Drift Down Procedures

Abnormal Oceanic Procedures

Wally sez:


Photo: Two engines becomes one
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The prime directive when it comes to drift down has changed over the years.

A decade or more ago, the idea was you've just lost an engine, you have to descend, fuel will be critical, so maximize your forward distance. Set the maximum continuous thrust available on the operating engines, allow the speed to decrease to a magic value that helps you descend as slowly as possible, and then descend as slowly as possible while heading to an alternate. You are an emergency aircraft, everyone else can get out of your way.

Current thinking realizes that it does you no good, or anybody else for that matter, to descend slowly into another airplane. This is especially (and morally) true for us flying business aircraft. I often cross the North Atlantic with a crew of two and one passenger. Is it right to endanger the lives on an airliner with hundreds of passengers for the sake of us three? So now the idea codified into international regulations is to offset from any known tracks, descend below those tracks, and then turn to an alternate. This is going to cost you fuel and perhaps the ability to make it to your alternate if you didn't plan for this. More about this: The Great Escape.

So you may be wondering why we need drift down procedures at all. Well, you do need them. We often consider these possible emergencies in a worst case scenario. But let's say you are at 30 West when that critical engine stops and you need to head downstairs. If CPDLC is working, or if you have good connectivity on the HF, why not explain the situation to Gander or Shanwick and see what they can do for you? Chances are you will still have to dive below the tracks, but it doesn't hurt to ask. Or let's say you are stretching your airplane's legs from London to Tokyo over the most barren parts of Canada. You aren't on or above any known tracks but are rightfully worried about other aicraft doing the same thing you are. If air traffic control says you have that part of Canada to yourself, perhaps a proper drift down will get you to your alternate with a little extra gas in case you need to make more than one instrument approach.

You need to know how to do a proper drift down. What follows are drift down notes for the Gulfstream G450, G500, G550, G600, and G650. For those of you flying other aircraft, the generic scenario and procedures will apply to you. The aircraft-specific considerations that follow will provide ideas that should help you add your own aircraft-specific notes.

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Eddie sez:

Ever since the now infamous Drift Up episode in the Gulfstream GIV, I have been wary of FMS pages that are designed to help out in a drift down situation. My latest aircraft seems to have done it right. When you are in a drift down situations, drift down speed automatically shoves its way in to the auto speed function, giving you a head start on the excitement to come. You get a good page of information by:

  1. Swipe right to left on any of the four forward Touch Screen Controllers (TSCs)
  2. Select the "Perf Init" tab
  3. Select the button on the bottom left that says "Dual Engine" so that it says "Single Engine"

Looking at the resulting page can trick you into flying the wrong speed. In the example, to the right, it says "S.E. Cruise Speed" is 204 knots. This photo was taken with the airplane at a gross weight of 57,513 lbs. at FL400. If you dig into the charts, you will see that drift down speed is actually between 0.80 and 0.83 Mach. Once you get down to FL319, your cruise speed will be 204 knots.

Why is this important? If your avionics gives you drift down information, you need to understand what it is telling you before you are in the situation of needing to use that information.


Photo: G500 TSC, Perf Init, POF, Single Engine
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