Of jet aircraft with sufficient range to cross the Atlantic on a full tank of fuel, which is easiest to fly?

More specifically:

The required range is from New York's JFK Airport, to Shannon Airport, which is just over 3000 miles.

Cost of the aircraft is irrelevant for my purposes, as my fictional protagonist intends to steal one. So from that perspective it could equally well be a Learjet or a 747. However, he is a novice pilot with minimum training. Is a smaller jet easier to fly?

The story is set in 1986, so it needs to be a plane that would be available then. But pointers to suitable aircraft nowadays would still be useful; I can backtrack to contemporary equivalents.

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    $\begingroup$ Will he steal the plane with a full tank of fuel, or at least enough for the flight? If not, and he doesn't have a way of also stealing fuel, the cost of the fuel will be a major factor. $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Jan 15 at 4:15
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    $\begingroup$ Jet fuel was about $0.50/gal in 1990 (transportgeography.org/contents/chapter5/air-transport/…), so much less than now, but the cost will still be significant, especially considering that $0.50 in 1990 is 1.04 in 2021. $\endgroup$
    – Someone
    Jan 15 at 4:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Someone Right, yes, for the sake of plot convenience, he finds a plane that has a full tank of fuel. $\endgroup$
    – rwallace
    Jan 15 at 4:25
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps a Ryan NYP, single pilot, easy to fly, pretty simple controls, can make the flight, however, its not a jet... $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Feb 3 at 3:38
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    $\begingroup$ Sadly this only fulfils your "easy to fly" criteria. Max range is ~1200nm and definitely not 1980s, but just in case your question has piqued any interested in small, easy to fly jets - this is a beauty. Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet. 6/7 seats, single engine, can be flown by a single pilot, starts with a single button press, has an "auto-land" button for the passengers to push if the pilot becomes incapable... $\endgroup$ Feb 3 at 11:45

3 Answers 3


I'm not too familiar with business jets of the 1980s, but from an airliner perspective, that would probably be the 757 or 767. A single pilot could easily manage to fly either one.

However, if you're trying to go for keeping it real, a "novice pilot with minimal training" (by which I assume you mean someone taking flying lessons in a Cessna)...not a chance. Wouldn't even be able to figure out how to get the thing started...taxi it to the runway and take off without crashing it would be a whole different story, to say nothing about managing to land it. The entire idea is just absurd, I'm sorry to say.

That would be true for any jet, not just an airliner. We're talking exponentially more complex airplanes than one your protagonist would be learning to fly in. Just navigating it across the ocean would be far beyond the abilities of a novice student pilot, and figuring out how to program the FMC or even understanding how to initialize the IRS (or even knowing what a FMC or an IRS is in the first place) would be like a 7 year old trying to read Attic Greek. You might just as well ask a novice pilot out in orbit in the Space Shuttle to get it back on the ground in one piece.

BUT...authors need poetic license, so if you're going to gloss over that bit of detail...the 767-200 was in service in 1986. The 757 was also in service, but there weren't as many of them around in the US until more like the late 80s. Regardless, both the 767-200 and the 757 would be flyable by one pilot, they are very automated (quite advanced for their day), both could easily do a JFK-SNN leg without even needing a full tank of gas. Based on my experience flying both, I'd take a stab at saying you could do that leg with something like 50k to 60k pounds of gas in the 757, maybe more like 75k to 85k pounds in a 767-200.

Any other type of airplane in that time period (747, L-1011, DC-10) that would be able to do transatlantic flights would have been a 3 pilot airplane with a flight engineer panel that would pose a significant problem for a single pilot to operate. It wouldn't be insurmountable if the pilot really knew what he was doing, but it raises the bar even higher for a "novice" pilot.

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    $\begingroup$ The Airbus A310 and A300-600 were also available in 1986. Both only require 2 pilots (no flight engineer) just like the 757/767 and can easily fly between US east coast and Ireland. $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Feb 3 at 7:32

I agree with Chris above. The B757/767 is a user friendly aeroplane for experienced pilots to operate.

I reckon you could teach a competent multi-engine IFR pilot to fly one to a basic airline First Officer standard in a few months.

However a novice pilot would just be overwhelmed if he or she could get in one and even if someone could get the engines started and manage to taxi it, everything would happen so fast on takeoff and initial climb that a bad outcome would be highly likely.

A successful manual landing would also be highly unlikely. The human brain can easily be overloaded if ‘thrown in the deep end’.

If the fictional character could get some instruction in a real airline simulator the scenario would be more plausible.

A private pilot or advanced student with some simulator training could plausibly learn how to program the FMC and get a B767 into the air, get the autopilot on and fly across the Atlantic.

The aircraft will do a full automatic landing if the airport has an ILS and is set up and operated correctly, but it would take at least a few days of simulator training to be able to do a complete flight.

Using a Microsoft flight simulator with a B767 add-on, and there is a good one, could be used to learn some of what would be needed.

The desktop simulation is good enough to learn how to get the a/c going from ‘cold and dark’, program the FMC, use the autopilot and quite a bit more but translating that to the real aeroplane for a complete real flight would be a big stretch. Implausable IMHO.

Also the good B767 add on for the MS flight sim was not available until about 2000.

BTW, it is plausible to me that the 9-11 murderers chose the 767 and 757 because that add-on allowed them to learn the FMC, autopilot and glareshield Mode Control Panel. But their plans did not include taxiing, takeoff, cleanup, approach and landing.

I would not like my family to be in the back of a jet that I had no experience of operating if I was forced at gun point to do it by myself, and I have 22 years of jet airliner experience.

A cousin of mine who was an Air Force maintenance engineer got his father into a B707 simulator at least a few times in the '90s. (Not in the USA). They flew it for hours, with motion off. If they could do it, so could your fictional character. You don't need the hydraulic operated motion (which would be bound to attract attention) on to run the software and have a realistic trainer.

Around 2008 my sim buddy and I went to another country for a B767 type rating. After the ground course we were scheduled for sim training but our (own airline) instructor was delayed.

The technicians were happy for us to fly the simulator with the motion off (no wear and tear) and we started our own training. We had the manuals and I had a Microsoft flight sim with the 767 add-on on a laptop in the hotel room. This helped a lot and we had already flown other jets.


I can’t think of any aircraft that would fit that criteria. Airliners from that era required a three man crew to operate. And very few business jets had that kind of range. About the only business jets I can think from that era that would satisfy those needs would be a Gulfstream III or IV. And even there, a novice pilot with a minimum training would probably not be able to operate that kind of an airplane successfully for a transatlantic flight.


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