Meatball Multi-Engine Takeoff



Anyone who flies multi-engine airplanes is going to be nauseatingly familiar with the emergency scenario of an engine failure.This article concerns itself solely with piston multi-engine aircraft, which have hardly any excess thrust available with only one engine operating.Turbine aircraft have awesome thrust and turbo-props often have auto-feather.


When an engine failure in a piston twin occurs in cruise or descent, you have lots of time to deal with it, because you have lots of energy in the form of airspeed and altitude.


However, when an engine fails shortly after takeoff, youíre in a world of hurt because you have very little airspeed and very little altitude.This means you have very little time to do the right thing to avoid dying.


In Canada, we are supposed to teach multi-engine flying according to TP11575E, the Instructor Guide for the Multi-Engine Rating.Hereís what it says to do if you have an engine failure after takeoff:


CONTROL††† yaw, roll, airspeed

POWER††††† †††mixtures rich, propellers FULL increase, throttles FULL power

DRAG†††††† ††††check landing gear up, flaps up

IDENTIFY††failed engine

VERIFY†††† †††failed engine by reducing throttle of suspected failed engine

FEATHER††† the propeller on the failed engine

SECURE†††† ††complete checklist when time and altitude permit

LAND†††††† ††††if an airport is not suitable, then proceed to the nearest suitable airport


If you actually tried to do this at low altitude in a piston twin after an engine failure after takeoff, you would surely die.In cruise or descent, there is time for this, but not immediately after takeoff.


My reluctance to embrace death in a piston twin lead to the development of the Meatball Multi-Engine Takeoff for Piston Twins.Itís not something to be proud of, and I donít recommend you do it, but I thought you might find it interesting as to how I stay alive during a takeoff in a piston twin:


Fuel Tanks Ė selection/quantity

Fuel Boost Pumps Ė as required

Props Ė full forward

Mixtures Ė full rich

Engine Quadrant Friction Lock Ė secure

Flaps Ė up

Throttles up with brakes on - over clean pavement, 20-25 in MP

Release brakes, throttles full forward

Rotate, climb at Vyse (blue line on ASI)


Once you have a positive rate of climb, move your right hand from the throttles to the gear selector and select gear up.Now move your right hand to the prop controls.The friction lock should hold the throttles full forward Ė you set it before takeoff, remember?


Now letís look at various engine failure scenarios.


If an engine fails at very low altitude, before you move your right hand from the throttles to the gear selector, push the nose down to maintain airspeed, and simply pull both throttles back and land on the remaining runway.If you have lots of runway left, you should be able to land with no damage to the airframe.The gear is still down, remember?If you took off from a short runway your landing might not be pretty, but you and your passengers will do better than if you had elected to continue the takeoff.


In the above scenario I have deliberately decided against going aviating in a piston twin with only one engine, with the gear down and one engine windmilling and producing drag.You arenít going to be able to maintain a positive rate of climb with all that drag, and you donít have time to get rid of all that drag, so itís best to land sooner, under control.Itís always best to land under control.


Letís look at another engine failure scenario, occurring a bit later.Youíve selected gear up, and moved your right hand immediately to the prop controls Ė NOT the throttles.The reason for this is that if you have an engine failure under 500 AGL, there is no time to fart about.You need to reduce drag immediately and configure the aircraft perfectly if you are to maintain even 100 fpm of climb, which is pretty pitiful.


So, an engine failure below 500 AGL occurs shortly after you have selected gear up and then moved your right hand to the prop controls.If the aircraft yaws right, immediately pull the right prop lever all the way back.If the aircraft yaws left, immediately pull the left prop lever all the way back.This will configure the aircraft for minimum drag Ė engine-out prop feathered, gear up, flaps up.


99.999% of the time, the above is the best choice.However, there is a rare possibility of a prop governor failure resulting in an overspeed.The meatball procedure above will result in you feathering the good engine, which is horrible.But with a real engine failure, in addition to the THRUM THRUM of the props out of sync, you will get an airspeed loss which results in a feeling of deceleration as you move forward when the engine fails.You donít get that with an overspeed.


One thing I cannot emphasize enough after an engine failure:




This is something which is often skipped during an engine failure during a climb, with hideous results as the airspeed decreases from blue line (Vyse) to red line (Vmc).If you maintain the same deck angle as you had with two engines turning, the airspeed WILL decrease below red line and you will roll inverted as your rudder loses effectiveness and you yaw uncontrollably into the dead engine, killing yourself and your passengers.


You must LOWER THE NOSE to maintain blue line airspeed, which is essential.When one engine fails, you have very little excess thrust available and simply cannot continue to climb with the pitch angle you had with two engines.


To actually achieve a whopping 100 (no typo) fpm climb rate on the VSI, remember to bank into the good engine ever so slightly Ė less than 5 degrees.2 or 3 degrees is better, and have the ball half out of the cage to avoid a drag-producing sideslip.The technical reasoning behind this is worthy of an article its own Ė see my AvWeb Multi-Engine Aircraft article from all those years ago, for more information about this.


At this point, youíve done your best to configure the aircraft for minimum drag and maximum performance.Circle around and land immediately on the first available suitable (wind, length) runway.You probably donít want to know which direction Iím going to turn.Enough blatant heresy for one article.Transport hates me enough already.


Again, I canít recommend this procedure for anyone else.DONíT DO IT.Itís contrary to TP 11757E and thus must be wrong.However, itís what I have done for decades, and will continue to do, because I really donít want to die any time soon.


-- ††Nov 2011