Talk-down aircraft landing
A talk-down landing may be attempted in the event of the death or incapacitation of an aircraft pilot. It involves a passenger or other unqualified person flying the aircraft to a landing with assistance from radioed instructions either from the ground or a nearby aircraft.
Recent incidents involving small aircraft
- In August 2000, the pilot of a single-engine Piper Cherokee 6 collapsed over the controls. A passenger, Henry Anhalt, took over the controls of the plane and managed to land the airplane safely with radio talk-down assistance from an airborne flight instructor. He, his wife, and their three sons landed safely, although the aircraft was damaged on landing.
- In an incident in April 2009, a passenger took over control of a twin-engine turboprop Beechcraft King Air after the pilot lost consciousness, and managed to land the plane safely. The passenger was a pilot but had never flown a Beechcraft King Air before.
- On May 27, 2011, a woman had landed an airplane of unidentified type, with talk-down assistance from another airborne pilot, after her husband had breathing difficulties.
- In April 2012, the pilot of a twin-engine Cessna 414 aircraft lost consciousness while flying in Wisconsin, United States. His 80-year-old wife Helen Collins, who had only piloted a single-engine aircraft many years earlier, was able to contact air traffic control. Air traffic controllers and the pilot of a shadow aircraft then provided instruction and she was able to crash-land the plane without serious injury. Her husband did not survive his medical emergency.
- In October 2013, the pilot of a Cessna 172 aircraft became unwell whilst flying from Skegness, Lincolnshire, England. His 77-year-old passenger, John Wildey, who had served in the air force but not as aircrew, controlled the plane for over an hour and landed it safely at Humberside Airport under instruction from air traffic controllers, two flying instructors, and the crew of a Westland Sea King helicopter. The pilot was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Large commercial aircraft
There is no record of a talk-down landing of a large commercial aircraft. There have, however, been incidents where qualified pilots travelling as passengers or flight attendants on commercial flights have taken the co-pilot's seat to assist the pilot.
Fictional talk-down landings
In the 1957 film Zero Hour!, the pilot and co-pilot of an airliner both become seriously ill from food poisoning. A man who has not flown for 10 years and has no familiarity with large aircraft is given instructions from the airport and safely lands the plane. The 1980 comedy film Airplane! spoofs the same plot with a passenger on a jet airliner being talked down to a safe landing after both pilots contract food poisoning. Airport 1975 released in 1974 has a plot where a Boeing 747 has a mid-air collision with a small plane that leaves the crew dead or badly injured and a stewardess is instructed to fly the aircraft to avoid mountains and on other flight actions, but she does not actually land it. In the 1997 film Turbulence, a stewardess successfully lands a Boeing 747 under instruction by radio after both pilots are killed. In the 1999 film Airspeed (film), a 13-year-old girl lands a private jet while given instructions from the airport.
In 2010, British hypnotist and illusionist Derren Brown presented a programme on Channel 4 television entitled "Derren Brown: Hero at 30,000 Feet". It showed Brown putting a man through a series of challenges culminating in him traveling on a plane where the pilot had supposedly been incapacitated. The man, who had not been on a plane in ten years, boarded a flight traveling from Leeds to Jersey, where he had been told that a fake game-show presented by Brown was to be filmed. The flight crew, stewards and stewardesses were real, but the rest of the passengers were actors. During the flight, the cabin crew announced that the captain had been taken ill and asked for a volunteer to land the plane. At the last minute, the man volunteered. While walking to the front of the plane he was placed into a trance by Brown. After the plane landed, the man was placed into a cockpit flight simulator and woken up. He was talked through landing procedures by a person identified to him as an air traffic controller and completed the challenge successfully.
A 2007 edition of the science entertainment television program MythBusters, entitled "Air Plane Hour", aimed to determine whether an untrained civilian could be instructed how to successfully land a plane over the radio with the aid of a NASA flight simulator. For their first test, the two presenters who had no flight experience attempted to land a plane unaided. One came in at a steep angle and too fast, and the simulated plane flipped over and broke apart; the other stalled and crash-landed in a field. They then repeated the exercise with instructions by radio from a licensed pilot and both were able to land safely.
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