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I'm assuming that almost everyone on this website has seen the movie Airplane at least a few times...

Last time I was watching it I was wondering how plausible the actual act of having a single engine prop pilot, with a lot of training (maybe comparable to a modern day aerobatic pilot), land a quad engine passenger jet?

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    $\begingroup$ We already have this question aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/8986/… $\endgroup$ – usernumber Feb 1 '15 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ Not a dupe -- this is the case of say a PPL with an IR and several hundred to a couple thousand hours TT having to take over, vs. someone with no aeronautical experience whatsoever. (Or, @voretaq7's flying commercial and both the flight crew conk, now what?) $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Feb 2 '15 at 1:11
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    $\begingroup$ @UnrecognizedFallingObject the question may be different, but the answer's the same. $\endgroup$ – raptortech97 Feb 2 '15 at 2:33
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    $\begingroup$ @SentryRaven The names and basic goals of the phases are the same, but that's about where the similarity ends. I fly SEP, but if I find myself at the controls of an airliner, my most useful knowledge as a pilot will probably be knowing how to declare an emergency and call ATC on the radio asking that they get me a pilot for that type on the radio ASAP to explain how to set up an autoland. $\endgroup$ – reirab Feb 2 '15 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ An experienced single engine pilot is with experience "comparable to a modern day aerobatic pilot" is NOT the "passenger, without any previous flight experience" as written in the "duplicate". Here more maybe a question "how difficult is for a good pilot to fly unknown type of the aircraft" $\endgroup$ – h22 Apr 23 '16 at 17:55
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I can relate to you the true story of my uncle who successfully landed a large WWII aircraft with no flight training.

He was the flight surgeon on board a large aircraft that got heavily shot up. Hostile fire killed or severely injured every crew member.

He moved the pilot out of his seat, and contacted a control tower. With the expert help of the control tower operators, he successfully landed the aircraft.

After the war, he had a private practice in his home where he saw patients. For patients too ill to come to him, he performed house calls. He continued to perform house calls until a short time before he passed.

I have always thought his life story would form a compelling foundation for an inspiring movie.

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    $\begingroup$ This does not answer the question as the question asks if a person who has had considerable flight experience on small plane can fly a commercial-type plane in an emergency. $\endgroup$ – SMS von der Tann Apr 23 '16 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ If a person with no flight experience could successfully land a large aircraft with the help of skilled control tower personnel, then it is reasonable to think that someone with considerable small plane flight experience could possibly perform a similar task, given the same type of assistance. Unless, of course, their experience somehow gets in the way; that's a possibility, but it seems unlikely. $\endgroup$ – RockPaperLizard Apr 24 '16 at 0:59
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    $\begingroup$ @RockPaperLizard: Especially as the modern aircraft would a) have more aids (such as autopilot/autoland), and b) probably fly better, not being shot full of holes. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 24 '16 at 5:34
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    $\begingroup$ @RockPaperLizard WWII-era aircraft are closer to what private pilots fly than they are to the airliners of today. I could probably land, say, a B-17 if I really needed to, probably without even getting help from ATC. Flying a modern jet that flies around Mach 0.9 is quite another story, though. $\endgroup$ – reirab Apr 26 '16 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf That assumes you actually know how to use said aids (I'm a pilot and I wouldn't know how to use most of the ones on a modern airliner.) As far as the holes are concerned, unless they've, say, managed to knock off part of the wing or control surfaces or knocked out an engine or two, they wouldn't really affect the flight of most WWII-era planes all that much. Several of those had intentional holes in the fuselage already (such as for guns.) They weren't pressurized back then. $\endgroup$ – reirab Apr 26 '16 at 18:08
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Yes.

The question will have subjective answers and this is my opinion. The basics of flying an airplane doesn't change from a single engine airplane to a big airliner.

The concept of lining up on final, flaring into the touchdown attitude and setting it down is exactly the same. There are some things that are different; for example, retractible landing gear, leading edge slats, spoilers and thrust reversers.

Many of the differences can be overcome by talking with ATC and an instructor / pilot trained to fly that airplane through the radio. The biggest challenge would be knowing when to flare as you are sitting much higher in an airliner than in a single engine airplane. This can be overcome with listening to the radar altimeter and flaring as directed by the instructor.

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  • $\begingroup$ Reverse as a concept might be familiar to a SEP pilot -- I believe the Cessna 206/208/210 have it for instance, although those are generally business/fleet aircraft. The main thrust of the answer makes sense though -- the basic controls and instruments are standardized enough that a PPL/IR would be able to make some sense of what's going on, and the rest can be handled by someone with a type rating on the other end of the radio. $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Apr 24 '16 at 18:37
  • $\begingroup$ @UnrecognizedFallingObject Yeah, I'd say getting the "someone with a type rating on the other end of the radio" is the most important part. Hopefully, they can just talk you through setting up an autoland. $\endgroup$ – reirab Apr 26 '16 at 18:10
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I'd share a personal experience: a few years ago I got the chance to fly a Boeing 737 simulator (the real thing, not the PC simulator!) At that time the only real aircraft I've flown was a Cessna 172. I managed to land on Kai Tak airport in the simulator on my very first attempt to land a (simulated) 737. I was so nervous that I totally forgot to call for the landing checklist, and the instructor helped me with the gear and flaps, but I was the sole manipulator of the controls and I landed with no automation whatsoever, not even ILS.

How? There were a few factors that came into play:

  • I learnt how planes fly in ground school. Big planes fly just the same way as smaller planes, only with larger wings and more powerful engines.
  • I knew how to manipulate the flight controls. It came as a bit of a surprise that the controls feel heavier than I'd expect, but they behaved the same anyway.
  • My enthusiasm in aviation meant I have learnt beyond the Cessna 172 from books, online articles and PC simulation experience. I was not able to identify every single switch and knob in the cockpit, but I knew enough to fly the plane in that situation.

My answer? If it's a perfectly flyable aircraft (no failures), calm weather, then Yes, definitely! Here's what I'd do if it happens in real life:

  1. Aviate, navigate, communicate. No matter what happens, always remember that. That means the first thing to do after entering the cockpit is not to find the radio buttons and call for help; the first thing is to access all primary flight instruments and make sure we're flying.
  2. Radio for help. Declare an emergency on the last radio frequency. If no one responds, tune to 121.5 and try again.
  3. Request a long runway with calm weather. Unless it's something like a A380 or Boeing 747, chances are there would be a runway long enough so you don't have to worry about hitting the touchdown spot.
  4. Setup autoland, if available. Autoland requires suitable equipment both on the plane and on the ground. If it's not available, given a long enough final (say 20 miles), I think I'd feel comfortable hand flying the aircraft down.
  5. Have the emergency trucks standing by. In the event I crashed during landing, gear collapsed or whatever, everyone'd be ready to help.
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  • $\begingroup$ To step this down a level, I did 30 hours on Cessna 152s at 17, having spent a good few hours on basic (Atari ST!) flight simulators and being keen on the physics and engineering of aircraft. With a few exceptions (odd aero effects like stalling in a steep turn and in particular the ground effect on landing) I felt very at home with the basic flight and controls, in retrospect I'd have given myself a 50/50 chance of an landing without damage to the aircraft if thrown into it from scratch. How this scales up is the question though. $\endgroup$ – The Geoff Apr 27 '16 at 0:33
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My dad, an experienced pilot, was once given the chance to fly a 727 simulator (full motion, the works). He stalled it 40 feet over the runway and the simulator came down hard enough on the stops to hurt his back and scramble the gyros.

That's only one data point, but any rate, the crash would have been survivable, so there's that.

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Like anything in aviation, it depends,

There, to date, have been no documented cases of this happening. There have been a few "talk down landings" in smaller aircraft with low time or inexperienced pilots. Similarly there is at least one documented case of an air force B-1B Pilot assisting in landing an airliner he had no experience flying but you can argue he had plenty of jet time. People have tried it in simulators of course but a sim is a sim. Of course things like cross winds and runway length will play into the success rate of an event like this. I will say that the margin of error on these things is small and on a calm day I'm sure it's possible. I would hesitate to give a hard yes to this question since there are far to many factors to take into account but I do feel under the correct circumstances it could be done.

On a small side note, since this question is about Quad Engine planes (747, A380 etc) considering the distances those planes typically fly it's more than likely that there is one if not two relief crews on the plane so the chances of everyone becoming incapacitated and requiring a passenger step up to the plate is slim to none.

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    $\begingroup$ That headline is wrong. The B-1 pilot did not land the airliner. The FO (who was presumably typed on the aircraft in question) landed it while the B-1 pilot presumably did normal PNF tasks. Also, a B-1 pilot will presumably be much more familiar with turbine engines and the level of automation found in a modern airliner than a typical private pilot would be. $\endgroup$ – reirab Apr 26 '16 at 18:15
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct I realized that after adding the video link, ill alter my answer to reflect that he only assisted. $\endgroup$ – Dave Apr 26 '16 at 19:08

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