Landing a plane on the freeway

This is two questions, really.

  1. How many innocent people is it acceptable to kill while trying to save your own skin?

  2. If you land a plane on the freeway, do you get a ticket or any kind of punishment at all?

I am a pilot.

  1. Zero

  2. It probably depends on the state. A fellow landed on Interstate 80 near Reno a number of years ago and was not fined as far as I know.

Keep in mind that a freeway is not a great place to land. Road signs, power lines and traffic can all mess up a landing. The one good thing is that small planes land at about 60mph which can mesh with light traffic well. That plane is registered to a local company… I wonder if I know the pilot??

I am also a pilot

None. However, no one died in that instance. No one was even hurt. That also held true for the small plane that recently landed on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

If the reason you did so was a genuine emergency? No. Why would there be?

Like an accident on the road with any vehicle, though, a pilot would be liable for an material damages cause by such a landing, and if found negligent could also be held liable for that.

Do pilots train for this?

When I was taking lessons, every once-in-a-while my instructor would reduce the engine speed to idle and say “You’ve just lost the engine. What do you do?” If I remember correctly, the procedure was to establish the plane at its best glide speed, look for the safest place to land (airport, road, field, golf course, that sort of thing) and head toward it, call ATC on the radio, try to fix the problem, and prepare the plane for landing before you touch down. We’d glide for a while and see if I could have made it to the landing area I’d picked, then the instructor would push the the throttle back in and we’d climb away.

So you train for it up to a point, but I don’t think any instructor would take it all the way to the ground. In my day, I also learned how to take off and land on short runways or soft runways like grass or gravel. (I’ve been out of general aviation for quite a while; don’t know if soft-field techniques are still taught.) Those would also be good lessons to know if I ever had to set down in a real emergency.

In general, yes. Ideally you’d go for a big square paddock. During PPL training you start with practice engine failures just after take-off and later on you do practice engine out landings from altitude (maybe 3000’). How low you go depends on the instructor.

I never had just a PPL for long so I’m not sure what a PPL recurrent check involves, for my annual CPL checkout I would do a full engine out landing to a runway.

Ideally you shouldn’t fly a single engine plane out of gliding distance of a suitable landing area (e.g., paddock) but this is rarely practical.

My son is taking pilot lessons. His instructor told him,

Out of interest, Pilot People, if you were flying at say 15,000 feet what sort of gliding distances would you expect a single engine aircraft to offer you?

Are suitable paddocks marked on maps or is it a case of remembering that one summer you drove past a nice big wide field just to the left of the sheer moutain range …?

Or calling Rex Kramer.

Yes, at least insome Air Forces they do.


My own aircraft has a realistic engine off Glide Ratio of about 8:1, I.e for every 1 unit of height lost, I travel 8 units forwards.

15,000ft however is pretty high for a regular light aircraft. I’ve been up to 12,000 a couple of times, but aircraft performance was pretty marginal by then… And I was getting cold!

No, suitable “emergency” landing sites are not marked on maps (unless they’re an actual airfield obviously).

Not a pilot but many friends who are, many tales … my favorite was the fella who used the plane parking area rather than taxi- and runways … and Moore Road was suitable because the airport was 30 miles away …

Correct me if I’m wrong, but landing on a freeway because of a genuine emergency probably won’t get you any grief from the local police … but the FAA is going to be up your ass …

A Cessna like the one in the article would probably cruise more in the 5,000-7,000 foot altitude range. If you start going much higher, you need an oxygen system, which is normally found on more expensive airplanes (though there are other options).

But just as a very rough rule of thumb, think of such planes as having 1.5 miles of glide per 1,000 feet of altitude. So, a plane like that at cruise could go for about 7-ish miles if the engine suddenly went kaput. And of course, it would take 5+ minutes to reach the ground. Some have a perception that the plane goes from cruising to the ground very quickly, when in fact you have plenty of time to crap your pants.

“A desperate man will grasp even the point of a sword.”

Having said that, I also have to think that your average pilot is intelligent enough not to commit suicide by landing on top of cars and, in so doing, kill himself, his passengers and innocent people on the ground.

We had a small plane land on Lake Shore Drive a couple of weeks or so ago, and he pulled it off without even an injury.

My instructor told me the same thing as to what Crafter Man’s son told him, about roads are not really a good place to land in an emergency. But he certainly didn’t rule it out either, and there are times he says it’s your best option.

My instructor commented about how good the road looks from up in the air. But when you get down closer, you realize many obstacles become much more obvious, highline wires and poles, signage, other things, traffic in rural areas is pretty much a non-issue.

Of course, my plane at the time had a 34’ wing span. The one I fly now is only 23’, so the roads are looking a lot better. It’s easy to work your way in with the traffic too, but in an urban area, if possible, it’s best to stay high enough to where you can clear those areas. About the only thing you see that might be viable to land in a congested area are golf courses of which many a pilot has landed on including Harrison Ford.

Lake Shore Drive has the advantage (from an emergency landing standpoint) of having stretches on which there are relatively few obstructions that cross over it (i.e., bridges, overhead wires, etc.)

Here’s a link to a story about the event – I’m fairly astonished that he didn’t hit any cars, given that he landed on LSD at 3:15pm on a Friday, when one would expect that there would be quite a lot of traffic.

Sometimes a road might be the only remotely decent option, and then the light turns green and you have to dodge traffic. A few years back there was such an incident here, with fatal results. A light twin lost both engines 5km from the airport, attempted a street landing, and aborted off to the side of the road at the last minute. There was a thread about it at the time, where I posted a google maps link showing the location.

Serious question: Do airplanes come equipped with the equivalent of a car horn, or some sort of siren, to make their presence known to people around them (other planes, or in this situation, cars on the ground) that otherwise might not see them? I can’t imagine such a thing being useful very often, but I don’t honk my car horn that often either.

No horns in planes. There are landing lights that you could flick on and off, but that’s not saying much.

All the way to the crash site. :stuck_out_tongue:

Unless you’re flying a Stuka.