Could I land a commercial airliner?

I was thinking the other day, about being on a plane and an having a situation come up, which was similar to the movie airplane. I am an audio engineer, and am pretty proficient at working knobs and gizmos, which is not even in the same ball park as flying a commercial airplane, but it couldn’t hurt. Now assuming I could recognize the radio and be able to contact someone below, would I have a remote chance of landing the plane? Not a four point landing mind you, just getting on the ground with minimal loss of life. I think the plane would be doomed, but I’m curious if it would be possible, for a person to be ‘talked down’ and land. Lastly which would be the slightly (relative of course) easier to land, a 767? or a 747?, etc.

You know, I think you might. Understand that things would have to be just right, and hopefull the autopilot is still on, but as long as you were going for a “just survive” approach" it could work. Still, I’ve landed enough planes in sims to guess that it ain’t easy, though.

I watched a segment of a UK macho-speed-big-machine type show a couple of weeks ago in which a 747 landed completely automatically. The only thing the pilot did was throttle the engines (I think he may have instigated the reverse-thrusters, but I’m not sure).

I suspect not all airports are equipped with the necessary kit (some mention of a special transmitter at the end of the target runway) but if you could be talked into turning on and setting up whatever gizmo this thing was, you could definitely have landed it. In fact, you could have done it - literally - with your eyes closed.

(As a relatively seasoned flier, it was a good landing, too).

If Karen Black, Doris Day, Julie Hagerty and Penny Marhsall can do it, I don’t see why you can’t.

You wouldn’t stand a chance in hell to land a 747 or 767 manually. It would be nearly impossible even for a licensed pilot of small planes to do it. The only way for it to be at all possible is if you had hours of training in the simulator before the incident. That being said, you might have one more option to get everyone down alive. Many newer airliners actually have autoland capability that allows the autopilot to do its thing all the way down to the runway using the ILS approach at most major airports. If you could set the autopilot for level flight long enough to get on the radio and get someone to help you set the autopilot for autoland at a major airport then you might just make it. Remember to set those reverse thrusters to maximum auto-brake at touchdown so that you won’t slam into the terminal at 150 mph after all that work.

You PROBABLY could land a small plane (poorly) if you had to. If you ever take flying lessons, they can usually get you to make a (bumpy) landing in a small plane like a Cessna 150 or a Diamond Katana after only a couple of tries. There have been several cases in which passengers have had to be talked down after the pilot collapsed at the controls.

Good answers. Here’s a side question, whets the most difficult airport in the world to land at? I’m sure it would be helpful if I weren’t landing at LaGuardia or Hong Kong (surrounded by water). One last thing as well. I was reading the story of the Gimli Glider, and they said the pilot threw the plane into a ‘vicious sideslip’ to slow it down. They said commercial planes are capable of doing some pretty neat flight maneuvers, but they usually don’t because the passengers would freak. Thanks for the help all, I’ve always been fascinated by planes, and just seem to have a stream of random questions popping into my head.

Hong Kong is generally acknowledged to be the hardest major airport in the world for commercial pilots to land. Here is one description:

Don’t pay any attention to movies or TV. I have to agree with Shagnasty here. This discussion comes up every so often on aviation-themed bboards (real and simulated) and no matter how confident the simulator pilots act, the answer from real pilots is almost always no. The consensus is that an inexperienced pilot would either flare to early, float and run out of runway; or flare too late and crash.
Having been both a sound engineer and (simulator) airline pilot, I’m not sure how much the skills from one transfer to the other.
Regarding your side question, the “old” Hong Kong airport had one of the more difficult approaches because of the 40- or 50-degree turn that had to be made just before landing. La Paz, Bolivia and other mountainous airports are usually considered very difficult.

My brother could. Then again he’s a commercial airline pilot.

Seriously though - if you’d seen the abuse and rubber-burning he put my mother’s car through in his teen years, plus the numerous bumps and scrapes - you start to wonder…


I believe that’s the old airport – the new one (which opened about five years ago) is much easier to deal with.

(I sat through several takeoffs and landings at the old airport, and the landings had more banks and turns than a roller-coaster)

A plane is a plane is a plane. They can all do similar maneuvers mostly being restricted by overall airframe strength and weight to power ratios. I don’t think a commercial jet could do an over-the-top loop (it’d stall first) but IIRC there was a test pilot who put a 727(?) through a barrel roll which I believe the engineers didn’t think was possible.

Even commercial jets are surprisingly strong. I was flying with a friend who had never flown before (surprisingly given that she was 20 at the time) and she was upset to look out the window and see the plane’s wings flapping. It took some reassurance to convince her that that was normal. I saw a show on TV where they were abusing airframes in order to get flight certification from the FAA for a new model airliner. One of the tests pushed the wings up and up till they broke off. The wings were bent into a nearly U shape with the wingtips pointed nearly straight up before they snapped.

All that said you can still stress an airframe too far. If a commercial jet (or many other planes for that matter) do extreme maneuvers they risk snapping something off or otherwise cracking-up the airframe in flight. Your acrobatic planes and military fighter jets are built exceedingly strong to withstand anything the pilots can throw at them in extreme maneuvers. I’ve heard that some military jets can perform beyond the capabilities of the pilots to achieve those maneuvers (the pilots would generally pass out first).

I just figured a familiarity with zillions of knobs and buttons could be slightly advantageous. Probably not, because the buttons do radically different things, but cut me a break, I’m trying to land a 747 here! :eek:

I hope we never need to find out btw.

What is ‘Sideslip’?

How big of a ‘No’ is that no? I can buy that you’re not going to get a nice smooth landing out of an zero experience ‘pilot’ but are we talking about flat-out flaming death for everyone or will the ‘pilot’ be able to get the plane close enough and slow enough to the ground before screwing up that at least some people might survive the ensuing run off the end of the runway or whatever?

I hope this isn’t too much of a hijack but I have a related question.

Assume that for whatever improbable set of circumstances you (a zero experience pilot for the sake of those around here who do fly) find yourself behind the controls of a 767. Also assume that the automatic landing gizmo if it exists isn’t working.

Would flight control even let you get near an airport to attempt a landing (with someone talking you through it all) or would they drop you in a lake/ocean somewhere (or perhaps a remote, out of the way landing field) far away from people and property?

If you’ve flown enough you’ve probably experienced this first hand.

In the simplest terms a sideslip is where the plane is moving in one direction while the nose is pointed in another. Imagine a plane with a forward motion of due north but the nose is pointed 10[sup]o[/sup] east of north.

This is most often experienced by passengers on an airline during landings when there is a crosswind coming across the runway. The wind is trying to push the plane of the runway’s centerline so the pilot compensates by pointing the nose a bit into the wind to cancel the effect. The upshot is that the plane is moving in a different direction than it’s pointed.

I was a passenger once sitting near the back of the plane that was doing such a large sideslip that I could actually see the runway in front of us. Very unusual and a bit unnerving although I think a sideslip maneuver is something pilots learn in Flight School 101.

Big airport. Main reasons:

  • wider/longer runways
  • better navigational equipment (like the ILS)
  • most importantly, fire and rescue capabilities that smaller airports might not have

Definitely not in the water. Way too dangerous, even for an experienced pilot.

I understand all the reasons for landing at a big airport. I was just wondering if they’d figure it’d be too risky to let an inexperienced pilot to get a large airliner over populated areas and airports such that they’d figure it’s better to toss the several hundred souls on-board the plane rather than risk further death and injury to people on the ground.

Another note on the sideslip:
In the Gimli Glider story the co-pilot mentioned that he was ‘looking down’ at the pilot. What I described didn’t account for this. A sideslip will induce a roll in the plane so a wingtip will tend to drop. If you yaw to the right the left wing will want to dip. This can be compensated for to some extent but remember the Gimli Glider instituted a ‘viscious’ sideslip. Additionally, the pilot had minimal hydraulic pressure to control the flight surfaces. Finally, IIRC, doing the sideslip caused the RAT providing hydraulic pressure to slow down as it moved out of the forward airstream. This probably all added-up to the plane’s wind dipping precipitously. From the story it seemed that for a moment the pilot wondered if he could pull the plane out of its sideslip. Must’ve been quite scary for the passengers.

As to why the Gimli Glider pilot attempted this maneuver remember that he felt he had too much forward airspeed and needed to slow the plane down. The minimal hydraulic pressure didn’t allow for the flaps to be deployed. Given that the plane was now a glider there was to be no flying in circles. The best way to slow the plane was to effectively turn it sideways (to some extent) to the forward motion of the plane while maintaining its line-up with the runway.

I should also note that I am NOT a pilot and get all this experience from flight sims which is a far cry from the real thing. You may want to wait for a real pilot to chime in before accepting my description.

If the goal was to survive. The water seems ideal. Bigest runway you will find on earth and something softer then asphalt to land on. If the plane has autoland then a runway is nice but if not I think water is the way to go. - but I don’t know.

Remember the United Airlines jumbo jet that had an engine fly apart and severed the hydraulic lines several years back? The pilots had almost no control over the plane, but they and the controllers still thought it safer to keep the plane in the air for more than 30 minutes to get it to a relatively unbusy airport (Sioux City, Iowa) that happened to have a long runway and plenty of emergency equipment.

My choice would be a large airport, either civil or military.

Thanks for the info guys, very interesting topics. I wonder if after 9/11 any protocols were changed in regards to flying crippled aircraft over metropolitan areas. Anyone feel free to hijack this thread, with any general aviation questions. If we could keep them fairly understandable for the laymen it would be greatly appreciated. Whack-a-Mole you seem very knowledgeable, for not being a pilot, kudos!