In modern two-engine planes, if one pilot is disabled, it's my understanding that the remaining pilot can safely fly and land the plane. But what about in aircraft like the 727, which had two pilots and a flight engineer? Assuming the FE had flight training, could they land the plane if the two pilots up front were incapacitated? More generally, what is the minimum number of pilots required to safely land a jet with a three-person cockpit?


You've asked a question the answer to which is in large part a matter of opinion. Also, which three-person cockpit aircraft you're talking about also enters in, as does the stage of flight, as do the conditions at the airport of intended landing. All this, in my opinion, means the answer is "maybe" insofar as an FE who had had flight training be able to get the airplane down safely, and the currency of the FEs piloting would be important as well.

As far as the minimum number of pilots required to safely land a jet with a three-person cockpit (a separate question really), one pilot and the FE can safely land the airplane. In a normal landing, the flying pilot is doing most of the pilot work. The non-flying pilot typically is doing the radio work and manipulating the gear and flap levers at the command of the flying pilot. Since pilots usually trade legs, both are used to doing all that needs to be done. If a non-flying pilot is not there, the flying pilot can easily reach the flap and gear controls, and he's used to manipulating them when acting as the non-flying pilot.

In the scenario of an FE leaving his seat and sitting in a pilot seat and performing the piloting, there is the problem that the FE panel generally cannot be reached from a pilot seat. To a degree, depending on the stage of flight, the FE could pre-set his panel for the landing.

Some years ago I wrote a novel (unpublished) in which I had a single pilot fly a 747. In the novel the pilot had fashioned a wooden pole long enough to reach the FE panel from the captain's seat. The pole had at one end an arrangement that allowed the pilot of manipulate the necessary switches and dials on the FE panel.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ So if a FE had become incapacitated on a 747-100,-200 would one of the two pilots have to go back and man his station? $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Dec 17 '16 at 0:06
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @TomMcW My solution to that scenario would be to first decide which pilot could best run the FE panel, and have him go back to the FE seat. The FE seat both rotates and slides forward and aft. For takeoff and landing, the seat is rotated to face forward and slid all the way forward. From that position, the FE can manipulate the thrust levers, the flap and gear levers (with a little stretch for the gear). Thus whomever is in the seat can easily perform the non-flying pilot duties. In cruise, the FE's work is intermittent, so you could move between a pilot seat and the FE seat. $\endgroup$ – Terry Dec 17 '16 at 0:25
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Terry How qualified are pilots at running the normal FE work? I have no idea how qualifications work in three-person cockpits! $\endgroup$ – gsnedders Dec 17 '16 at 15:07
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @gsnedders That's a separate question well worth asking in my opinion as a regular question. It's also one that to properly answer will greatly exceed the character limit of comments. So, if you post a question, "How able were pilots of three-man cockpits at running the normal FE work?" or some such, I'll be happy to answer. $\endgroup$ – Terry Dec 17 '16 at 20:46
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Terry Sure, didn't know how long the answer would be! Question is here. $\endgroup$ – gsnedders Dec 17 '16 at 23:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.