(CNN) — It’s a nightmare scenario: the pilot of your flight is incapacitated and someone has to sit in his seat and land the plane. Could you do it?
The incident is just the latest in a series of equally happy “talk-down” landings, in which a passenger landed a plane safely with the help of someone from the ground or on another plane.
These events have a common feature: they all had to do with Cessna aircraft.
These small planes are the best choice in flight schools because they are sturdy and relatively intuitive to control, and as a result they have become popular with flying enthusiasts.
A chilling precedent
A passenger with no flying experience, with the help of an air traffic controller, landed a private jet safely at a Florida airport after the pilot became incapacitated. The pilot’s condition is unknown at this time. That reports CNN’s Pete Muntean.
According to Douglas Moss, an FAA-certified flight instructor and former United Airlines pilot, it is very difficult to land a plane without experience, but under certain circumstances it is certainly possible, as the events above demonstrate.
First, a motivated person who realizes that he or she is in a life-or-death situation. Second, help from a flight instructor on the radio to talk to them every step of the way. And finally, a natural talent for controlling a mechanical device.
“For example, being able to quickly adapt to and understand the relationships between the aircraft’s flight control equipment, such as the rudder and throttle, and their aerodynamic responses,” Moss says. But if one of these conditions is missing, he adds, things can get ugly.
On larger planes like airplanes, however, even such an optimal scenario could fall short, according to Patrick Smith, a pilot who flies Boeing 767 aircraft and the author of the popular book and blog “Ask the Pilot.”
Smith believes that a person with no flying experience who takes over the controls of a commercial passenger aircraft at high altitude has no chance of a successful outcome.
“A non-pilot would not even have a clue how to operate the communication radios, let alone fly and land the jet,” he says.
Most successful unqualified emergency landings involved Cessna light aircraft.
LINDSEY PARNABY/AFP via Getty Images
No passenger has ever landed a plane, but that’s mostly because no one has ever had to try.
The flight attendant, Andreas Prodromou, had remained conscious with the help of a portable oxygen cylinder, but was not allowed access to the cockpit until minutes before the engines ignited.
A slightly more favorable scenario would be one where the aircraft is already configured to land and is aligned with the runway, rather than at cruising altitude.
“The odds are still very much against you, but the results will vary from person to person and plane to plane,” Smith says.
“Where exactly is the plane from the runway in terms of altitude, distance and speed? And how accurate are this person’s interpretations of what the plane is doing? A lot of it would also come down to luck.”
Does trust help?
A full-spec flight simulator provides a useful test of whether you could land an aircraft.
YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP via Getty Images
What about flight simulation programs, such as the popular Microsoft Flight Simulator? They can give you an edge, Smith says.
“An experienced hobbyist might save the day. But even the most advanced hobby sims aren’t quite realistic. The devil is in the details — there are switches, sequences, and system quirks that you don’t really see, but can make a difference on life or death in the scenarios we’re talking about.”
“Despite telling us they know landing an airplane requires a lot of expertise, people who watched the video were 28.6% more confident in their ability to land an airplane without dying, compared to humans who haven’t watched it,” says Kayla. Jordan, one of the authors of the study.
This is due to the fact that when beginners learn just a little bit about a complex task, Jordan says, their confidence in their performance quickly increases, a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.
In the study, this confidence bias appears to be worse in men than in women.
“Regardless of whether they watched the video or not, we found that men were about 12% more confident in their ability to land the plane than women,” Jordan says. “This finding is in line with existing research showing that men are more confident in their knowledge and skills than women, even in high-stakes environments such as running or diving.”
There’s an easy way to test this misguided confidence and accurately determine whether a novice can indeed land a plane, says Patrick Smith: Use a professional flight simulator, the kind that airlines use to train their pilots.
“Put a person in a real full-motion aviation simulator at 35,000 feet, unaided, and see what happens,” he says. “It won’t be pretty.”
Top image credit: ERIC PIERMONT/AFP via Getty Images