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Life's Rich Pageant

Point/Counterpoint: Landing A Plane If You Had To

In this photograph taken on June 17, 2011 a Cessna Grand Caravan aircraft of Susi Air prepares to take off at Jayapura airport in Papua province. An Indonesian aircraft with one Australian and one Slovak pilot on board crashed in the country's remote Papua region on September 9, 2011, a company spokesman said, with both men feared dead. AFP PHOTO / ROMEO GACAD (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP via Getty Images)
A Cessna Grand Caravan.
Romeo Gacad/AFP via Getty Images

POINT: I Could Land An Airplane If I Had To, by Barry Petchesky

Here is video of an emergency landing of a Cessna Grand Caravan, at an airport in Florida, by a passenger after the pilot suffered a medical emergency:

It is a nice, smooth landing, especially with a person with no flight experience at the controls. I take one thing from this video: Landing an airplane must be incredibly easy and thus I am correct in thinking that I could do it.

Many people, most men, and all gamers believe they could land a plane if the need arose. That is probably misplaced optimism from them, the Dunning-Kruger effect ending on a wreckage-strewn runway. But I’m built different. I could do it. I am 100-percent certain I could do it, and nothing short of a fiery death will convince me otherwise.

Who hasn’t daydreamed about being called into action to save the lives of many, including little innocent children and hot grateful babes, when the pilot suffers a heart attack and no one on board is qualified to bring that bird down safely? Not that I’d do it for the acclaim or the riches, mind you; some people are just built to take charge in a crisis. That hasn’t ever described me before in my life, but I’m confident it would be different if I had to land the plane.

After all, how hard could it be? You push the joystick(?) forward to make the plane go down. You do something to a lever or a pedal or maybe a dial of some kind to make the plane go slower. I would sort all this out in the air before actually landing the out-of-control, pilotless plane, mind you; I’m not reckless. But landing an airplane seems roughly only 50 percent harder than parking a car, due to the addition of a third axis, and that’s not hard at all. (I don’t drive either. But I’m sure I could also do that if I had to.)

Have you met a pilot? They’re just regular people. When you bring up things like “flight school” and “simulators” and “training” and “certification” to claim that only they can land planes you are engaging in the classic appeal-to-authority fallacy so derided by thinkers from Cicero to Thomas Aquinas to Carl Sagan. Moreover, you are gatekeeping, and possibly gaslighting.

Furthermore, I had no problems landing the jet in Top Gun on NES.

I could land a little Cessna if I had to, no problems. Now, an A380? That might be give me some trouble. Only a little, though.


COUNTERPOINT: If The Pilot Passes Out We Are All Going To Die, by Albert Burneko

I could not land the plane. I know this like I know that I could not dunk on a regulation-height hoop, or play “La Campanella” on a piano, or, I dunno, grow a second head.

Planes, even the little ones, are large and fast and deafeningly loud and awful. They have too many buttons, too many knobs, too many gauges and readouts. I am not quite afraid to fly on, like, the pathological level, but even so: I hate them and am never less than vaguely terrified when aboard one of them. The videos of planes yawing and slewing down to the runway in high winds make me want to scream and run away. The moment the pilot passes out on my plane is the moment my life enters its final stages.

I read a thing by the aviation journalist guy William Langewiesche once about how modern fly-by-wire jet aircraft are so optimized for flight that, in instances of various and even catastrophic equipment failure, making them go down to the ground can be harder—much harder!—than keeping them smoothly aloft. That is all well and good, and very nice to remind oneself when seated 20 rows back and entrusting one’s life to the stranger behind the locked door. I assure you: If I am in that cockpit, and the pilot incapacitated, and we switch the autopilot off, we’re all going to die. That plane is going nose-first into hell, rolling like a slug from the bore of a rifle, at a thousand miles an hour, and that is all there is to that.

I know how I would handle the situation. I would be on the headset with ground control, bargaining. How long do we need to fly in a straight line before you can rig up a giant airbag for us to softly bonk into? How long before you can send us another pilot, if I promise to let them in the plane when they get here? What if I simply awaken the unconscious pilot, by means of repeatedly slapping the shit out of them while also screaming? Eventually the plane would run out of fuel. Maybe it will land itself when that happens. I will not land the plane! Forget it. We’re all going to die.

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