We’ve all seen a variation of the same scene in movies or on television: an airplane is cruising along at 30,000 feet when, suddenly, the pilot is put out of commission- either due to terrorists, a heart attack, or, most often, snakes. Suddenly, a flight attendant or passenger is called upon to land the plane, aided by the patient voice of someone in a control tower. “See that red lever?” they’ll say. “Let it up gently.” Usually, the de facto pilot has nerves of steel and manages to make a safe, albeit bumpy, landing.
Because movies and television are always completely faithful to reality, and they never exaggerate for dramatic effect, it may seem as if this scene could actually happen in real life. Not so, says Patrick Smith in his newest “Ask the Pilot” column. If there’s a certified pilot sitting next to you, telling you just what to do and when, you might have some fighting chance, says Smith. But in any other circumstances, your future is a little more bleak:
“The chance of success: approximately zero percent. I reckon [you] would be highly fortunate just to locate a microphone switch and figure out how to communicate. Keeping the plane upright would in some ways be the easiest part. It’s the small stuff that presents the greatest challenge: working the radios, dialing in changes to the FMS (flight management system) and autoflight panels, changing speeds and altitudes. Dictating such tasks from afar would be difficult enough. For the hapless passenger pressed into duty, getting them right would be even more challenging.”
Take a look at what you’re up against here.