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If you find yourself in an airplane where the pilot has been incapacitated or has died, you may find these instructions helpful.

NOTE: This is a worst case scenario instructional and is no substitute for experience. Please don't think that reading this writeup makes you Charles Lindbergh or Manfred von Richthofen. Also note, this information is intended for smaller planes like Cessnas or Pipers, not Boeing 747s, though the principles are the same.)
  1. Planes have inherit stability while flying, so don't worry about "flying" at the onset (unless your plane is in a nosedive, in which case you should pull back on the control stick or wheel). Just keep the plane level, or if it's on autopilot, don't touch the controls. The most important thing you should do first is alert air traffic control of your emergency. Tune the radio ("COMM") to 121.5 -- the universal emergency frequency -- push the talk button, and say "MAYDAY" a few times. Don't forget to release the button on the mike, otherwise you won't be able to hear air traffic control instructions.

  2. Crash course in avionics: throttle controls altitude; control stick (or wheel) controls airspeed; pedals at your feet control the rudder (left and right turns). Everything in a plane requires careful balance. Use your instruments to help you, since you won't have the wonderful forward view that a car windshield provides.

    Summary of useful instruments:

    • Turn: Has the outline of a plane on it; indicates angle your plane is at for turns. The rudders control your turn, so balance the rudders (the foot pedals) carefully to keep this level.

    • Climb: Indicates your vertical acceleration (either positive or negative). By pushing on the control stick or wheel, you make the plane descend, causing the climb guage to drop. Pulling on the control stick has the opposite effect. In addition, if you give the plane less throttle, it will descend, if you give it more throttle it will climb.

    • Airspeed: Indicates how fast you're going. As with climb, this can be changed either by using the control stick or the throttle. Increasing throttle makes the airspeed go up, but so does pushing on the control stick. The delicate balance between these two controls is what makes the difference between getting your plane on the ground in one piece or a thousand.

    • Altitude: Pretty self-explanatory.

  3. As mentioned before, the key to flying (or landing) a plane is to balance the throttle with the control stick. If you push the control stick away from you, your plane is going to drop altitude and increase speed. If you want to descend smoothly (and safely), push the control stick forward gently, while at the same time decreasing throttle to compensate. Balance is crucial. If you are going too fast, you could damage the airplane or get into a situation you won't be able to pull out of. If you go too slow, you could stall the wing.

  4. At this point, you'll hopefully have reached someone on the radio that can help guide your plane to a runway of some sort. Use the rudders to turn the plane in the correct directions, and keep the turn indicator as stable as possible. Use small movements, and take your time. If you can't get to an airport, or are unable to reach anyone on the radio, try and find a nice flat stretch of land (and check your seatbelt). When you're near your landing area, circle around it while decreasing altitude until you're 1000-1500 ft. above it. Get in line with the runway, and get ready.

  5. When you begin your final descent, pull the knob marked "CARB HEAT". The engine might start to get rough when you get closer to land, so turn the mixture knob to make the fuel/air mixture leaner. Since you're unlikely to know exactly what that entails, just fiddle with it until the engine is running smoother. Reduce the throttle and gently pull the airplane control stick towards you. This will make the plane slow down, while at the same time keep your nose up for the landing. When your speed has dropped below 100 knots, slowly activate the "FLAPS" lever. Increase gently until you're at about 30 degrees. Now you must concentrate on keeping the nose level and the speed to no more than 70 knots. To do this, you might have to push on the control stick (point the nose slightly downward) to increase airspeed, or pull on the control stick (raise the nose) to decrease airspeed.

  6. When you are over the runway, your plane should already be about 25 feet off the ground. If it's too high, you'll overshoot the runway. If you're in doubt, just push the "CARB HEAT" knob and push in the throttle, then reduce the flaps to 0 degrees to fly your plane up and try again. If you feel you've got it right, kill the throttle and let the plane drop to the ground, while pulling back on the control stick to keep the nose up. You want all the wheels to hit the ground at roughly the same time (a 3 point landing) otherwise just gently drop the nose until you have contact. If the plane bounces on the runway, apply throttle and stabilize the plane before attempting to land. To kill the engine completely, put the mixture knob at its leanest setting. Get out of the plane.

Congratulations, you're a hero.


Some of this information comes from The Modern Man's Guide to Life, and I have heard that The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook also has a similar section. All information was gathered under fair use provisions, and completely rewritten by me.

There are a few corrections that are very important to note, when dealing with the subject of landing a plane:

-The rudder is NOT used to turn the airplane. An attempt to turn the airplane solely with the rudder, while in a wings-level attitude, can place the airplane in an unstable condition, especially at low speeds. Yawing the plane at a low airspeed puts the plane into a sideslip (or forward slip). If the airspeed bleeds off enough to place you close to stall speed, one wing will stall before the other, quickly leading to a spin. During a landing approach, especially during a turn from base to final, it is likely that there will not be enough altitude to recover. The airplane will crash. The proper way to turn an airplane is to bank the wings in the direction of the turn. This will start the plane turning. The purpose of the rudder is to keep the nose pointed straight into the relative wind. In most small airplanes, this means that to turn left (for example), you would gently bank to the left, while simultaneously applying pressure on the left rudder pedal. It shouldn't take much more than that.

-The airspeeds for each airplane during landing will be different, depending on the plane. In a Cessna 172, for example, the flaps cannot be extended above 85 knots, or serious damage can result. The approach is flown at 65 knots. Other aircraft may have different speeds. To generalize may be dangerous because a speed that works in one airplane may be too fast or too slow in another. And of course, not all airplanes have a CARB HEAT knob.

That is all I have to offer at this time.

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