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UK minimum go-around altitudes for PFL's?

(3) Exemptions from the low flying prohibitions

(a)Landing and taking off (i)Any aircraft shall be exempt from any low flying prohibition in so far as it is flying in accordance with normal aviation practice for the purpose of taking off from, landing at or practising approaches to landing at or checking navigational aids or procedures at a Government or licensed aerodrome. (ii)Any aircraft shall be exempt from the 500 feet rule when landing and taking-off in accordance with normal aviation practice.

In the light of this, I wondered what peoples experiences are on choosing a go-around altitude when practising forced landings over the UK countryside? I'd sure like to go lower than 500ft without actually landing, but concerned about litigious farmers . . .


My instructor always told me to go around at 500ft AGL when doing PFLs because we were practicing over a field and not "practising approaches to landing at...a Government or licensed aerodrome" and hence were not exempt from the rule. Don't forget the 500ft rule applies both horizontally and vertically so you could potentially go lower than 500ft AGL so long as there is no "person, vessel, vehicle or structure" within 500ft of you. We never went lower than 500ft AGL mainly because it's fairly difficult to make sure you're more than 500ft away from people, especially in the South East as it's a pretty populous area.

Fairoaks, United Kingdom

Under SERA.5005 the minimum will be 500 ft AGL! Not sure yet when it comes into force.

(f) Except when necessary for take-off or landing, or except by permission from the competent authority, a VFR flight shall not be flown: (1) over the congested areas of cities, towns or settlements or over an open-air assembly of persons at a height less than 300 m (1 000 ft) above the highest obstacle within a radius of 600 m from the aircraft; (2) elsewhere than as specified in (1), at a height less than 150 m (500 ft) above the ground or water, or 150 m (500 ft) above the highest obstacle within a radius of 150 m (500 ft) from the aircraft.

In my opinion, presuming the availability of a "real" runway, upon which to practice gliding approaches to the ground, there should be little need to do off airport PFL's to lower than 500 feet in most cases, and certainly not lower than 100. Lower than 500 feet, you are greatly reducing your options if it does actually quit. You are also increasing risks of bird strikes, susceptibility to gusts and turbulence, and the need to do so just is not there.

PFL's are to build skills in several areas. The upper altitude elements are to recognize, and manage the event, with the possibility that it might be corrected, and the flight resumed with caution. Next lower to that is to make a considered choice of landing area, and assess the environment and conditions for suitability (or it's the only choice, so how will we make the best of that).

Once you're in the lower aspects of your upper altitude phase, you should have made your choice as to where you are going, and how you're getting there. As you approach 500 AGL in the descent, it should be evident that you can make your selected spot or not.

From there down, though it might be nice to continue lower in the glide, there is little benefit to doing it off airport over at the airport. You might as well do it at the airport, as more things are in your favour (or said differently, if something goes really wrong, it won't be as bad, and you'll look like you mitigated it as best you could - insurer's like this).

Now, that all having been said, I have to agree that if one is training selection of landing zones for off airport precautionary landings, the final stages of that cannot be accomplished without descending well below 500 feet. I would expect that training organizations have this figured out in their area. Practicing this outside the flying school or maintaining currency environment is putting yourself at unusually high risk, and could leave you on the hook for a plane if it goes wrong. I will leave the fine points of train precautionary landing zone assessment techniques to the instructor who has to deal with that training in that area.

If you have to be low, without a suitable landing surface under you, PFL/precautionary landing speeds/flaps out are less good ways to be, I would rather carry the speed and inertia - in case something goes wrong.

Saying from wherever: "Always fly near the middle of the sky, the bad things happen near the edges".

Home runway, in central Ontario, Canada

"As you approach 500 AGL in the descent, it should be evident that you can make your selected spot or not. From there down, though it might be nice to continue lower in the glide, there is little benefit to doing it off airport over at the airport. You might as well do it at the airport " For me, PFLs are all about regularly testing myself on the ability to select a field in an unfamiliar area ('cause that's where its going to happen when it eventually does). And I must say that I don't always get the feeling that I'd have made it - in part because some detail might only really become evident below 500ft - like surface quality for example.

Maybe I should just do A LOT more PFL's to try and boost my confidence levels. I perceive that going lower would help the learning, but I value my licence . . .

Learning to glide might be an even better strategy


Over the years in my training, instructors have generally asked me to go-around nearer 100ft AGL. Nearer 100ft you really do get a sense if you would have made it onto the field you chose, or if you would have floated half way into the field beyond that.

One instuctor told me a story about a PFL he did with a student, and they got so close to 3 ladies laying down in a field together, that they think they ruined their 'activities' shall we say, but thats a different story and has nothing to do with aviation ;-)

Essential piece of information

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Indeed ;-) All I was advised is that the ladies were enjoying the company of each other very intimately and probably due to their embarrassment (or perhaps their need not to have their field of choice made public) the instructor never received a noise or otherwise low flying complaint :-) I wonder if he remembers where exactly that field is and whether he went out later to do another, ahem, PFL ....

An organisation I started training with once spent a lot of time doing PFLs around a particular farm. A policeman was sat in the RHS with a camera. They eventually got enough evidence, and went and removed a great deal of recreational narcotic, as well as a number of people involved in producing same.

Not sure whether PC plod paid much for this, but it was a great bit of work.


N.B. I suspect that the ladies under discussion may have been poorly placed to write down registrations?

Boffin at large
Various, southern UK.

When I was doing my PPL we did a PFL in a C 150 to about 200 feet AGL on a hot summer day. Unfortunately the flaps refused to move from the 40 deg position on the overshoot. The airplane would barely maintain altitude at full power and there was a very tense 10 min flight getting home at very low level. 500 feet is plenty low enough and will definitively prove whether you will make the field.

However on the broader subject of forced landings I think it is important to remember that at least 80 % of real engine failures are caused by the actions or inactions of the pilot with fuel exhaustion/mismanagement and carb icing leading the hit parade. The best way to deal with the forced approach scenario is to not cause the engine to fail in the first place, and if it does fail to get it going again by means of a quick and comprehensive cause check.

The flight school PFL scenario of a sudden unexpected total loss of power is in fact the absolute least likely scenario to actually happen to a pilot. There is almost always some clues that the engine is going to quit and if you do have engine trouble the most likely result will be a partial loss of power not sudden silence.

As for dealing with an actual failure there are some important factors which should be considered.

  • The instant the engine fails the insurance company just took delivery of the airplane. What it looks like after it comes to a stop is of no importance as long as nobody is hurt and therefore the condition of the landing surface is of no importance as long as it is reasonably flat with no obstacles.

  • The killer accidents are those where the aircraft hits something at flying speed and/or in a steep nose down and/or banked attitude. The key to surviving the forced approach is to select a field that has clear approaches and is close in order to give you the greatest chance of arriving at your touchdown point level and under control.

  • A 60 kts to 0 knots 9 Gee deacceleration takes about 25 feet. The key to survival is to have the aircraft have some distance to deaccelerate. Hitting the immovable object at speed is how people get killed. But you don't need thousands of feet just something you can make that is flat and at least a few hundred feet long.

  • it is always better to be high then low on the approach. If you are too high and fast point the aircraft at your chosen touchdown point and smash the aircraft on to the ground when you get to it.

Wine, Women, and Airplanes = Happy
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