No engine lasts forever, and all engines get sick at some point during their life, especially 2-strokes! I think most paramotor pilots realize they're going to have to deal with an engine failure at some point, but what the heck happens when the engine quits?
Well if it goes smoothly, you'll simply glide down to the ground and land as normal. But if you aren't prepared for the engine failure, you could end up in big trouble.
So let's find out exactly what happens during a paramotor engine failure, how you can be prepared for it, and how you can stay out of trouble when it eventually happens to you.
What happens when a paramotor engine fails?
There's many things that could cause a paramotor engine to fail, but no matter what the cause, the next few stages will always happen.
- The engine will stop, and if you were under power, the wing will surge forward.
- The paramotor will immediately start descending, but the pilot will still have full control of the wing.
- The pilot will have to decide where to land.
- Once a landing area has been spotted, if the pilot has enough height/time, he may attempt to restart the engine.
- If the engine won't start, the only option is to land.
Before we go any further, check out the video below that shows a real paramotor engine failure. The pilot deals with the situation perfectly, and manages to fix the problem on the ground.
So let's go over these points to make sure you know exactly what to do when the engine fails. This is using an ideal situation as an example, we'll get to undesirable situations later.
1. The engine stops
Nobody ever expects an engine failure, so when it happens it will most definitely take you by surprise. As the engine stops there will be a surge as lift is lost, and the wing tries to regain its airspeed.
If this happens with plenty of altitude, your wing will have time to recover, and return to a normal descent. But if you are very low, if you have just launched for example, you will have to act immediately to recover the wing.
How to recover the wing
As the wing surges forward, you will need to pull brake down to your shoulders to dampen the surge. There is a diagram explaining the ten steps you will need to perform during the surge in my book that you can find here.
When the wing is recovered you will continue on a normal descent, just like when you release power.
2. The paramotor starts to descend
The propeller comes to a stop, and the paramotor immediately starts to descend. You should stay calm, and keep you hands up. If your wing is trimmed out, you should immediately pull the trimmers back in to the slow position.
3. Decide where to land
Don't waste any time, find a place to land, and make sure there are no obstacles in the way. Check for power lines, fences, barbed wire, hedges, and water. If you see any of these dangers then choose another landing spot.
Another mistake is choosing a landing spot that is too small. You may not have a long enough strip to land on before a hedge decides to get in your way, this could hurt! Or maybe you'll manage to fix your engine on the ground, you'll need enough runway to launch again, so bare this in mind when deciding where to land.
It's always best to land into the wind, so look around for smoke. Or If you have enough height, perform some gentle turns and attempt to figure out the wind direction.
4. Attempt to restart the engine
When you've chosen your landing area, if you have enough height you can attempt to restart the engine. This is much easier with an electric start engine, but it is possible to start a pull start engine mid-air.
This is why I always recommend a pull start lanyard, as it makes it so much easier to find the pull starter chord in an emergency situation, and when time is of the essence. See what a pull start lanyard is, and get yourself one here.
5. Time to land
The engine won't restart, so it's time to head for your chosen landing spot. If you managed to find the wind direction, landing will be exactly the same as any other time, so this should be simple.
If you couldn't find the wind direction, take a double wrap of the brake lines (this means wrap them around your hand twice). This will ensure you're able to pull the biggest flare possible, making a downwind landing a little slower.
During step 2 you already pulled your trimmers right in, past the neutral position to slow mode, which will also help to keep the speed down. When you're at the right height, flare as normal.
What if you are unprepared for an engine failure?
You're probably wondering how you can ever be prepared for something you aren't expecting, but a basic rule of paramotoring is: at every moment of a flight, always expect the engine to suddenly stop.
If you're always expecting an engine failure, you won't get yourself into undesirable situations. But unfortunately, many pilots forget that 2-stroke engines are incredibly unreliable, and engine failures have happened over water, over trees, over rocky terrain, and over built up areas.
I've lost count of how many videos I've watched, and heard the pilot say something like: "This would be a terrible place for the engine to quit." Many pilots realize they're putting themselves in danger, but a few likes on Facebook are more important apparently. Don't be one of these pilots, stay safe and never trust your engine.
How to always be ready for an emergency landing
So you know 2-strokes are notorious for quitting without warning, and you need to be ready to land at every moment of the flight. Let's find out the things you should always do, and the things that could put you in a dangerous situation if the engine failed.
What you should always do
Practice emergency landings
This is by far one of the best ways that you can prepare for a paramotor engine failure, or emergency landing.
Climb high above your own take off field, and turn your engine off. Glide down and see how close you can land to your wing bag. You can also practice this into unfamiliar fields when you are a little more confident.
This will get you used to landing exactly where you wish, and is great practice for a situation where you only have tight landing options to choose from when your engine fails.
Practice spot landings at every opportunity, they're fun to do, and you'll gain a lot of skill by perfecting them each time you fly.
Check out the video below of me spot landing onto my wing bag, my favourite way to practice for a paramotor engine failure.
Before you takeoff, always carry out a full pre-flight inspection. This could help you identify a problem that could soon lead to an engine failure, or an emergency landing.
- Check that the spark plug is tight, and that the spark plug cap is secure.
- Check that all bolts are tight on the paramotor and the engine. A loose bolt may not cause the engine to fail, but if a bolt falls out, it could fall into the propeller and destroy it. (This happened to me during training!)
- Check that the propeller is tight.
- Check that the engine runs clean, and reaches full power.
- Make sure there is enough fuel in the tank for your flight.
When you are in the air, always keep a landing option within gliding distance. Imagine the engine failing, and ask yourself if you could easily glide to the nearest option. The best landing options are large flat grass fields with no obstacles.
Carry a multitool
If you land miles away from your field you'll be in for a long walk back, unless you can fix the problem and launch again. The video I linked earlier is a really good example of this. Without his multitool he would have most definitely been stuck there.
Make sure the multitool has all of the essential tools needed for a basic repair on your specific paramotor. I recommend at least having a flat head and cross head screwdriver, pliers, a blade, and wire cutters, and always keep it folded down in your harness pocket.
What you should never do
Never trust your engine
2-stroke engines have always been known for poor reliability, and I've had my share of breakdowns and melted pistons during my motocross days.
Modern technology has made 2-stroke engines far more reliable, but they're still very highly strung engines, with a poor means of lubrication, which means they can suddenly stop or seize with no warning.
It's not just the engine that could cause an emergency landing though. I've had two emergency landings because of propeller problems. The first one was a bolt through the prop, and the second time the propeller actually fell off. So expect to loose power at any moment.
Don't fly low over water
Many pilots have died because their engines failed over water. If you need to fly over water be sure to have enough height to glide to safety. If you absolutely must fly low over water, always use a flotation device, and read THIS POST FIRST.
Don't fly low over anything you wouldn't want to land on
It's not just water that poses a big risk to low flying pilots. Trees, power lines, roads, and buildings could all take your life if you landed on them.
You should also avoid flying low over people. An engine failure over a crowd would be a disaster. You could kill or seriously injure somebody, and an accident like this could have serious consequences for our sport.
Reduce your chances of a paramotor engine failure and emergency landings
You can never guarantee that your engine won't quit, but you can lower the chances of this happening with regular maintenance.
Always follow your specific engine manufacturers recommended maintenance schedule, and change the problem parts listed below even more regularly.
Over the years I've learned a lot about what 2-stroke engines dislike, so I'll list my recommendations, and the parts I regularly check / change below.
1. Spark plug
I change my spark plug every 20-25 hours. I've had a few engines that suddenly quit, and all it takes to get them going again is a new spark plug. 2-strokes are fussy with plugs, so be sure to get the correct plug for your engine.
When you mix the fuel be sure to follow the manufacturers recommendations to get the correct ratio. Too much oil can foul your spark plug, and too little can overheat the engine. Both of these situations can lead to an engine failure.
Check the mixture by inspecting the spark plug. You'll be looking for a golden brown colour which will indicate the perfect mixture. If the plug is white or black you'll need to reset your mixture to the manufacturers specification.
A weak mixture can cause the engine to seize, so this is an important step.
General maintenance is also important. Internal engine parts like the piston, bearings, and reeds for example, will last much longer, but they will need changing at regular intervals.
Check out my maintenance post HERE, where you can learn how to maintain your paramotor and engine, to keep it in tip top condition.
Check the prop before launch!
Be sure to check the tightness of your propeller before every launch. I've seen many pilots loose their propellers mid-flight, this not only ends with an emergency landing, but it get's very costly if your propeller is lost, or broken from the impact with the ground.
Check the reduction belt
Something else that has caused an emergency landing for myself is a loose reduction belt. Unfortunately mine was an old paramotor engine with a poorly designed eccentric shaft clamp that just wouldn't stay tight.
But all paramotor reduction belts will eventually become loose as they wear, so always keep them at the correct tension, and check them before each flight.
What about 4-stroke engines and electric motors?
4-stroke paramotors are slowly becoming more popular, and there are now quite a few manufacturers using them in their machines. 4-stroke engines are much more reliable than 2-strokes, but they can still quit without warning!
The same goes for electric paramotors, they're more reliable, but faults can develop without warning.
Just because the engine/motor is more reliable, that doesn't mean you can ignore the things we've discussed in this post. Even pilots of extremely reliable aircraft are told to always have a landing option in case of engine failures or bird strikes.
So that just about covers everything you need to know about staying safe in the event of a paramotor engine failure.
Many people think that you'll drop out of the sky if the engine quits, but you can see that it really isn't a big deal if you follow everything you're taught during training, and take note all of the information contained in this post.
I mentioned earlier that I had to deal with an emergency landing during training. I actually had to deal with 2 engine outs that day, and I was only a few short flights into my training.
I recommend you check out my detailed explanation about what happened that day, which is contained in THIS POST. It'll teach you a lot about engine outs, and the experience I had will help you realize why choosing a good large landing field is important.