I can’t help it whenever I am in a plane to have the thought, “What if something happens to the pilot and he couldn’t land the plane, what would I do?” Now I know the chances of that happening are pretty slim but “What if?”
Well these thoughts got me into actually looking how to land a plane and if you are like me, you can relax, it’s actually not too difficult to get that plane down safely as long as you follow a few simple steps.
Keep the Plane Level
As you enter the cockpit, you need to sit down on the seat to the left as it will give you easier access to some of the instruments you’ll need to fly. If this isn’t possible, fear not, just take the seat to the right as you can still get the plane down safely.
Look out of the window and take a look as to whether the plane is in a dive. If it appears to be level, don’t touch the flight controls as the autopilot is most likely on and there’s no need to interfere. If, however, the airplane is racing towards the ground or in a steep turn, then you need to use the stick or wheel to bring it back to wings-level flight. If you have ever flown a plane in a computer game, the controls are the same, you pull back on the wheel to make the airplane climb, push forward to make it descend, and turn it right or left to turn.
If you are in the clouds and can’t tell the attitude of the aircraft (that is, its relation to the horizon), then it will be necessary to use the attitude indicator, also referred to as the artificial horizon. This will give a representation of the aircraft in relation to the ground and sky. If you’re on a jet of some sort, chances are high that it will be displayed on the screen directly in front of you. The “w” shape in the middle represents the wings of the aircraft, the brown represents ground, and the blue represents sky. So if you see half brown, half blue it means you are in level flight which is what you want. If you see anything else, then make corrections with the stick as necessary to line up the wings of the aircraft with the horizon line.
Make a Radio Call
Once the plane is in control you need to contact Air Traffic Control (ATC) over the radio to explain the situation and ask for help. The safest method of doing so is to use the hand-held radio which is normally mounted to the left of the pilot’s seat just below the side window. Use it just like you would use a CB radio, push to talk and release to listen.
Try making a call on the radio frequency currently selected and see if you get a response. Say “Mayday” and state who you are and what has happened. Don’t worry about radio etiquette, it’s an emergency so just use plain English and tell them you don’t know what you’re doing and need some help.
Remember to release the mic button after speaking. If no one responds, try changing the VHF radio frequency to 121.5 MHz (this is known as “Guard” and is monitored by everyone). The radio unit will normally be located on the center pedestal in between the pilot’s and co-pilot’s seats or directly in front of you on the center panel.
Do What They Tell You
They will then find somebody that knows the plane inside out who will walk you through the steps to land the plane. They will also be working in conjunction with ATC to navigate you to an airport where you will be able to land. As long as you follow their instructions to the letter everything should turn out just fine. You may not have the prettiest landing, but you’ll survive.
Get It on the Ground
Many modern jets actually have the capability to land themselves or at least get you lined up on the runway center line on a proper glide path so that you can take over at 50-100 feet off the ground. All you will have to manually do is:
- Pull up slightly on the stick just before touchdown so that the main gear hit first
- Fly the nosewheel to the ground (push the stick forward until the front touches down)
- Pull the throttles all the way back
- Step on the brakes, which are located on the tops of the rudder pedals down by your feet.
- If you find yourself veering off the runway, lightly step on the rudder pedals to steer yourself back to centerline
Notes, Warnings, Cautions
Great job, you’ve landed the plane!
Here are a few extra things that you should keep in mind.
- Getting the landing gear down before landing is obviously a key part of the process, but has been forgotten by countless pilots. The gear handle is almost always located just to the right of the center console on the front instrument panel, basically just above the left knee of the co-pilot if he were sitting there.
- In order to slow the aircraft to land you must employ various drag devices such as slats (normally only in very large aircraft) and flaps. These allow the airplane to maintain lift at slower airspeeds and allow you to keep the attitude level during a descent. These are generally found right next to the throttles.
- Slats, flaps, and landing gear all have a max speed at which they can be deployed. It’s not the end of the world if you overspeed them in an emergency situation, but it should be avoided.
- If you can find the airspeed indicator make sure that you keep it within the green arc while flying. Just like anything in life, green is good, yellow means caution and red means dead. If you get too slow you will lose lift and stall the aircraft.
- If you’re flying a commercial jet like a 737, a good rule of thumb is to keep it flying at about 200 knots if you don’t have flaps or gear extended, and 130 knots once you do and are making the approach to land. A smaller plane like a Cessna is stable on approach at speeds closer to 70 knots. Of course, if you’re talking to ATC ask them how fast you should go and they’ll hopefully be able to tell you.