Presuming that all other means of controlling an aircraft are unavailable to a pilot, can a pilot land a commercial airliner safely by using only the throttles and are pilots trained to do so?

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    $\begingroup$ Check out United Airlines Flight 232 on Wikipedia. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Airlines_Flight_232 $\endgroup$
    – JScarry
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ @JScarry Doesn't really meet the criteria of "safely" in the question ;) $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Pilots are definitely not trained for that situation. $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ The realistic answer is no, and I very much doubt such training has ever been in any approved simulator training curriculum. Certainly I never received such training. It's probable, though, that people have played around with this when they've had simulator time to burn, but I've never heard of anybody succeeding. About the best that you could reasonably hope for would be to be able to choose where you're going to have the accident, which is basically what they did for the United flight mentioned by @JScarry. I doubt anybody could do much better than that United crew. $\endgroup$
    – Terry
    Commented Jun 17, 2017 at 23:59
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    $\begingroup$ Related: What alternative methods are there for controlling a plane when flight control surfaces have failed? and NASA Manual Manipulation of Engine Throttles for Emergency Flight Control and other Burcham / Fullerton papers. $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 0:42

2 Answers 2


Not safely, no. According to the Wikipedia article on UA Flight 232, with only throttle control, it is impossible to "control airspeed independent from sink rate", because there's no control of angle of attack.

In 232's case, that meant:

On final descent, the aircraft was going 220 knots and sinking at 1,850 feet per minute, while a safe landing would require 140 knots and 300 feet per minute

I.e., even going 50% above safe landing speed the descent rate was 6 times too high. This is nowhere near safe, and it was something of a miracle that 185 out of the 296 souls aboard survived.

After that accident, the NTSB decided training for such a case wasn't practical.

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    $\begingroup$ 1500 fpm is 15 knots for those of us curious about the sink rate vs airspeed trade off. $\endgroup$
    – RoboKaren
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 19:12

One successful landing using differential throttle alone has been made by an airliner (actually an A300 cargo variant). With hydraulics out due to a SAM missile hit, they brought the plane down to a safe landing with no further damage, using differential throttle alone.

DHL Baghdad landing

  • $\begingroup$ Not quite "no further damage" - the engines were destroyed by ingesting sand and razor wire after the aircraft ran off the runway. $\endgroup$
    – Vikki
    Commented Feb 24, 2019 at 4:01

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