Could an average, level-headed person land a plane with radio assistance?

I am no pilot, but years ago, I flew very often with a friend who is. We’d often go up in his Cessna 172. I got to know the instrument panel (the “six-pack”), and he’d sometimes let me take the controls in level flight. After many, many flights, I knew what did what (yoke, rudder pedals, throttle, and so on), and what instrument indicated what, and what ATC was telling us over the radio. Even today, on a commercial commuter flight (Beechcraft 1900D, most commonly), I like sitting as far forward as possible, so I can read the instruments.

I never took off, or landed my friend’s Cessna, but after dozens of hours in my friend’s, while he did touch-and-gos and landings, I think I might be able to manage if an experienced pilot at ATC talked me in. Mind, the aircraft might be damaged, and we might be injured, but I think we’d survive if anything went wrong. But without an experienced pilot at ATC talking me in, we’d be toast. I’m sure that that’s the situation that Helen found herself in–familiarity with the operation of the aircraft, and somebody at ATC who could help her in.

Note that my remarks apply only to the Cessna 172–if my commuter flight aboard a Beechcraft 1900D, or anything bigger, goes wrong, I’m not the guy to call.

You say, “MAYDAY, MAYDAY, ALPHA-CHARLIE-NINER”. In the summer you add, “I’M COMING IN HOT, OVER”. I’d also be tempted to identify as Major Tom when talking to ground control.

I’ve done quite a bit of computer flight sims. Landing can be quite a trick. Just getting the glide path correct is tough.

Anyway, went on a tour to the Dry Tortugus from Key West last spring. It was in a single engine De Havilland Otter amphibian. Much bigger than your average Cessna. Held 10 people I think.

From where I sat, it looked like it had only one control yoke that could be swung from pilot to co-pilot. Here it is Seemed very odd, but they did stick a passenger in the co-pilot seat. I’m sure that can be swung over in flight, but doubt you could do it unless you knew how.

I wonder if a float plane/amphibian would be the best bet for this. Your runway is basically everything in every direction. If the sea was calm, perhaps that would be the easiest. (Don’t need answer fast)

Once I was the passenger in the co-pilot seat in a Cessna Caravan. It was a quick hop to Ambigrise Caye Belize. My instructions where - “Don’t touch nothing”

I don’t recall the year when an aircraft was “landed” by parachute here.

[He’s all over the place! Nine hundred feet up to 1300 feet.

What an asshole!](

IOW I wouldn’t be any help in the situation, except to lighten the last moments with movie quotes.


PS - And don’t call me Shirley!

“In October 2013, the pilot of a Cessna 172 aircraft became unwell whilst flying from Skegness, Lincolnshire, England. His 77-year-old passenger, John Wildey, who had served in the air force but not as aircrew, controlled the plane for over an hour and landed it safely at Humberside Airport under instruction from air traffic controllers, two flying instructors, and the crew of a Westland Sea King helicopter.”

With that many people involved I’m just picturing a free-for-all in the control tower as each person fights to be the one to talk the pilot down.

My bolding

Not to take anything away from her bravery but it’s not what the OP is discussing. From the article

I’m the wrong person in an emergency, as I would not be level-headed, but I had two “experience” type flights with instructors in Cessnas a dozen years ago, with five or six touch-and-goes.

The first instructor wasn’t particularly interested in explaining what was happening, he was just letting us have fun. The second one was really great on explaining the theory and what to look for as we were lining up, descending, etc. I can see how having the right instructor would make a huge difference.

That’s an interesting possibility. I’ve been up in float planes a few times, but never at the controls. When a plane is fitted with floats there’s a supplement added to the operations manual. I was reading one of those once and it described a situation I hadn’t considered.

Apparently, when landing on glassy-smooth water there’s no way to tell how high you are. You can’t see the surface of the water; either a reflection of the sky, or you’re looking through the water at the bottom. You can land safely, though, by configuring the plane for a particular airspeed and rate-of-descent (the numbers were in the supplement) and just hold that configuration until the floats touch the water. By that technique, it sounds doable. ATC could just direct the passenger to adjust the elevator trim and throttle until they had the plane properly set up, then it lands itself.

Other things I’ve heard about float flying make me think it would be harder than a land plane. There are issues with wind direction and controlability on the water, and with transitioning from being “on the step” (when the plane is skimming across the water) to displacement mode (floating rather than skimming). Best bet might be to set the proper airspeed, get the plane turned directly into the wind, pull out the throttle for the right sink rate, touch down, decrease power to come off the step, shut the engine off, and get a boat to them before they drift away.

PSA: never smoke cannabis if you plan on flying an airplane!

IANAP, but I think that there are a few ways to improve the overall chance of walking away. I would hope that there would be enough fuel that I could get a good feel for the controls at a safe altitude, and possibly even make some practice approaches to the runway. Having a direct line of sight for the person talking me down (so they could talk to me about my altitude and approach) would also be helpful, I imagine.

But I’m not too optimistic about landing a plane that is low on fuel at some remote site with only radio instructions.

I have about 30 hours flying a simple single engine aircraft (Piper Cherokee Warrior). I never got my license.

I can tell you that flying through the air (once somebody talks you through how the controls work - you need to use your feet in addition to your hands to steer - is pretty easy).

Landing, however, takes getting used to. You don’t so much as land as get low and then let the runway catch you while you keep the nose up. I never got good at it, and it would be easy to lose control quickly and roll the aircraft off the runway, instead of coming in straight and smooth and then putting your weight on the foot brakes while you decelerate and look for an exit.

Of course, at this point in the emergency, the runway will have been totally cleared and emergency vehicles will be at the ready. But I predict a very rough landing, followed by the plane veering off the runway and flipping over when the wheels engage with the ground and veer it off course.

Mayday is best, but you can also get the tower’s attention with “Pan Pan”, which means we need serious attention, but were not going down right this second. Sounds goofy to me, to be honest.

I think thatPan!Pan! alerts ground crew to have pizza ready at landing.

But if something goes wrong, you’d likely be in a damaged plane about to sink into the water, and possibly many miles from the shore or the closest boat.
Anyway, would an “average person” even know how to operate the radio to get help?

Goofier if it’s a Spanish speaking person that thinks it needs to be translated. “Bread, bread!”

As if Mayday wasn’t goofy enough.

“Mayday, Mayday! I wonder why they call it ‘Mayday’ ? It’s only a bank holiday. Why not ‘Shrove Tuesday’, or ‘Ascension Sunday’? Ascension Sunday, Ascension Sunday! 2nd Wednesday after Pentecost, 2nd Wednesday after Pentecost!” - Arnold Rimmer (Red Dwarf)

Here is a link.

If it happened to me, I’d want to be on a Cessna (I have some small-plane experience, decades ago) or a state of the art airliners like a Boeing 777. Get on the radio, have the controllers tell me how to make sure the autopilot is engaged, and let it land the plane. Yes, there are systems that do that these days. Once you are on the ground things become more…complicated.

I watched an engineer coworker land a 737 successfully twice in the simulator using basic video-game techniques, so I’m saying yes.

What about the big passenger jets?

I don’t mean that a novice could know how to fly one or learn all those instruments in an hour, but is it true that they are heavily automated and that the autopilot can basically fly the plane on its own?

In that sense, could a novice sit in the pilots seat and watch a few dials while the autopilot lands the plane or is the landing still all on the pilot?