Can a pilot land a plane which he is not licensed for?

Let’s say there is a Boeing 737 pilot on board as a passenger in Airbus A320. Both of the A320 pilots are incapacitated (may it not happen). In a case like that, how likely is it that the 737 pilot can land the aircraft successfully?

Considering that a passenger can land an A320 I’d say pretty good.
(Note that a passenger landing it assumes that the aforementioned passenger contacts someone on the radio and says “heellllllpppppp!!!” and air traffic control gives them instructions on how to set the auto-land so that the plane will pretty much land itself)

Now if for some reason the auto-land feature is broken and the pilot has to actually fly the plane down, then it gets a bit trickier. But again, as long as the pilot can contact the tower, they can tell him how to set the various switches and knobs, and the fact that this pilot has experience on another big jet will definitely help. A pilot with only small plane experience would have a bit more difficulty, and an untrained passenger would rank even below that.

On Mythbusters, they showed (using a simulator) that an untrained passenger is pretty much guaranteed to crash if all they do is try to fly the plane. However, when they actually contacted the (simulated) tower, both Adam and Jamie were able to land the (simulated) plane. If two untrained TV hosts can land a plane, then a pilot with experience on another aircraft should be able to do it too.

Most conventional geared planes are similar in landing strategy. You slow it down enough to deploy the flaps and landing gear for a stabilized approach. It may require someone talking the pilot through the procedures. It would be harder for a single engine private pilot to do because there is no experience with turbine engines.

The vast, overwhelming majority of air traffic controllers are not pilots and what help they can offer is extremely minimal. If you’re exceedingly lucky they might be able to locate an actual pilot out there to talk to you about how to land the airplane. I can’t imagine that ATC can tell you how to set up autoland on a big jet.

Just remember it this way: air traffic controllers do not fly airplanes, pilots fly airplanes. Or land them, depending on context.

I agree that an ATC wouldn’t be able to give competent landing instructions but why would finding a pilot at an airport be so difficult?

wouldn’t have to be at an airport. Could be a pilot flying the same type of plane nearby.

A certainty.

The primary skill in learning a “type” is realizing the “envelope” of the particular aircraft–its performance specs, speed at which to take off, land, etc. The techniques aren’t THAT much different from type to type. The 737 pilot would be used to deploying flaps, gear, at a lower speed and also to needing less (much less) runway to land. However, all major airport runways are much longer than you need to be able to land because takeoffs take more runway length than landings. So the newbie Airbus driver would head for the longest available runway in the area (even a military field, if necessary) and then land “hot” to avoid loss of control at the critical moment. There would be more than enough room to stop, disaster movies notwithstanding.

And of course, all this assumes that he couldn’t just type in the name of the airport into the plane’s computer and just stand by while the thing landed itself.

What Magiver said. A pilot rated in a 737 probably wouldn’t know what specific speed you’d want to lower the flaps on a 320, or how many degrees of flaps either. But he’d know how to use the radio to ask someone and he’d probably know the right questions to ask also.

Randy: Excuse me sir, there’s been a little problem in the cockpit…
Striker: The cockpit…what is it?
Randy: It’s the little room in the front of the plane where the pilots sit, but that’s not important right now.

I’ve had pilots talk me through a landing in their high performance plane (while they were in it of course). Reduce engine power to U manifold pressure. Set the prop to X rpm. extend the flaps to Y degrees. Drop the wheels. Trim for Z knots. Watch the glide slope and flair before you rip the nose gear off.

You might be confusing the A320 with something else. The B737 and A320 are very similar sized aeroplanes and would have similar performance speeds, landing distance etc.

With regards to using the autopilot, I personally would feel much more confident landing a different airliner to the one I fly if I had all of the automatics off. Using the autopilot to land requires programming of the flight management computer (FMC) and manipulation of the autopilot controls. The thing is, autopilots and FMCs are not the same across different aircraft types and the differences can be major. You really need to understand how autopilot modes interact with each other before using them. On the other hand aeroplanes all fly much the same as each other, so if you dumb it down to the point that the side stick (Airbus remember) controls the attitude and the thrust levers are controlling speed, landing would be fairly straight forward. Slow down, get gear and flap out at the appropriate times then land it. The only issue I foresee is finding the current weight of the aircraft so you can get the correct speeds for landing. It might be helpful to have someone on the radio to give a quick rundown of that, particularly if the speeds and weights are only available through the FMC.

I am not a pilot, but I’m aware that air traffic controllers aren’t pilots. I based that statement on (1) they made that point on Mythbusters and (2) that’s exactly what happened in the only real world case I know of. It wasn’t a big jet, but the pilot died and the passenger (a pilot with low hours and no experience at all on that plane) contacted ATC and told them he needed help.

Here’s the ATC audio from the event:

You can hear the passenger (now the pilot) with quite a bit of stress in his voice trying to get the plane to fly level without upsetting the autopilot (it’s in a steady climb and he’s afraid to touch anything to try to stop it). It takes about five minutes, but they finally find a pilot who is familiar with that plane and she talks him through everything he needs to do. She has him manually fly the plane in for a landing (I have no idea if a smaller plane like that even has an auto-land).

The A320’s not an uncommon plane. I’m sure they can get in touch with some pilot somewhere, even if they have to relay messages back and forth to someone who is flying some distance away.

How long would it take to get an actual pilot on the line? 5 minutes? For an out-and out emergency, assuming ATC is at a major airport or can conference call to a major airport, all they have to do is send a runner to one of the planes at the gate to grab a pilot.

I would hope that any pilot worthy of the license would drop everything and come running if an airliner full of passengers were at stake.

What about an F-16 or Mirage pilot?

if it’s a common airplane then a radar center will probably have one on their screen they can contact immediately.

That’s my point - the controllers can’t give that sort of advice, they have to find an actual pilot to do the talking down. I keep running into people who seem to think ATC have joysticks at their stations by which they can remote control airplanes or something.

Of course ATC will do everything possible to find you the help you ask for - helping you get to a safe landing is their job. They just aren’t (by and large - there are a few exceptions) pilots and can’t talk you through the landing procedures because they simply don’t know them.

Now, for something like a C-172 they might have some sort of canned instructions because it’s a simple airplane, but for an airliner about the only thing they can do is find a pilot who can give you that information.

So, yeah, if you’re in that situation you get on the radio and yell “HEEEEEEEEEELP!”

I think that even if a B737 pilot found themselves in an A320 and decided they were quite comfortable, good crew resource management would dictate that they advise ATC and use whatever help is available to get the aeroplane down.

As a point of interest, we have every limiting speed and other limitations published on a big placard on each side of the cockpit, so an unfamiliar pilot finding themselves in a BAe146 would have a lot of the information they need to fly the aeroplane right beside them.

It just occurred to me that Boeing and Airbus would be using different FMC and autopilot systems. Yes, they’re similarly sized multi-engine jets, but would it be a fair analogy to say one’s a Mac and the other’s Windows? At the end of the day, they do the same thing, but the screen and button layouts are different.

“Land me, Land me… where’s the X key?”

That episode ruined a lot of movies for me. No need for a gripping ten-minute landing sequence, apparently all you need to do is “line it up and push the ‘Autoland’ button.” Apparently Kenan Thompson didn’t even need to play Microsoft Flight Simulator…

Well, it’s an entirely different kind of flying, altogether.

Mythbusters did a segment on this. Jamie and Adam each had a turn in a large-aircraft simulator, and they both crashed trying to land unassisted. They both managed a survivable landing when coached (via radio) by an instructor pilot.