Imagine this scenario: you’re on a plane, enjoying your journey to your holiday destination, when suddenly a flight attendant announces that both pilots are unable to fly the aircraft. They ask if there are any passengers who believe they could land the plane with assistance from air traffic control. Surprisingly, about one-third of adult Americans, and nearly 50% of male respondents, think they could safely land a passenger aircraft with guidance from air traffic control.
While there have been stories of passengers successfully landing small aircraft in emergencies, flying a larger commercial jet is a completely different challenge. Pilots spend the majority of their time monitoring autopilot systems, but takeoffs and landings are always performed manually. These tasks require precise control and coordination, as well as the ability to interpret various instruments and cues.
During takeoff, the pilot must pay close attention to multiple instruments and external cues while keeping the aircraft centered on the runway until it reaches lift-off speed. Once airborne, they must coordinate with air traffic control, follow a specific path, and maintain speed and direction while climbing. Landing is even more complex, involving precise control of the aircraft’s direction and descent rate.
To land successfully, a pilot must manage speed, gear and flap configuration, adhere to air traffic regulations, communicate with air traffic control, and complete various checklists. They must also accurately judge the aircraft’s height, reduce power, and adjust the rate of descent to land on the correct area of the runway.
Both takeoff and landing require extensive training and a range of skills that an untrained person does not possess. Pilots undergo years of training, starting with recreational and private licenses before obtaining a commercial license. They study aerodynamics, air law, meteorology, navigation, aircraft systems, and more. They also spend time learning about the specific aircraft they will be flying.
Training includes demonstrations by instructors, practice in small aircraft, and simulator sessions. After gaining experience, pilots transition to commercial aircraft and undergo additional training specific to the aircraft they will be flying.
While it is highly unlikely that an untrained person could successfully land a passenger aircraft with air traffic control’s help, advancements in technology have made aviation training more accessible. Flight simulation games and desktop flight simulators provide an immersive environment for pilots, students, and aviation enthusiasts to develop their skills and gain an appreciation for the immense skill pilots possess.
So, while you may not be able to land a real passenger plane, trying your hand at a flight simulator can give you a glimpse into the world of aviation and the challenges pilots face.