How to: Land a Plane
Are you ready for the ultimate test of grace under pressure? Because it’s time to land a plane. By yourself. This is the one, the ultimate—this will separate the MacGyvers from the MacGrubers. First things first: you should probably never actually do this. This is so dangerous and out of our league that we consulted Phil Childerhose, Chief Flight Instructor at Toronto’s Island Air Flight School. The first and last word from Phil: “In no way should anyone jump into an aircraft and expect to land without serious injury to themselves, others or the aircraft.”
But let’s suppose the pilot has, shall we say, “had the fish” (Leslie Nielsen, we surely miss you), and it’s all up to you to get this plane on the ground. How are you going to get it done? “Don’t panic, stay calm,” says Childerhose. “This way you can think about what can be done.”
For starters, make sure the plane is level. Here’s our Master Flight Instructor: “If the aircraft is in low-to-zero visibility, there are four instruments that should be used: the Attitude Indicator (artificial horizon), Airspeed Indicator, Altimeter and Heading Indicator (directional gyro).” Use the yoke (you knew it wasn’t called a wheel, didn’t you?) and the throttle (forward for more power, back for less) to steer and correct the speed.
“All gauges of the aircraft should be kept in the green, especially the airspeed indicator. Remember, green is good,” says Childerhose. When flying the plane, “don’t use large or jerky movements of the controls. Don’t climb, descend or turn too quickly.” If there’s good visibility, “look outside mostly,” says Childerhose, and trust the visual references.
But you knew it wouldn’t be that easy—you’re going to have to fight every natural male impulse in your body…and call for help: “Dial in the international emergency frequency 121.5. Use the headset and mic in the airplane and start calling ‘Mayday,’” says Childerhose. There are also built-in emergency mechanisms to make your predicament known: “By entering 7700 in the transponder, air traffic controllers will see your aircraft immediately.”
The best-case scenario at this point is radio help—if you get a response from an air traffic controller, answer their questions and listen to their instructions, and they should be able to help you land safely, or safely engage the Autopilot. If no help appears, it’s time to prepare for landing. Our flight instructor has a checklist:
“Check your fuel quantity. Then, find a suitable landing location like a large airport, with long, wide runways and lots of emergency equipment. Airplanes in the area will get out of your way even if they don’t have radio contact with you.”
Remember to reduce the plane’s speed and altitude gradually as you reach your runway. Deploy your landing gear and flaps to help create drag. Before landing, “crack open the doors, make sure your seat belts/harnesses are on securely and you know how to exit the aircraft if the cockpit fills with thick black smoke.” Reassuring, no?
As you touch down, you’ll want to flare (pull the nose of the plane up slightly), landing on your rear wheels and then bringing the nose wheel down to the ground. As soon as you’ve touched pavement, pull back on the throttle, step on the brakes and start figuring out how you’ll embellish this story over beers tonight. Congratulations: You’ve just landed a plane.