Every (non-pilot) airline passenger has done it – imagined if they could land the plane if the pilots became incapacitated.
If these musings are realistic, they shouldn’t end well. Most wouldn’t even know which switches to flick to talk to air traffic control.
But one veteran airline pilot has set about giving passengers a fighting chance of landing an airliner in a fascinating YouTube video filmed in a flight simulator, titled ‘How YOU can land a passenger aircraft!’
The creator is Petter Hornfeldt, aka ‘Mentour Pilot’. He has worked as an instructor on the Boeing 737 since 2005 and is a training captain, type-rating instructor and examiner. And he has a huge social media following, with 1.46million YouTube subscribers and 188,000 Instagram followers.
Petter stresses that the video is not to be seen as an instruction manual, but was created partly for entertainment and to reassure nervous fliers that it is possible for a passenger with no pilot training to safely land a passenger aircraft if they have step-by-step instructions from a pilot on the ground and air traffic control.
Petter Hornfeldt, aka ‘Mentour Pilot’ (above), in his video reveals the steps a passenger would need to take to safely land a Boeing 737 in the event of the pilots ‘disappearing’
The set-up? A Boeing 737 en-route between London Stansted and Bremen in Germany at 21,000ft over the English Channel. The pilots? They’ve disappeared. Petter is in the first officer’s seat in the footage and talks the viewers through every step that needs to be taken to bring the plane down safely.
Can Petter attach a percentage chance to a passenger landing a plane if they were to follow his steps?
The 41-year-old Swede, who became a captain at the age of just 25, told MailOnline Travel: ‘This is highly theoretical since, and this is very important, no passenger will get access to the cockpit since it’s locked. If they were to find themselves in this position, and they were to get and follow these instructions, their success rate would be high.’
What key things would lower or raise the chances of survival?
He said: ‘Their ability to stay calm, await instructions before doing anything, communicate clearly through the radio and not panic would be key.’
What aircraft types are easiest for a passenger to land?
He said: ‘Smaller aircraft are slower and contain less energy, because of that they are also easier to fly and get to stop on a longer runway. The bigger airliners have this auto-land capability but, it requires a lot of steps.’
Here we take you through the steps Petter explains in the video (and as with the video, these are not to be read as an instruction manual). Can any of them be left out? Only setting the chair up and fastening the seat belt, says the pilot…
1. ENTER THE COCKPIT
First, sit down in the cockpit and take a deep breath, says Petter. ‘It’s very important that you don’t panic at this stage,’ he stresses.
He recommends sitting on the right, in the first officer’s seat.
2. GET THE HEADSET AND ESTABLISH COMMUNICATION
Next – find a headset – ‘because you need to initiate some kind of contact with air traffic control’. Petter underscores that ‘without contact with air traffic control and without them finding someone to help guide you down [the task] will be impossible’.
3. SET RADIO FREQUENCY
You need to talk to air traffic control on the ‘designated emergency frequency’, which here is 121.5. Pressing the switch at the top of this box will make it ‘active’
With the headset on, you next need to talk to air traffic control on the ‘designated emergency frequency’, which is usually ‘on standby’.
To make this frequency (121.5 in this scenario) ‘active’ you’ll need to look at the ‘centre pedestal’ to your left and press a little arrow switch in the top right corner.
‘The radio is now set up for communication,’ says Petter.
4. SET AUDIO CONTROL PANEL
Next – go two steps down to ‘set up the audio control panel’ and press the second button from the left under the words ‘mic selector’ – ‘VHF 2’. The arrow below this must be turned to the 12 o’clock position.
‘This means you have the volume set up correctly and you’re now transmitting on the correct radio box,’ says Petter.
5. TALK TO AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL
Use this ‘radio transmission’ switch to transmit messages to air traffic control
Next – find the switch at the bottom left of this panel that says ‘R/T [radio transmission]’ and ‘I/C [intercom]6’. Toggle this switch to the R/T position. This means you’ll be transmitting on the emergency frequency.
Press this switch up and say ‘mayday, mayday, mayday’, say the name of the airline, say where you’re coming from and where you’re going to and that you’re a passenger trying to fly the aircraft.
You must release the button to hear the answer.
6. SET EMERGENCY CODE
These two knobs are used to set the transponder frequency to 7700, so that the plane ‘squawks’ that it’s in a state of emergency
Next – set the transponder to 7700. This is found to the left on another radio box and ‘should have a little button in between’ that says ‘ATC’. The transponder settings are changed by two knobs on either side.
‘Your radio echo will now be seen as an emergency flight,’ says Petter.
7. TELL ATC HOW MUCH FUEL YOU HAVE
Petter points out where you’ll see the fuel-level read out
In Petter’s scenario the air traffic controllers want the plane to return to Stansted.
So, you need to tell air traffic control how much fuel you have left. The readout for this is on the bottom right of a screen in the centre of the control panel.
8. CONTROL AUTO PILOT
Next, you need to bring the plane down to an approach altitude using the top panel – the mode control panel – that controls the autopilot.
9. START DESCENDING
Changing altitude can be done just by turning this small knob
Here Petter turns the ‘altitude window’ down to 3,000ft using a knob beneath the readout.
To tell the aircraft to descend, you press the ‘LVL CHG’ [level change] button.
The aircraft will now reduce thrust and descend.
10. CONTROL TURN
Petter demonstrates how to change the heading of the aircraft. To the left is the speed readout in knots
Next – you’ll need to turn the aircraft using the knob under the word ‘heading’ to whatever heading air traffic control asks for. In Petter’s scenario it’s ‘270’.
After inputting this, press the ‘HDG SEL’ [heading select] button beneath it.
11. CONTROL SPEED
Make sure now that you have an ‘indicated airspeed’ and not a speed shown as a ‘mach number’ [mach 1.0 would be supersonic] in the window that says ‘IAS/MACH’, as this will make things easier later on. To change it, turn the C/O [change over] button.
12. SET YOUR SEAT
Next – make sure you can comfortably reach the rudder pedals by moving the seat using a lever marked with the letter H to your left. You’ll need the rudder pedals to steer the aircraft on the runway.
And now put your seat belt on.
13. CHECK YOUR INSTRUMENTS
If air traffic control asks for your speed and altitude look at the two screens right in front of you, one of which displays a map, the other the horizon. Don’t touch the ‘yoke’, as that might disconnect the autopilot.
14. AUTOLAND SET-UP
Air traffic control will ask you to set the course using knobs on the mode control panel
Next – set up the radios to do an ‘autoland’. You need to set up two frequencies and two courses.
For the frequencies go down to the centre pedestal again, find the box with two windows marked ‘active’ and ‘standby’ that flank a button marked ‘TFR’.
In this scenario air traffic control is asking for 110.5 in this box and on the identical box on the other side of the panel. Push the TFR [transfer] button to make the autoland frequency active.
Next – set the course. Go back to the mode control panel in front of you. Air traffic control will ask you to set the course using the knobs on the right and left under the windows labelled ‘course’.
In this scenario they’re set to ‘223’.
15. SLOW DOWN
The aircraft is now set up and we’re down to 3,000ft. But we’re going too fast – 286 knots (329mph).
Go to the ‘IAS/MACH’ button and turn this to 210 knots. The speed will decrease.
16. SELECT FLAPS
Next – the flaps. Move the flap lever next to the throttle to position ‘5’. This will help slow the aircraft.
Next, turn the IAS/MACH knob to 180 knots.
17. SET AUTO BRAKE
The aircraft will slow itself to a standstill automatically using the auto brake function
Next – set the auto brake to No.3. You’ll find this above the centre screen.
18. ARM APPROACH
On the left of the thrust levers, move up the speed brake lever and pull back a bit until it’s just resting on the adjacent ledge.
With the aircraft set up for the approach, air traffic control will radio to say that you’re cleared for the approach.
Next is a crucial step – in the middle of the ‘mode control panel’ are three switches – LNAV, VOR LOC, and ‘approach’.
Then engage the second autopilot, just to the right of this, it’s marked ‘CMD’ and leaves two autopilot lights illuminated. The plane can now be guided towards the runway.
Reduce speed to 170 knots.
To further configure the aircraft for landing, pull out the lever in the middle of the control panel that has a wheel at the end – that’s your landing gear. When all three wheels are down and locked three lights above it will illuminate.
Don’t be afraid that the plane is rumbling at this point, it’s just the air moving past the landing gear, explains Petter.
19. LOWER GEAR/FLAP 15
Lowering the flaps is a crucial part of configuring the aircraft for landing
Bring the speed to around 155 knots and move flaps to 15. Then it’s flaps to max – landing position – and speed to around 145 knots (178mph).
20. CONTROL ON THE GROUND AND SHUT ENGINES DOWN
We’re now 10 miles out and the runway is visible. ‘Everything is set perfectly,’ says Petter, who emphasises that the aircraft will not be able to control itself on the runway – you’ll need to squeeze the rudder pedals to direct the aircraft. But don’t press the top of the pedals, he says, as that is how you brake manually and doing so will disengage the autobrake.
The aircraft lands safely, with Petter guiding the plane along the runway centre line.
The last step? Turn the engines off – using the small levers in front of the throttles.
Petter stresses that the video is not to be seen as an instruction manual, but was created partly for entertainment and to reassure nervous fliers that it is possible for a passenger with no pilot training to safely land a passenger aircraft if they have step-by-step instructions from a pilot on the ground and air traffic control