I am a filmmaker who made a film most pilots have seen (405) http://youtu.be/Tpx6o4gvmXE

I am working a new production that also takes place aboard an airliner. In it a telekinetic little girl is overriding the flight controls. But it is thought to be some sort of electronic control interference for a short time. Are there procedures a flight crew would follow in the initial stages if their controls seemed "possessed?"

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    $\begingroup$ Related to aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/2292/… TL;DR hacking an airplane in real life is not realistic... but neither is an airplane landing on a Jeep. Pilots don't have a "If instruments are possessed" checklist, but individual instruments giving erroneous readings is something every instrument pilot trains for. It is mostly a matter of cross-checking. Some things can be shutdown (by pulling the fuse/breaker) if it is detected to be faulty. $\endgroup$ Oct 27 '14 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ I think if you listed a few instruments you were particularly interested in and asked what the procedures are if they were to become faulty, that might help generate some higher quality answers. $\endgroup$
    – Jay Carr
    Oct 28 '14 at 1:36
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    $\begingroup$ controls and instrumentation do not "seem possessed": either they are working or not. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Oct 28 '14 at 14:50
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    $\begingroup$ @BruceBranit: Yes, physically fighting the controls is what they'd do. They wouldn't really have time to think why. $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Oct 28 '14 at 18:04
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    $\begingroup$ You know, it might be a bit more interesting if the girl decided to make the instruments lie to the pilots. Pilots rely very very heavily on instruments to guide them, and if they don't know they are faulty, would follow them in IFR conditions. If the GPS started lying, or the VOR started lying or the artificial horizon started lying...and they followed it...that could be an interesting story. Especially since eventually, one would suppose, they would start to suspect that something is wrong with the instruments (at which point they can start trouble shooting.) Just my two cents. $\endgroup$
    – Jay Carr
    Oct 28 '14 at 18:05

There are procedures for when some instrument indicates false values for how to find which one is not to be trusted and what to do if particular instrument cannot be trusted.

But for primary flight controls, not really. If the aircraft is flying on autopilot and initiates unexpected manoeuvre, the pilot will hit the autopilot disconnect button and take over manually. But beyond that, the pilot will just try more pressure on the controls to get the plane where he needs to. And won't really have much time to think about the reason.

You may want to look at the incidents and accidents caused by B737 rudder reversal. The rudder suddenly deflected in opposite direction than commanded and the pilots were not really able to understand what is happening in the short time they had to react. Somewhat similar incidents where the rudder failures of B747 (Northwest 85, here is captains account of the incident; there was one other similar occurrence). Again, the pilots just fought the controls; finding out what happened was not really possible and wouldn't help much anyway.

So I'd say there is really no time to "think it to be some sort of electronic control interference". The pilots would simply disconnect autopilot (if it didn't disconnect already due to pressure on controls) and then they would fight the controls.

Note that in all aircraft except Airbus A320 and newer and Boeing 777 and 787 the control column is mechanically (cables in smaller aircraft, hydraulically with some kind of power amplification on larger ones) connected to the control surfaces. So the pilots would be directly fighting the telekinetic power with their muscles. On Boeing 777 and 787 there is electronic intermediary, but the link is still bidirectional and control column position still corresponds to control surface position.

Only Airbus A320 and newer has the side-stick connected to a computer that calculates the final command from the pilot input and inertial reference. In this case the telekinet would either try to move the surfaces, but then would be fighting the computer, which has all power of the hydraulic system to it's disposal, or would try to move the side-stick under pilot's hand, but then the other pilot could press control priority button to take over. Of course even on Airbus the pilots can pull the circuit breaker and disable the computer, but then they are left with trim wheels and rudder pedals that both do have direct hydraulic links.


I think there are a variety of ways to do what you want.

  1. You can have the girl take over the autopilot, rather than the controls, and prevent the pilot from disconnecting the autopilot.

  2. Or you can have her physically take over the controls themselves (telekinesis), and the autopilot will automatically disconnect when pressure is applied to the controls

  3. Or you can have it be a fly-by-wire aircraft (hello Airbus), and have the girl take over the fly-by-wire system, bypassing both the autopilot and the controls, and taking control of the control surfaces herself

you'll also have to figure out what you want to do regarding the throttles. Most passenger jets have autothrottles, but if someone is flying the plane by hand, and there is a change in altitude, then the throttles may need to be adjusted.

Some of this is going to depend on whether the girl has power over physical objects, or the ability to control electronic energy, or both

IIRC, there is an episode of Firefly where River takes over the ship using her telepathic powers. Might be worth consulting.

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    $\begingroup$ Love the Firefly reference. I worked on VFX for that show. $\endgroup$ Oct 28 '14 at 18:58

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