Sunday, November 27, 2005


Anybody Can Land a Cessna

Recently on an aviation message board, a new private pilot related a story. He was at a party, and overheard a group of people talking about flying remote control, ultralight, and powered-parachute aircraft. At some point, these people started theorizing about how their skills would transfer to real airplanes. They all agreed that "Anybody can land a Cessna. It might not be pretty, but we could do it if necessary."

The new pilot was, of course, furious. He spent many months and thousands of dollars on his training. He was very proud to have joined the elite ranks of pilots. These guys were clearly idiots. Their "aircraft" were just toys. He wanted to show them how hard it was to land a real airplane. He wanted to humiliate them.

Most pilots can sympathize. Non-pilots have no idea how much study and practice is needed to become a pilot. They think of pilots as glorified bus drivers. Or they've played with Microsoft Flight Simulator for a few hours, and think they can do it themselves.

When confronted with these people, there is not much a pilot can do. Any attempts to convince people that they don't know what they are talking about will fail. The best thing is to just let the issue rest.

The fact is that, when pilots are doing their jobs well, flying can look pretty easy. The airline industry does everything it can to assure the public that everything is routine. They don't want anyone to think that getting passengers safely from one place to another requires any extraordinary abilities. Sure, the pilots are very well trained, but the airplanes practically fly themselves!

Pilots have to accept that nobody really appreciates what what they do, or what they've gone through to learn how to do it. But the same is true for most other fields of endeavor. I've spent the last 25 years becoming the best software developer I can be, and it really bugs me when some recent college grad thinks that he knows more than I do, or when some manager thinks programming is easy because he wrote a couple of FORTRAN programs 30 years ago. I don't respond to these opinions when they are expressed, nor do I feel the need to remind them when they realize that they need my help.

The better you are at your job, the easier it looks to others. So, in a way, the "Anybody can land a Cessna" comment is really a compliment to all pilots. I hope all my passengers come away from flights with me thinking that a trained monkey could have done what I did. Maybe they'll even give me free bananas in appreciation.

When I was instructing the quickest I have ever soloed someone was 9 hours. This kid was a great stick. He nailed all the maneuvers the first time out and was a real natural. He was also a champion RC aerobatics pilot. He just had the touch. It took him about 60 hours to get his private pilot license though. He was absolutely horrible at the book work.

I hate to bust your friends bubble but I do believe that just about any RC pilot could land a Cessna if they had to. Once you get the basics really isn't all that difficult. I would bet your friend could land a 777 if he had to also. It's all the same...put some flaps in...put the gear down...the site picture is very follow the VASI the same way. In fact, the actual flying of the aircraft gets easier the more sophisticated the airplane is. If an average person were to start taking lessons tomorrow and flew twice a day for the next week...I would bet they would be ready (or very close) to be solo within a week. If you cram your private you usually solo at 10-20 hours, but it still takes an average of an ADDITIONAL 30-50 hours to earn a private pilot.

The misconception your friend has is what makes a pilot. A pilot is not the stick and rudder skills...those are easy...a pilot is the decision making skills. These skills can only be developed with actual time in the air.

"Exceptional pilots use their exceptional decision making skills to avoid having to use their exceptional piloting skills."

fly safe
Whoo boy, Kris, a statement like that would yank my crank as well, so I can understand where your issue is with that statement.

Address the Radio Controlled aircraft issue:

I too used to fly RC planes...for about 8 or 9 years, of which about 6 of those years I was an instructor myself.

It is NOT like flying the real thing. Over the time I had my instructor badge I taught more then a few "real" pilots how to fly models, and it didn't take more then an introductory flight with their shiny brand new RC Planes to get them to leave their ego and dignity at the gate of the facility and realize that all their "real" experience wouldn't automatically translate into them instantly becoming a "Pro" themselves at RC.

As for the other way around (RC flyer to the real thing) I have my doubts as well. Although the average RC plane enthusiast is going to have more of an understanding of the theory of flight and such versus someone on the street, it's not exactly directly transferable, obviously. It would be a help, but it's not going to be a huge help. It could perhaps be a slight detriment, since some of the things you can do with an RC plane would tear the real thing apart, and those perceptions are ingrained with some.

Look at people who fly MSFS for example - some of the stuff you can do with a simulator like MSFS would end badly in the real world. You'd either die, or have your licence yanked.

Could someone land a plane with no training? Perhaps, but it would not likely be flyable again afterwards. In my books, that's not a "Landing", that's a CFIT.

Anyone out there ever watched someone flying a simulator with no idea what they are doing? They usually start their landing approach by pointing the nose of the plane at the runway with no regard to flaps, gear...the ASI climbing into VNO or beyond VNE...etc etc.

On Microsoft Flightsim you can get away with that sort of crap, and as a result everyone thinks they're a "Pro" and could do it in real life.

Anyhow, as you can see, this yanked my crank as well...and should make for a spirited and very interesting discussion. :-)

I've gotta make an entry about this on my blog, if you don't mind Kris, and steer people here to partake.
People are under the misconception that landing is the hardest part. Pretty much anyone could land a Cessna, with a bit of instruction. And I think the experience and instruction that goes with flying an RC airplane would be sufficient for one of those "not pretty" landings.

It takes a number of hours before someone can land one with close enough to one hundred per cent certainty of not damaging it or driving it off the runway that the flight instructor gets out, but when the main goal is whacking it into the ground right side up, it's not so hard.

As anonymous says, the part about being a pilot is being able to make the decisions.

Often when you hand the controls to someone who showed a lot of bravado, they suddenly become aware of how much they don't know what they are doing, and the responsibility you just put int heir hands, and they become very tentative.
P.S. I'm pretty sure I would crash one of those RC airplanes within two minutes of taking the controls.
Yea. I would crash one of those airplanes with in about 20 seconds as well... Crazy.. Thanks for the blog post on this.
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