How Quickly Could Someone be Taught to land a 747?

Based on my very limited experience, this is my guess.

I’m a technically adept and mechanically inclined person, who is not prone to panic, but I have essentially zero flight experience. Anybody with any piloting experience might be a better choice than me, but if the rest of the plane is full of people returning from the “VCR still flashes 12:00, and its 2021” conference, then I’m probably the best bet to land your plane.

My flight experience consists of playing flight sims in the 80s, talking a lot with a friend as he earned his piloting license, and about 15 minutes at the controls of a glider. What that 15 minutes taught me is that even though I knew to “step on the ball” flying a real plane is extremely different than a PC based flight sim. Sure, the instruments are the same, but the planes response is very, very different. On the PC, the tiniest joystick movement did a lot. On the glider the center stick had to be really pushed around to get any response.

It also showed me that it is very difficult to do things like locate the airfield from the air and to get the plane to stop turning and pointed at what I want. I can imagine a glider is easy mode compared to a 747. (Even if the 747 has automation to maintain coordinated flight.)

So, based on that, I’m going to say that flying by hand is almost completely out.

However, I may be able to setup the plane’s autopilot to do things, and once lined up with the runway, to execute control inputs at the right time to do things. For example, when crossing 10,000 feet lower the landing gear, at 5,000 feet move flaps to position 4 (or whatever).

So, say I’m over the middle of an ocean, plenty of fuel, but no pilots. Perhaps I can be instructed on how to setup the autopilot to get me to an appropriate airport, and then be talked down. There is lots of time to do dry-runs. So, “find this control, later you will turn that knob to this position”, etc.

So yeah, if anything goes wrong, we’re all dead. But if all I need to do is get the glide slope setup, let the plane touch down, and then hit the brakes, there might be a slim chance.

I think the first obstacle will be convincing the people on the other end of the radio to give me a real destination, and not just ditch me in the ocean. (I think that was the plot point in a movie.)

So, how long to orient a motivated newb to the cockpit of a 747? How long to talk through the landing procedure in detail, with time for questions? How long to talk through several dry runs? I’m guessing at least 3-4 hours, but absolutely no guarantee of success. Maybe better to try and revive the pilots with some prescription drugs found in carry on bags, and some energy drinks from the galley.

A small-plane pilot I know learned his instrument flying 40 years ago from a very basic instrument simulator. The instruments are the same …

Flying a plane isn’t some superhuman balancing act, but it’s different enough from driving a car to be interesting.

We all know how to turn a car to change direction; turn the steering wheel and the car will start steering left or right. Turn the wheel back to the center and the car will go straight again. A plane is a little different. Turn the yoke to the left and the plane will start rolling to the left (left wingtip goes down, right wingtip goes up). When you get to the bank angle that you want, you turn the yoke back to the center and the plane will stop rolling any further, but will stay at the bank angle that you gave it. And then while the plane is banked it will turn in that direction. When you’re heading in the direction that you want, you turn the yoke to the right to roll it back to wings level. And during the time you’re banked, you lose some lift, so you may want to pull the yoke back and add a little thrust (don’t forget to undo those things when the turn is complete). You have to coordinate all the controls much more so than in a car.

And it’s not completely intuitive. I was flying with my dad once (in a small Cessna) and we had the plane perfectly balanced; I could take my hands off the controls and it flew straight and level. Then he had me add some power. We did not go any faster, we started climbing. I pulled the power back and leveled off, then back some more and we started descending. You can push the yoke forward and aim your 747 at the runway, but remember that you’re going down hill. You may reach the runway going 400 miles per hour, and you’re not going to land like that.

From Airplane: “We ought to route him in Lake Michigan, at least we’ll
avoid killing innocent people.”

I can totally see it as a step to an instrument rating. For example, I knew what I was looking at with the instruments in the glider, because they were the same as what I’d used on a flight sim. What I’m talking about is more simply the control of the plane.

I could have answered questions like, what is your altitude? what is your rate of climb/descent? what is your airspeed? etc. Turn to heading 270, no way. That was really hard.

How much bank should I do to get there? How much do I move the stick to get there? When should I straighten the stick in the turn? How much stick to come out of the bank? When should I start doing that to end up at heading 270? Where should I point the nose to maintain airspeed during the turn? what airspeed?

I mean, none of that stuff is magical, and I’m sure I could learn lots of it in my first few hours of flying lessons. Those first few hours had better be in a single with an instructor next to me.

Being forced to talk about flying over lunch everyday for a year or so, this is one of the things I learned. Moving the yolk forward and back controls speed, increasing and decreasing throttle changes the rate of climb. That is probably more than most non-pilots know about flying, and probably simplistic enough to be dangerously wrong.

Yeah, I just couldn’t figure out how to work “and don’t call me Shirley” into my post.