Think You Could Land A Plane In An Emergency? Here’s Why You’re Wrong

Don't get cocky in the cockpit.

Think You Could Land A Plane In An Emergency? Here’s Why You’re Wrong

Image: NBC

We’ve all been guilty of massively overestimating our own abilities, especially those that have never been put to the test in real life, residing purely in our overactive and overconfident imaginations. A new survey has asked Americans whether they think they could land a plane, but one pilot is out to humble them.

Pilots aren’t perfect. In fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that one Air India pilot attracted the wrong kind of attention after inviting his girlfriend to the cockpit for a drink… One thing they are pretty good at, however, is emergency landings.

And it’s a skill they’re uniquely able to handle. Years of extensive training goes into becoming a pilot, and a sizeable chunk of that specifically goes into planning for the very worst. Alas, that hasn’t stopped a shocking proportion of American civilians from thinking they could have a crack themselves…

A recent YouGov poll conducted in the US revealed that nearly a third of the 20,063 adults surveyed believed they could safely land a passenger aeroplane in an emergency, relying only on the assistance of air traffic control.

WATCH: If your plane has a bloody big hole in it, I wouldn’t even bother boarding in the first place.

This next part will surprise you significantly less: while almost half the male respondents claimed to be up to the job, a relatively humble 20% of women made the same claim. The clinical name for this type of baseless bravado is the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby people’s incompetence at something actually allows them to massively overestimate their potential.

Thankfully, one man who really knows his stuff has stepped up to humble the self-inflated masses: founder of the Ask the Pilot blog and commercial air pilot Patrick Smith reckons there’s “zero percent chance” of someone pulling it off.

Brett D. Venhuizen, chair of the aviation department at the University of North Dakota, confirmed that it would be extremely challenging for someone with no flight experience to land an aircraft. Why? Well, allow us to explain…

The passenger would first have to gain entry to the cockpit, which have effectively become fortresses in a post-9/11 world. If they got inside – and its a big “if” – they would have to adjust the seat so that they can reach the rudder pedals. Got any idea how to adjust a pilot’s seat? Me either…

The trouble doesn’t stop there. Cockpits are filled with masses of unlabelled buttons. If you accidentally switch off the autopilot, you’re basically done for. The next challenge is locating the headset, if it’s not cradling the out-of-action pilot’s head. And after all of that? You’ve got to get in touch with air traffic control.

Locating the correct radio frequency is nigh-on impossible for the untrained but – you can thank us later for this – the emergency frequency 121.5 can help. Although air traffic controllers aren’t typically qualified to instruct a step-by-step landing themselves, they may be able to track down someone who can.

Pilot Patrick Smith, the man who’s here to put you back in your box. Image: @AskThePilot

Now the hard part really starts: You’ll need to configure the aircraft for touchdown, adjust the altitude and power settings, deploy the flaps, slats, and landing gear. Even if you nail all that, the plane drops over 1,000 feet per minute and approaches the runway at speeds in excess of 160mph… good luck.

Don’t get me wrong, I admire anyone who has the self-confidence to think they could pull this off. In fact, I’d pay very good money for that kind of belief in myself. However, there’s a lot to be said for humility, and even more to be said for keeping your pilot off the booze and on his feet in the first place…