In fact, you would not think of this doomsday scenario, but we do anyway. Suppose you are in a plane and the pilot is no longer able to land the plane. As an inexperienced pilot, can you make an emergency landing?
In early May, Darren Harrison got it done. During his flight from the Bahamas to Fort Pierce, Florida, the pilot became uncomfortable, and Harrison, with the help of an air traffic controller, was able to put the plane on the ground. And there are several stories like this where a passenger using a radio switch landed a plane.
Emergency landing without experience
The heroic stories of, for example, Australian student Max Sylvester who landed a plane in 2019 during his first flight lesson. Or pensioner John Wildey, who managed to land a plane in England. And 80-year-old Helen Collins, who took control of the flight from her husband, who fell ill.
The above holdings involved a relatively small aircraft, controlled by a single pilot. Larger aircraft have two or sometimes more pilots. A co-pilot can take over the steering wheel in an emergency.
Confluence of circumstances for emergency landing aircraft
Douglas Moss, a certified flight instructor and former pilot, explains CNN explains that it is difficult to land a plane without experience. But as the examples above also show, it is possible under certain circumstances.
According to Moss, it takes three things for an inexperienced pilot to land a plane. One: the realization that it is a ‘matter of life or death’. Two: help from a flight instructor over the radio who helps every step of the way. And finally: a natural talent for controlling a mechanical device.
The flight instructor explains that an inexperienced person must quickly understand how a flight control system works. And it is a combination of circumstances that determines whether a landing is possible. According to him, only something is missing and it can go wrong.
Cannot land a passenger plane without a pilot
Partick Smith is a pilot flying a buoy 767. He has also written the book and blog Ask the pilot. He believes that one without experience cannot land a passenger plane. “A non-pilot would have no idea how to operate the communication radios, let alone fly and land the jet,” he says. Incidentally, no passenger has ever managed to land a large passenger plane.
Smith, like Moss, emphasizes that all circumstances play a role in such an emergency. Where in the sky is the plane? Because the closer to the runway, the better. And how well can a person assess what the plane is doing? According to Smith, much of it is about luck.
Instructional videos and flight simulation
But there are also simulation programs, such as Microsoft Flight Simulator. Does preparation with such a program help in case of an emergency landing? Smith explains that it can make a difference. But according to him, these programs are not realistic and it is about details in the operating systems.
The internet is also filled with instructional videos and articles on how to land a plane in an emergency. Whether these videos will save you in an emergency is hard to say. But it can boost your confidence. New Zealand research has shown that watching such an emergency landing video increases self-confidence. This was more the case for men than for women.
But Smith stands by his point that landing a plane is really not a breeze. “Put someone in a real full-motion flight simulator at 35,000 feet, without help, and see what happens. It’s not going to be pretty,” he concludes.
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