Mayday...
April 30, 2013 8:46 PM   Subscribe

 
I remember reading somewhere that if you can somehow get a pilot who has actually landed the plane in question on the radio, the layman's chance to successfully land the aircraft goes from below 10% to about 80%.

And it wasn't Mythbusters.
posted by Sphinx at 9:01 PM on April 30, 2013


Oy gevalt. I got nervous just from that article telling me to stay calm.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:04 PM on April 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


What exactly happens when people don't succeed in landing a plane? I've always had trouble visualizing what this would be like. Do they tend to overshoot the runway? Do they spin out? Do they dive right into the runway?
posted by painquale at 9:17 PM on April 30, 2013


They always succeed, eventually.
posted by pompomtom at 9:21 PM on April 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


If you can walk away from it, it was a landing, otherwise it was a crash.
posted by Long Way To Go at 9:22 PM on April 30, 2013


> start by saying "PAN PAN" or "MAYDAY" (depending on the country)

Uh, no? PAN PAN is "non-life non-vehicle threatening emergency", "MAYDAY" is "terrible things are about to happen" (someone is dead, we are out of fuel, etc). That said, if you've never flown before, you probably are now because your pilot died, so you can skip straight to mayday.
Also, getting the airplane under control is absolutely step 1. I'm not sure I like a zero-hour pilot's odds of touching down a light aircraft without incident - though provided a runway, knowing which knob is the throttle (the round one, usually), and a shortage of panic, they would may well survive the crash.
posted by tiaz at 9:23 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


If it's a modern airliner at a modern airport, the answer turns out to be "Flip a switch, then sit back and enjoy the ride." Modern airliners can land themselves, if there's the right equipment on the ground.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:58 PM on April 30, 2013


*sticks head into thread*

I just want to tell you both -- good luck. We're all counting on you.

*leaves thread*
posted by flarbuse at 10:05 PM on April 30, 2013 [46 favorites]


I am so glad that I will never need to know what I just read.
posted by davidmsc at 10:09 PM on April 30, 2013




I remember reading somewhere that if you can somehow get a pilot who has actually landed the plane in question on the radio, the layman's chance to successfully land the aircraft goes from below 10% to about 80%.

I honestly doubt this has actually happened enough times in real life to have numbers accurate to 10%.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:31 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


step one: Don't order the fish.
posted by mannequito at 10:37 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shouldn't the article have mentioned something about landing gear? Or did I miss it?
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:38 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


Time to dive: you kept the runway between your legs, you are 1000 ft above the ground and the runway is 1 mile in front of you.

Okay, How do I do that again?
posted by Mario Speedwagon at 11:01 PM on April 30, 2013


I felt that this line most accurately conveyed the severity of the situation to me:

Controlling an airplane on the ground sometimes feels like driving backwards a shopping cart at 60 miles/hour.
posted by Brak at 11:03 PM on April 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


Shouldn't the article have mentioned something about landing gear?

Early in his essay he says that he intends to describe "...how you can land light airplanes in the easiest way possible." Small aircraft rarely have retractable landing gear; it isn't necessary for him to include directions on getting the gear down and locked.
posted by RichardP at 11:03 PM on April 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was really interesting. This is one of those what-if horror-daydream scenarios that I repeatedly play out in my head, and it's cool to read some of the basics of what it would take.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:06 AM on May 1, 2013


*sticks head into thread*

I just want to tell you both -- good luck. We're all counting on you.

*leaves thread*
posted by Sebmojo at 12:16 AM on May 1, 2013 [8 favorites]


My brother got to ride in a Cessna with his boss for a short flight. Those two and the pilot. Bro was in the front, next to the pilot, and was as giddy as a schoolboy. After takeoff, the pilot said, "Ok, take the wheel". He gave bro a crash-course in piloting for the entire two or so hour flight.

Bro went all the way to land the plane, and the pilot had him approach and everything, only taking the wheel at the last minute or so. A decade plus later he still tells that story with little sparkles in his eyes.
posted by zardoz at 12:21 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


According to Patrick Smith of Ask the Pilot, it's not really true that airliners can land themselves. It's technically possible, but programming the autopilot is a task that requires experience and training:

"Yes, it’s true that most jetliners are certified for automatic landings, called “autolands” in pilot-speak. But in practice they are rare. Fewer than 1 percent of landings are performed automatically, and the fine print of setting up and managing one of these landings is something I could talk about all day. If it were as easy as pressing a button, I wouldn’t need to practice them twice a year in the simulator or periodically review those tabbed, highlighted pages in my manuals. In a lot of respects, automatic landings are more work-intensive than those performed by hand. The technology is there if you need it for that foggy arrival in Buenos Aires with the visibility sitting at zero, but it’s anything but simple."
posted by thesmallmachine at 12:26 AM on May 1, 2013


My brother, a pilot, says a good landing is one you can walk away from. A great landing is one where you can reuse the aircraft.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:33 AM on May 1, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh goody, this article can join the crash scene from Lost and the last images from United 93 on the list of Things I Never Want to Envision Again yet Will Because They're Burned into the LCD Screen of My Brain. Why did I read that before attempting to nap?
posted by FelliniBlank at 2:19 AM on May 1, 2013


IN my system, it is an axiom that the plane is on the ground. Done!
posted by thelonius at 3:20 AM on May 1, 2013


I used to play flight simulators all the time. The one thing I thought I took away from that about landing planes from that was "use pitch to control airspeed and throttle to control rate of descent" up until the last part of the landing when you flare the nose of the plane up. No mention of that here. I don't know, maybe someone made that up, or maybe its not the best advice to follow in those drastic circumstances. Anyway, the article certainly underlines that a sim pilot does not a true pilot maketh.
Nthing hoping I will never have to use this.
posted by mister_kaupungister at 3:44 AM on May 1, 2013


I used to play with flight simulators as a kid because my dad loves them. Not sure I want to try this, though.

Happy May Day everyone, btw!
posted by ipsative at 3:55 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


You made it! Now just push buttons around and you will end up turning the engines off (red ones first).

Or you might trigger fire supression, a parachute, or retract landing gear, but whatever... You Made it!
posted by achrise at 6:10 AM on May 1, 2013


The author left out the part where your heroics spur a media frenzy in which you have to choose between Letterman and Leno (Letterman obviously) and your charm leads to hosting a game show titled "Mayday" where contestants try their hand at performing specialized tasks with no formal training, but never attracts significant viewership and is cancelled mid-season, leaving you jobless (why did you quit your job for Hollywood??) and desperate for commercial work, but even the Geico execs say it's "too soon for you to be a totem of irony". THAT is pressure.
posted by Turkey Glue at 6:31 AM on May 1, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why don't we just shoot them down and be through with it ?

Is that the three stooges as firemen at around 3:36?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:35 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


Mayday? Why, that's the Russian New Year! We can have a big parade and serve hot hors d'oeuvres...
posted by Cookiebastard at 6:56 AM on May 1, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am a pilot and the errors in this article just make me sigh.
posted by exogenous at 7:03 AM on May 1, 2013


exogenous - example?
posted by thelonius at 7:14 AM on May 1, 2013


Yeah, this isn't something I'd print out and hand to my passengers. None of them even want to touch the controls when I offer! Next time I'm just going to "die" in front of them and let them figure it out.

provided a runway, knowing which knob is the throttle (the round one, usually), and a shortage of panic, they would may well survive the crash.

Those are three really huge assumptions right there. I just died and you're in my passenger seat; right in front of you there are three large round knobs and two smaller ones. Pull the wrong one and you will either a) shut off the engine, b) rip the propeller off its mounts, or c) turn on the heat. Now, my knobs are color-coded but if you get in, say, this guy, I can't even tell from those photos which knob is the throttle.

One thing I like to do with my passengers is play "find the airport" because if you're not accustomed to looking for them they're damned hard to spot. I've had people with me that couldn't find the runway when we were on short final just about to land. I have a hard time believing someone with no training would be able to spot a landing site without a significant amount of help.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:16 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


example?

Honestly, I'd say rule #1 would be DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING at first. If your pilot just suddenly keeled over mid-flight, the plane is already trimmed out and you're no danger of falling out of the sky (unless the pilot's limp corpse is pushing on the yolk - move him out of the way then). The training I've had on how to brief passengers in an emergency like this is generally:

1) Turn on the autopilot (I will have already set it up so it will fly the plane straight-and-level, this a one-button operation).
2) Tune a radio to the emergency frequency (again, I'll put that in the standby channel so all the passenger has to do is push one button).
3) Declare an emergency and get help.

If I have a heart attack on short final, honestly there's not a whole lot you're going to be able to do unless you immediately grasp the situation and sort things out fast.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:21 AM on May 1, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean a lot of the advice is OK but there are a several things that stand out and make me pretty sure the author has little if any time in a real airplane (as opposed to a flight simulator).

For example, the bit about people taking tens of hours to learn to make a simple turn is bullshit: I have had inexperienced people in my plane make decent turns basically immediately. In fact, little kids too small to see over the instrument panel have flown my plane on instruments, including gentle turns, in their first ride in the plane. Before you ask, yes I have another set of flight controls in my seat!

Also, in a light plane without a turbocharger (the vast majority), at cruise altitude you'll barely be making 70% power at full throttle much less at reduced throttle. The article should have mentioned that you should probably push the red mixture knob in on descent (assuming the plane has one) to make sure the engine is running rich enough to make power in the thicker air.

Finally, the stuff about diving at the runway because small planes loose speed quickly will get you stuffed in my plane. Even at idle throttle it will pick up speed in a modest dive, which will prevent you from landing safely.
posted by exogenous at 7:22 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I once got to ride in the copilot seat of a big bell helicopter that our client had rented to show the companys management the site for a large project. We flew from Love field to the site across the river from downtown Ft Worth, my job being to keep an eye out for powerlines etc as we landed. While we were sitting on the ground I asked the pilot to give me a quick lesson on flying the thing. He was able to distill it down to "pull this stick and the houses get smaller, push it and they get bigger"
posted by phoffmann at 7:34 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I still think my best course of action would be to lie down and cry until someone else takes of things. At least then when we all die a horrible fiery death from the inevitably botched landing I won't feel responsible.
posted by Panjandrum at 8:49 AM on May 1, 2013


I wouldn't worry too much about that.

I mean, you're much more likely to die from blunt impact trauma before the fire consumes you.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:59 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


What's telling to me (as a low-time VFR SEL Private Pilot) is that the video at the bottom is captioned "one of the hardest airplanes you can fly" and it's a little single-engine high-wing taildragger.

Of course Google has an opinion (and it's different than "the hardest plan to land", which is a little more apropos here), but in my book the hardest plane to land is the one in which you don't know the controls, and you don't know the speeds.
posted by achrise at 9:24 AM on May 1, 2013


"Mayday mayday! My pilot died and I don't know how to fly a plane!"

> "This is the tower--don't panic we'll talk you through this. What is your height and position."

"I'm 5'7" and in the front seat."

> "Ok. Repeat after me: Our Father, who art in heaven..."
posted by brenton at 9:44 AM on May 1, 2013 [6 favorites]


Back in the 80s my brother-in-law the air traffic controller (also a pilot) had a situation where a couple were flying in their small plane and the man, the pilot, had a heart attack. His wife had never flown. My BIL contacted local law enforcement who closed a section of highway, and he was able to talk the woman through landing the plane safely on that highway. He said she was surprisingly calm until the plane actually touched down, at which point she just started screaming uncontrollably.
posted by kinnakeet at 11:07 AM on May 1, 2013


Here's one from last year: Pilot dies at controls; Wife, 80, lands plane
posted by exogenous at 1:00 PM on May 1, 2013


Similar one from 2009, I think: radar and radio of a guy who had some experience with light aircraft having to land something a bit bigger when his pilot died suddenly. ATC talks him through it.
posted by pw201 at 4:01 PM on May 1, 2013


What's telling to me (as a low-time VFR SEL Private Pilot) is that the video at the bottom is captioned "one of the hardest airplanes you can fly" and it's a little single-engine high-wing taildragger.

Of course Google has an opinion (and it's different than "the hardest plan to land", which is a little more apropos here), but in my book the hardest plane to land is the one in which you don't know the controls, and you don't know the speeds.


Taildraggers are easy to fly. They're hard to fly WELL.

Landing them is a little different. Much easier on grass than pavement, in my opinion.
posted by Thistledown at 2:03 PM on May 2, 2013


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