yourself constantly.

Great Read BeachAV8R!!

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This hobby is way more fun if you occasionally approach it with planning and discipline. And Beach does this better than any of us.

The single-engine departure out of Eagle/Vail is similar. The climb gradient isn’t as severe but the density altitude is higher and the lateral terrain is just as dramatic. Two heads are definitely better than one when the merde hits the fan in a place like that.


One thing I have learned over the years is to always assume that Murphy will raise his head at the exact wrong time. Interestingly though, I largely haven’t learned this from my own experiences, but rather from reading the accident reports of others. I’m fortunate in that almost all of my major emergencies happened either in phases of flight that weren’t TOO critical, or in weather that was favorable, and with crew members that were reliable and helpful…because it IS possible to have a crew member that actually makes the situation worse. I had an FO feather the wrong engine in a King Air sim on my first ever training day in a full motion simulator 23 years or so ago in FlightSafety ATL. And that was after I (the flying pilot) “verified” the dead engine (the wrong engine) and all the sudden things got real quiet. That was the last time I ever did anything related to engines without being deliberate and taking some extra seconds.

Cough… @Sine_Nomine and @PaulRix, I have to admit, are way, way more detailed in their flight planning and dedication to “the process”. I’m always amazed at @Sine_Nomine’s math skillz and appreciate when he and Paul post up interesting legs they’ve flown using some higher math and celestial voodoo that always seems to put them over the proper piece of real estate X hours later. They would have made excellent air mail pilots…!

Yes - Eagle and Aspen are very popular sim training locations for those types of profiles. The MEEKER departure is a busy one if you are doing it without an FMS (always the most fun). I think it has a 13.x-ish climb gradient. Not too many people are going to make that on a single engine unless they are just hopping over the mountain to Denver to pick up a real fuel load.

Of course, we now have APG (Aircraft Performance Group) on our iPads that allow us to input all of the flight variables (weight, weather, contamination, etc…) and it spits out a custom departure procedure that is tailored to your aircraft performance and the terrain, allowing for takeoffs at much higher weights with lower required climb gradients. I’ve always thought those generated procedures were a bit of nudge toward going down a path that could get you into trouble…so I try to stay within the confines of the published procedures. Of course, we only rarely get out west, so there’s that. I suppose if you were going in and out of places like Aspen, Eagle, and Rifle each week…you’d want every advantage you could get.

I’ve always enjoyed my single pilot time flying for Part 91 operations back in the day, but always recognized that two heads were almost always better than one. Even in normal operations having that guy there to say “did he say level at FL240 or 260?” or double check an FMS entry or any other of hundreds of cross checks is invaluable. I’ll never understand owners that will fly around in a 10-million dollar airplane with their whole family onboard and yet balk at paying to have the security of a second pilot up front. Of course, I’ve never tried to find the statistics on safety with a two pilot crew versus a one pilot crew. Maybe I’m totally wrong on that.


I don’t understand this bit. How are you going to file / request procedure that FAA doesn’t know about?

You put the alternate procedure in the REMARKS section of your flight-plan and advise clearance of your intention to fly that procedure in the event of an emergency. Since your emergency trumps anything else…you are free to do whatever it takes. The sticky part comes in that area between flying the published procedure and the alternate route…where an engine failure between the two means you need to make a decision on which way to go. It is something to be considered and briefed prior to departure for sure.


And to expand on that a bit:

“An engine failure during takeoff is a non-normal condition, and therefore takes precedence over noise abatement, air traffic, SIDs, ODPs, and other normal operating considerations. This correctly implies that you are not required to maintain the SID or ODP profile, either laterally or vertically. Of course, once in flight this is not the time to “wing it” and alter your flight path. Planning prior to takeoff is mandatory. Advisory Circular 120-91, Airport Obstacle Analysis, provides guidance in developing procedures meeting the OEI takeoff obstacle clearance rules found in Subpart I, Part 135. The two important points that were just discussed are: 1) As a part 135 operator you are required to have a procedure to avoid obstacles in the event of an engine failure on takeoff; however this procedure is not required to mimic any SID or ODP for the runway you are departing or to be filed in the flight plan with ATC, and 2) if you have an alternate procedure and your all engines operating climb performance meets or exceeds the SID/ODP published climb gradients, you do not need decline the SID or ODP, delay your takeoff for better weather, or reduce your payload.”

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I see. So like Special Departure Procedure aka. SDP, but created by that company.

Yes - and I think they are aircraft type specific. So a Gulfstream V, for instance, will probably have a different type of obstacle departure procedure than our lowly Citation since the GV will climb much better on one engine. The really cool part is that you just open the app, it downloads the weather that you can apply to the performance calculation. It takes into account all the variables: temperature, runway condition, slope, elevation, load, barometric pressure, wind direction/velocity, etc… It mashes all of that together and spits out V-speeds, weight restrictions, and the custom departure (if needed…most of the time you wouldn’t need it). It is a great all-in-one performance tool. Each year we practice the old school technique of going into the AFM and doing it by hand from the graphs and tables in the book…and it is a nightmare that is very prone to user error.

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Shouldn’t that be “goes through the floor”? :grin:

Well…I’ll still fly with you…:slightly_smiling_face:

That said, had it been real, wouldn’t the pilot not flying have set the third NDB freq after you crossed the first NDB?

If so, then in situations/simulations like the one you described, I think that it is “fair” to hit the pause button to enter the new frequency.

Honestly, in real life the procedure would have been flown after being loaded as a predefined departure from that runway with RNAV waypoints actually overlaying the NDBs. In that way, the flying pilot side can use the FMS/FMC and the non-flying side pilot can back up the FMS with the actual NDBs.

As GPS/GLONASS has crowded out traditional land based navaids, we’ve seen a lot of substitutions for those physical facilities over the past twenty years. It started out with GPS overlay approaches and now it isn’t unusual to find GPS waypoints taking the place of decommissioned VORs and NDBs. Indeed…in our G1000 King Air, we no longer actually have a DME receiver - all DME readings are “synthetic DME”, meaning they aren’t being received from the actual broadcasting station, but are just derived from the navigation database. Weird to know it isn’t in there…but its the direction we are continuing to go.

Also, sim flying is still very much less user friendly than the real airplane. The classic examples I like to point out are heading and altitude preselects. In sim aircraft, I’ve spent ages twirling some mouse knob or scroll wheel trying to get an altitude in the preselect window. In real life, it takes a couple seconds, is very quick, and very accurate. Same with spinning the heading and course knobs…both happen within seconds in the airplane, whereas in the sim you are hunting for a click zone or trying to figure out which side of the knob you need to have the cursor. Some VR specific aircraft have gotten this very right though…and I always find myself gravitating toward those aircraft when flying in VR.

But what I was getting at was that the time spent heads down trying to fiddle around with entering a new NDB frequency probably took five times longer than what it would have in the real airplane…and that made the difference as the distraction made me lose focus and let the plane start pitching up…


Doesn’t that kind of negate the point of having a non-GPS/inertial based instrument then? What’s the point of having an instrument to cross check another navigation system if it use the other navigation system?

I’ve noticed something similar to this in DCS, particularly in the Mi-8 Hip. The Hip has dozens of switches in the overhead with “gang bars” to turn them on. But when turning them off you must do it individually (makes sense). It has always been a tiring “hunt and peck” with the mouse to hit each switch. Using VR and a hand controller, I can just run my finger from one switch to another like I would in real life. Same goes for the Mig-21 to a lesser degree - both turning systems on and off and selecting the various radar interference modes with push buttons.

I’m looking at Carenado’s C90 for XP11 which states it has “VR compatible click spots.” - hopefully something similar.

Mostly the point is that some civil aviation authorities (FAA included) don’t have the time to rebuild all of the approaches, flight test them, and republish them - so simply building approaches using the old fixes, even if they don’t physically exist any longer, is a quick and easy way to at least retain the capability without having the actual equipment there.

Also, we have level-of-service monitors within our GPS/FMS that indicates whether the GPS signal integrity is robust enough to use for the approach, so it is sort of self monitoring in that it either inhibits activation of the approach or gives you an annunciator that says your “LOS” isn’t adequate for the approach type selected (for instance an LPV approach).

I guess we all have to hope a massive solar flare doesn’t wipe out the GPS satellite network someday. That would be an interesting hurdle to overcome. My assumption is that they are somewhat hardened against that kind of activity (?)…

Yes…that ISAVIA chart is a nightmare of notations. Actually, that is one of the simpler ones. This is one of the approaches I was having fun with…once you get that engine secured come back around and give this one a whirl…fun stuff…

Your Jepp plate is a lot cleaner for sure! Yes, being near the 11.0 IEY constraint would be pretty concerning when you look at the narrowing valley ahead. It would be interesting to see where you would have been (altitude) if you had not done the 1,500’ level off profile. I think the old aircraft such as yours were the original intent for the 400’ and 1500’ level offs due to cooling of the engines if my memory serves.

Glad you took a crack at it…! Always interesting to see other people fly procedures…