The author at standing next to the Arrow after the landing
The unexpected happened. It did not happen to a super experience airline pilot, nor a super skilled aerobatic pilot, but to me, Mohammad Mobin, a flight instructor at Mach1 Aviation Academy based at Springs airfield and my student Brian Nhamburo.
At that time, I had 2700 hours, out of which 1200 hours were on C-172 and 125 hours on the Piper arrow that we were flying the afternoon of 6 March 2018. Brian, who had just started his IF rating towards his CPL, had around 150 hours.
The Piper Arrow PA-28R-200, Reg (ZS-FOJ) that we were going to use was flown earlier that day by Frank Versteegh, Red bull air-race and aerobatic pilot from Netherland and he reported no problems with the aircraft and neither did we experience any unto we were on finals.
The school had leased the Arrow that had a major engine overhaul about three years ago and it had only flown 40 hours in that period. While at the school, we added another 40 hours.
Actually, it was not my booked slot to fly that particular flight. However, it was in my destiny. Brian was booked with another instructor who unfortunately could not make it and the chief flight instructor (CFI) request me to fly: - that's where it begins.
We completed our sortie without incident and with Brian in control, we were on a left downwind runway for 03 when Brian heard a strange noise. I listened and looked around trying to establish what it could be. We were at 6000' (700' agl) and continued to base when the engine suddenly started vibrating alarmingly and then stopped completely, with the prop stopping in a horizontal position.
I immediately took over from Brian. The runway was on our left but there was no way that we would make it. In the meantime, the Arrow started sinking like a brick.
Engine failure and forced landings are not just part of the basic pilot training, but a lifesaving skill that should always be in your muscle memory bank, for that unexpected moment when happens to you.
There was no time to fool around. By then we were down to 500' agl and had to make a quick decision on where to land. While calling May Day, May Day, May Day I looked at the options we had. The NH-17 was ahead of us but, as usual, was full of traffic and not an option. On my left was the industrial area and factories. Then I saw a meadow with some cattle and turned headed towards it hoping that we would make it, which we did, with full flaps we glided over the cattle, I remember asking Brian to unlatch the door and be ready to apply brakes.
We felt the touch down impact and rolled about 100 meter in long grass and stopped just before another road ahead of us. Shut down, fuel closed and all secured, we evacuated the aircraft with fire extinguisher in hand and looking at each other……We had made it.
The first thing Brian asked me was, Captain how did you find this field?"
"Thanks to Almighty I replied."
So, there we were waiting for the rescue service. The plane had plenty of fuel in tanks but no oil in the engine. The engine did not quit, it almost exploded! It blew up, look at the picture.
The Arrow's engine after the accident.
So much happened in a blink of eye. However, what mattered the most is that we walked away from it, all by God's grace. Fortunately, forced landings have always been my favourite exercise, though like most of us, I never thought that it would ever happen to me, but it did and I like to think that my little bit of experience and all those practiced landings helped just a tiny bit.
A pilot must know their ability as well as that of the aircraft. For instance, in this exact scenario, attempting to turn final approach toward the runway was not an option, the low wing Arrow would have lost airspeed (energy) and even more height while turning through 90 degree. The end result could have been catastrophic. However, a high wing aircraft, say-Cessna 172 on the other hand would probably would have made it to runway because of its better gliding ability. Therefore, I maintained my glide path and chose the field within 30 degree as per text book.