How Quickly Could Someone be Taught to land a 747?

This is a variation on an old chestnut: “Could a layperson land a passenger jet?”

I’m curious how quickly people think a layperson could be taught to land a big jet. Let’s say the amount of time it would take to teach a reasonably intelligent and competent adult to hypothetically land a 747 with no fatalities 50% of the time.

What I’m angling at is teaching someone to land a 747 while it’s still in the air and only has X hours of flight time left due to fuel amount. Without looking it up I’ll make a (probably bad) ballpark guess that fully fueled with an average seating set-up and avg. flight conditions a 747 can fly 13-16 hours or so?

Could the hypothetical layperson be hypothetically* taught in that time?

If this was to ever happen IRL I’d assume that the teaching would be over the radio as any competent teacher present would be flying the plane instead of teaching.

But by the power invested in me as the OP Hypotheticalizer I want to make it in-person teaching instead. Let’s say the teacher is with the lay-pilot in the simulator so they can use hand-gestures, charts, films, etc. to teach but they can not perform any actual flying or touch the controls.


*I want to put this in a advanced flight simulator to try to remove most of the stress on the lay-pilot and to of course avoid thousands of people dying as we experiment.

I’m a bit confused. You mention both teaching while a real plane is still in the air and also teaching via a simulator. I would think there would be a big difference in learning on a simulator, where you can try things and learn from your mistakes, vs. learning in the air where everything is theoretical until you reach the landing strip and start doing things for the first time.

They did it successfully on Mythbusters, so it is “plausible” it can be done in real time over the radio.

I can’t find it now, but I remember watching a video on youtube about a guy who did all of these challenges, and his challenge this time was to learn how to fly a jet and be the pilot for a group of his friends. He had no piloting experience whatsoever. It took quite some time for him to learn how to fly it (weeks). He ended up being able to take off, fly to wherever they were going, and land the plane. The landing was the hardest bit.


In the “is anyone here a pilot” scenario, you don’t really need to fly the plane. You just need to be taught how to set up the automation so that the plane can do its thing.

When Mythbusters tried this (in a simulator), when Adam and Jamie both tried to “fly” the plane, they crashed horribly. But when they contacted someone on the “ground” and were given instructions, both landed the plane successfully.

Find a Cat III field, dial up the Autoland and let George land the sucker.

So it would be as long as it took for the passenger to find the right switches. Of course, if you are out of range of a Cat III field…

OK. The hell with it. Throw out the simulator and see how long it would take under the stress of the actual situation.

I was trying to eat my cake and have it too–a nutty hypothetical but nobody hurt.


Google tells me that a fully fueled 747 can fly for about 16 hours for a total of roughly 15,000 km (9,500 miles). Your ballpark guess wasn’t bad.

That’s cool! I did not know of that. where is there more info on that? How long did it take?

MythBusters Episode 94: Airplane Hour

Damn autopilot!!! Youze guys are simply obliterating my hypothetical!

OK. How about no autopilot? Probably half the licensed 747 pilots couldn’t land it then, right?


Well clearly I could have just looked that up before I posted it. But I didn’t. Instead I just thought about the longest flights I have taken on a 747 (12 hours) and added a few hours.

Also I’m a B748 pilot.

hahahaha, oh I slay me! No I’m not! These longer edit times are craaaaaazy fun!

Not a 747, not even a 747 simulator (it’s an A320 simulator), but this non-pilot got the plane safely on the runway:

That is really interesting. I was a bit surprised that at the end the lay-woman, who had seemingly had no problem landing in the video (with the pilot on the radio) said she felt it would be impossible for a layperson to do in real life.

But, after the pilot said at the end that it took more than 20 minutes just to explain the communications system I wasn’t so doubtful anymore.

I wonder what the radio learning curve was with Mythbusters?

I have a difficult time explaining which buttons to push in order to get someone to correct an Excel file in a one on one Zoom meeting. It’s like “which button are your referring too?” They often just jump a head and push the wrong button. At which point they can back up to the previous command. You can’t do that with a 747 (or any other plane). Make an error and you open up multiple scenarios that are difficult or impossible to go back and correct. People will crash and burn if he smallest mistake is made,

For the hypothetical, why not let the instructor be a hologram? That way they can gesture, point at controls, and yell at the ‘pilot’ when they’re making a mistake. And the terrorists disabled the auto-pilot, so that’s not an option.

Thinking waaaaaaay back to one of my first flight lessons (1974, so ancient history here) the very first time I “landed” the Cessna, my instructor talked me thru the whole process, but he never touched anything. He was a pretty good instructor, because it was a perfect landing - I literally didn’t feel the transition between flight and rolling. Granted, there’s a bit of difference between a single-engine trainer and a multi-engine commercial jet, but I think a good instructor talking to someone who will do exactly as instructed without question could bring the plane in safely, if not perfectly.

I think it would depend a lot on the particular individual. Do they have experience driving a car? Have they played video games with flight controls? I know there are some people so afraid of responsibility that you couldn’t even get them in the pilot’s seat even if the alternative was certain death.

Years ago there was a UK quiz/game show where one of the rounds was landing a plane on a simulator. Here’s a sample of what four people can do without training.

Two landed safely, one landed with damage to the plane (but no fatalities) and one missed the runway altogether.

That was interesting but it wasn’t clear to me exactly what all they had to do. It seemed easy like basically a video game. I’m sure the simulator itself was top-notch and all that but my guess is you can change various parameters in a simulator which affects the difficulty. In the video it didn’t seem too much was being asked of the contestants—just line up the little plane on the indicator.

Judging by an earlier video in this thread of an airline pilot talking a women through landing a large jet (in a simulator), she still had a lot to do and keep track of even with the plane on auto-pilot.