Passenger landing a plane safely

Once through a friend I got an hour of bootleg time on a commercial flight simulator. It was the simulator for a Dornier 328. a twin engined turbo prop airliner. All glass cockpit just like the big planes.
I did 4 take offs flew around and did 4 landings. I had no coaching from the instructor except as to where controls were located. Take offs are easy, flying and turns etc are also easy.
Landing are harder. During the first one I think I saw the runway above me. The second one the pieces of the plane would have been larger. The third one probably would have had survivors. For the fourth one, the instructor put the plane in fog, and configured the screen for instrument landing. I flew Nintendo Air all the way to the ground and greased the landing. (we were in full motion for this landing). After that landing the instructor complimented me and said that I did better on that than some of his paying students did the first time through.

There are two types of flight instructors. One is always grabbing at the controls, saying “my plane,” etc. This flight instructor is usually inexperienced and lacking confidence in his ability to teach, though he may sound like God’s gift to aviation when he talks about himself.

The other type may never touch the controls except to demonstrate something. Once. This instructor talks his student through all procedures. He essentially talks a student down to a safe landing on the student’s very first flight. I have known a lot of flight instructors who were like this. Granted, some students require more physical input than that. It is different for every student. But still, it is really not uncommon at all for an instructor to talk his students all the way through their first flight from engine startup, taxi, takeoff, to landing and engine shutdown. If they have to “help” the student a little, they usually do it fairly surreptitiously, with a little nudge of the controls or pedals here and there.

This is not to say that airplanes are easy to fly. The basic mechanics are relatively easy to learn, but learning judgment, navigation, the rules and regulations of flight, emergency procedures, etc, take considerable time and experience. It is hard to learn to both talk to ATC and fly a plane at the same time while managing charts and watching out for other traffic. It is not so hard just to take off or even land.

Heck, the Barefoot Bandit in Washington managed to do it several times in stolen planes without a single hour of instruction. Yes, the planes were usually damaged, but he survived unhurt. He is, however, real lucky that he didn’t kill himself or anyone else with his reckless behavior. He could easily have hit another plane. That is where being a pilot really begins. A guy like that – I don’t think any good CFI would take him on as a student. It is a big sky and reckless people often get away with it for awhile. Not the sort of thing I would want to depend on, though.

Just because it might have happened once, by accident, doesn’t at all mean that it is a regular occurrence, or sensible to try.

Personal confession: THAT movie was entirely responsible for my decision to earn a Multi-engine pilot class rating.

I’d flown single-engine planes before, and had a private pilot certificate, but one line from Airplane! kept haunting me:

KRAMER: “Have you ever flown a multiengine plane before?”
STRIKER: “No, never.”
KRAMER: “Gah! Goddamn waste of time! Route him into Lake Michigan, at least he’ll avoid killing innocent people!”

See? Ted Striker was a huge risk to land that airliner, because he’d never flown a multi-engine plane! So I resolved that, if I ever found myself in a situation where the pilot and copilot were both deathly ill from eating tainted fish, I would be able to hold my head up high and say, “Why, yes, I’ve flown a multi-engine plane before! I hold a multi-engine class rating, which I earned from 23 hours of flying a twin-engine Piper Seneca. It’s got 200 horsepower per engine, you know!”

A couple of thoughts for your consideration, but before I do, my qualifications:
USAF IP (T-37s and A-10s), 1000+ in the Tweet and about 2500 in the Hog over 26 years
Have been checked out in the B-727, MD-10, MD-11 and B-777 (my current job is the right (First Officer) seat of the 777).

  1. The lighting systems at instrument runway-equipped airports have no input to the flight controls, autopilots or flight management systems (FMSs) on airplanes. The localizer (azimuth) and glideslope (descent path) transmitters of a runway’s Instrument Landing System (ILS) do. The lights, however, are designed to aid the pilot flying in acquiring the landing environment and, in certain cases where visibility is marginal, warn him/her that the plane is not in a position to make a safe landing.
  2. The “fail operational” (technical term) autoland systems on most modern commercial jets allow one to land the plane “hands-off” even when certain system failures have occurred. Even the less capable systems offer a fairly large degree of automation if properly programmed and armed for the approach.
  3. On the 777, the entire sequence can be accomplished to touchdown and rollout to full stop. The only pilot input would be to engage thrust reversers at touchdown–the engines will already be at idle and the auto brakes, if armed, will engage immediately. I think it would be a fairly simple process to familiarize the novice with where the reversers are and how to use them. I would even tell them to keep their feet off the brakes during the landing roll to prevent autobrake disengagement.
  4. Here’s the interesting part…if the crew has already loaded an arrival and approach in the FMS, with a little coaching I could get the person to change various settings on the flight control panel (on the glareshield) that basically tells the airplane, “OK, it’s time to descend.” or “OK, turn to this heading to intercept the localizer (final).” or “Now it’s OK to start down the glidepath and land/stop when your sensors tell you to.” etc., etc., etc.
  5. Even if the arrival/approach wasn’t in the FMS yet, you’d be amazed what you can get the jet to do with a few knob twists and button pushes. If we had time, I’d set up a Check Airman in the sim with a radio feed to the airplane and, literally, tell the “pilot” what he/she was looking at, where to look, what to type, what to push, etc. I’d bet money we could get 'em down fairly safely, assuming we had the gas (time) and the poor guy/gal in the cockpit doesn’t lose it.

Based on my vast experience (playing with Flight Sim), the hard part isn’t landing. It’s landing on the runway.

I had a lot of fun flying the sim helicopter, with an MS force-feedback joystick. I explained to my wife that this was serious business, so that I’d be able to land a helicopter if some day we were on a helitour and the pilot passed out. One day while trying to hover, looking at the Parthenon, my wife looked over my shoulder as I accidentally plowed into it, destroying myself, my vehicle, and an architectural treasure.

She calmly said “I’m never getting into a helicopter with you.”

A passenger in the UK just landed a Cessna 172 after the pilot became ill:

Bumping this because of a news story I just read.

A passenger who was also a bomber pilot helped land a 737 after the pilot apparently had a heart attack.

Were they also out of coffee?

Why was she co-piloting a 737 if she had never even taxied one?

If an airline co-pilot must run an ad on the PA system looking for help to fly the thing, never mind taxi it, there should be at least three pilots on every flight, with one of the spares being the official pinch-taxier.

I assume that’s how one gets taxiing experience, by serving as first officer on several flights and occasionally being given the controls.
Powers &8^]

Interesting - glad it turned out so well. What’s a “non-revenue pilot”?

Basically, a pilot using his or her free travel benefits with the airline - “off duty”, I suppose.

I don’t know about the “never taxied a 737 before” thing - that does sound a little strange. But the First Officer is not a trainee or apprentice. He or she is fully qualified to operate the aircraft and would normally alternate actual flying duties with the Captain.

Ah, thanks. A “deadheader” in military parlance, I think.

In WW2, a B-17 landed near an AA battery with no one aboard. It was apparently damaged badly enough that the crew bailed out. When they jumped, they lightened the plane just enough for it to make it over the coast line.


She could have landed the plane without help if it were necessary. But it’s a whole lot easier when there are two pilots, with the pilot not flying doing pretty much what this military pilot did: handling radios, helping with checklists, watching for problems. If there’s someone on board who’s qualified to do that, why wouldn’t you ask for their help?

I think some airlines draw a distinction between a “non-revenue” pilot who is travelling off-duty for personal or leisure purposes, and one who is “deadheading” - that is, moving from one place to another for business reasons. Not sure, though, IANAP and so on.

Well it seems to me that there has to be a first time for each pilot to taxi a 737, doesn’t there?
Powers &8^]

Presumably, yes. Maybe this FO was new to the type. Or, as also seems possible, something about the story has been garbled along the way.