World’s Strangest

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Could a Novice Land a Jumbo Jet?

Have you ever seen the movie Airport 1975? It was a disaster movie set on a 747 that had suffered a midair collision. The pilots were dead, leaving only a flight attendant to try to keep the plane in the air. Could an untrained person fly a jetliner? Popular Science asked Dale Wright of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association:

Assuming you remain composed, the biggest factor in a successful landing is whether or not the plane is equipped with an auto-land system to control the throttles and, as its name suggests, land the plane. Not all large commercial aircraft have auto-land, however, and without it, you would be forced to disconnect autopilot to land. At that point, says Chris Dancy, a spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the most likely mistake an amateur would make would be to fly too low, or too slow, which could lead to an aerodynamic stall, in which the airflow around the wing is no longer smooth enough to keep the plane in the air.

Even if the plane has autoland, setting down a 400-ton jet is still an enormous task. After activating the system, you’d have to engage the wing flaps and the landing gear and continually input new speed settings as the plane descended. But if you can dial in all the right numbers (aided by your pal in the control tower), once the plane is about three miles from touching down, the auto-land system kicks in and does the rest of the work, letting you sit back and enjoy the view.

Without auto-land, on touching down you would have to hit the brakes, which are controlled by way of a complicated foot pedal system, and reverse the thrust of the engines (if the runway is short) to stop the plane, Wright says. He guesses that a novice has a “less than 1 percent chance of landing and keeping [the plane] on the runway and not hurting anybody. And that’s on a good day.”

Link | Image: Universal Pictures

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