Emergency Landing a Small Plane




Introduction: Emergency Landing a Small Plane

You're flying with a friend that is a pilot and he or she becomes unable to fly! What now?

Check out this instructable to learn the 4-step process to landing a plane. It's not going to be easy, but you're most likely going to be okay. This has happened to people before and if they can make it out alive, so can you! Below are some stories. They are often called "talk down landings."

Passenger Takes Control and Lands Plane

Talk-Down Landing Wikipedia

History of Passengers Landing Planes

WARNING: I am not a certified flight instructor. This is not intended to joke around with. Flying may be inherently dangerous. Planes are replaceable. You are not. This method of landing is intended to save your life, not the plane.

"A good landing is one you can walk away from. A great landing is one where the plane can be used again"

NOTE: This is advice from a private pilot and intentionally leaves out information in an attempt to simplify the procedure. If there is additional information you think should be noted, please comment below.

Step 1: Get Ready

Get Ready Video

Aviate. Navigate. Communicate. That's what pilots are trained to do. That's what you're going to do

  1. Aviate - Learn the controls and what they do. You need to know 3 controls and 2 instruments
    • The yoke (steering wheel) controls up and down as well as left and right. It should be neutral and in the middle. Pulling it toward you will raise the plane, cause a climb, and lower speed. Pushing it forward will cause you to descend, but gain speed. Too slow is bad, but so is too low. Try and stay level.
    • The throttle (usually black) controls the power and speed of the engine. It should be almost all the way forward. With it forward or in, you can climb. With it back or out, you can safely descend without going too fast.
    • The rudder pedals (not gas/brake pedals) control the tail left and right. They should be neutral or equal.
    • The artificial horizon (instrument with blue on top and brown on bottom) shows you how you are oriented in the sky. You should be wings level and not nose up or down. You should be level.
    • The airspeed dial (speedometer should have a green arc, and maybe a yellow, white, and red arcs as well. It should be reading in the green arc. Read it like your speedometer. If you're ever below the green, you will be stalled and falling quickly. Stay going fast but not down
  2. Navigate - Figure out where you are and how high you are
    • Are you going down or too fast? If so, pull back on the yoke
    • Are you going up or too slow? If so, push forward on the yoke
    • Turn the yoke left and right to turn the airplane
    • Don't worry about the rudder now. It's not essential
  3. Communicate
    • Talk on the radios by pressing a button on the yoke (usually red).
    • Try and tune your radios to 121.5 which is the emergency frequency for all aircraft. Call out MAYDAY MAYDAY on any frequency and ask for help. You will receive help.
    • If you can't use the aircraft's communication equipment, use your phone and call 911. Help will come if you call 911, but the communication will likely be slower and harder to hear as compared to the plane's communication equipment.

After this step, you should be flying level and a few thousand feet off the ground. Hopefully you found someone to talk to on the radios because it will help you immensely.

Step 2: Approach

Approach Video

Approaching (the steps before landing) are some of the most critical factors of having a successful landing.

  1. Find an airport, fly over it
    • Nearest is usually the best. Look for maps or a GPS. Use your phone if necessary.
    • Any airport will accommodate you in an emergency. You are in an emergency.
    • Look at the runways and decide the best one. Look at wind socks. You want to land INTO the wind.
  2. Line up with a runway
    • Take a big loop around the airport and get yourself on a straight path to the runway. If you get left or right, correct yourself so that you are in the middle and straight again.
  3. Reduce power and glide with speed
    • To descend without gaining a lot of speed, you will need to slow down the engine and point the nose of the plane a little bit down. The airspeed should ALWAYS stay in the green arc. If you're going too slow, add power or point the nose down a little bit.
    • Tip: The lights to the left of the runway are glideslope indicators.
  4. Add flaps
    • Only do this if you know how they work. Not all planes have them. Flaps help you to fly slower which is exactly what you want to do during landing. Don't engage the flaps unless you see the airspeed is pointing in the white arc.
  5. Get close
    • Keep your nose pointed at the end of the runway. Get very close to the ground before you start to level off. You don't want to slam into the ground, but you want to get as close as possible.
  6. Power back, stay as close to ground as possible.
    • Slow your engine to as slow as it will go, but don't shut it off. Don't try and touch the ground, try and stay a few feet above it by pulling back on the yoke. Don't drive the plane into the ground, but don't stay 20 feet above it either.
  7. Go around if necessary
    • If your approach seems highly uncomfortable, then put the throttle to full power and stop descending. Go around and try again. This is a definite possibility your first few approaches. You will improve with practice. One successful talk-down landing took 4 go-arounds before the successful landing.

Step 3: Touch Down

You will feel when your wheels touch the ground no matter how smooth you are. You might also bounce a few times. That's all okay.

  1. Stop Bouncing
    • The bounce occurs because you touched down too early or too fast. It's like a forward and backward rocking motion. Once you feel touchdown but realize you are still in the air, try and immediately level off the plane and stop the climbing by pushing the yolk forward. Don't nose down too much though because you will do the same thing again.
  2. Steer or turn
    • When you're actually on the ground, now you need to use just your rudder pedals. Push right to go right. Push left to go left. DON'T TURN THE YOLK. IT WILL DO NOTHING. Try and stay on the runway.
  3. Brake
    • Braking is not always necessary, but if you need to, push the top of the rudder pedals equally. Do this only after you have landed.
  4. Skid
    • If you've landed but broken the wheels and are sideways or backwards, release all controls and cover your head. It's going to be a bumpy ride, but the aircraft cabin is made to protect you like the cab of a car. You will slide until you skid to a stop
  5. Shut power off completely
    • If you skidded, your engine is most likely off already. Whatever your landing turned out like, turn the keys off to prevent any more damage.

Step 4: Get Away

The plane is now in danger of fire, especially if you had a hard landing. Fuel may be leaking onto hot engine parts and you could be in harm's way. Run away to the nearest house or occupied building and call 911. Seek help immediately.

Even if you had a soft, successful landing, it's a good idea to shut the plane off as soon as possible to avoid any more danger to anyone.

Now remember why you landed the plane. Your pilot was unable to. Tend to him/her and other passengers before calling your friends to brag about landing a plane with no experience.

Special thank you to Austin (right seat passenger) and William (rear seat passenger) with no pilot experience.

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    9 Discussions


    3 years ago

    Pretty good for the most part, however, I do believe you should make this purposefully more complicated with the details, and not vague details. For example... Pictures of the emergency procedures checklist and how to read it would be nice. A picture of a normal landing checklist and how to read it would be nice (because in the case of an incapacitated pilot, normal landing procedures is what ATC will give you anyways). A better explanation of what yoke, rudder pedals, throttle, flaps, etc with their corresponding locations with pictures in the airplane you're talking about and what they do are IMPERITIVE. You cant just lump all airplanes in to the same category... You've got high performance complex, complex, rotary wing, turbojet, turboprop, ramjet, scramjet, pulsejet, high wing, low wing, high horizontal stab, mid horizontal stab, low horizontal stab, stabilator, v-tail, different types of flaps, slats, de-ice boots... All of them come with their own unique problems. Also, i would like to point out a DIRE mistake you made in reference to speed vs altitude... And that is the region of reverse command... That is where the role of the controls is reversed on takeoff and landing... I. E: on TO/L, the throttle controls altitude while the yoke controls speed (namely up and down rudder). If this isnt made perfectly clear, then your instructions can get someone killed. The most dangerous part of flying is the TO/L, and assuming that your 'Ible is addressing an at altitude emergency, they will have to land possibly dead stick if its the case with engine failure where region of reverse command becomes that much more dangerous because you only have one chance to land successfully. You also dont take into account what happens if an already comolex situation becomes MORE complex... For example...most non pilots wont even know how to operate the radio. Explaining how to key up the mic is a good idea... Non pilots dont know the light gun signals from ATC at an airport with a tower. Nearly no non pilots know how to read aeronautical charts and how to cross reference them to the VOR or DME to find their position. They also wont know how to operate the gps IF equipped (cause most gps on small planes alone have knobs and buttons, and not touchscreens). SQUAWK 7700 on the transponder would be a good thing to include with an explanation of what it is and how to input it into the transponder would be a good idea. In reference to the instruments... They need to be familiar with the attitude indicator, altitude indicator, airspeed indicator, heading indicator, and turn coordination indicator...what they do and how to read them properly. Also, telling non pilots that basically the rudder isn't important would be dishonest. Wjat about if they have a crosswind on the only runway? They would need to know how to stay on course with the runway, and if you have a deadstick landing, not using the rudder will be deadly.

    I thank you for this contribution, but I would highly advise revising this and including all correct and all pertinent info in regards to what can and likely will happen in the air if there was an incapacitated pilot.


    Reply 3 years ago

    I would also include information on the approach path indicators as another user had mentioned with the types of indicators and how to read them.

    daniel DIY
    daniel DIY

    4 years ago

    Hopefully noone here ever gets into this situation. Anyway good guide for emergency situations.


    4 years ago

    You have some pretty good details. I would have added the light bar on the side of the runway show if Your angle is correct. 4 red lights means Your approach is too low. 4 white lights means Your approach is too high. if the 2 lights on the left are white and the 2 lights on the right of the light bar are red that means Your angle is correct for Your approach to land. These lights are called papi lights.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Remember that any landing you walk away from is a good landing. If the plane flies again it was a great landing. :)


    5 years ago

    Well, by now I already have a cpl, but remember my first flights pretty well and still have doubt about all of this to an extent. It was hard to check altitude, orientation and airspeed during first flights and probably would have crashed before I even got to land the thing.
    Then again, it's not that steep of a learning curve, 99% of folks go first solo after 10 hours of flight time, so maybe it would end better than I think.
    I'd add to this instructable that "if you hear an annoying constant beep, you're probably falling (stalled), push the yoke down and add throttle if there's altitude left for that" or did you mention this.

    Phil B
    Phil B

    5 years ago

    A friend took me with him many times in his Piper Cherikee. I went home and practiced what he taught me on a home PC and MS Flight Simulator 98. It is not a perfect arrangement, but, it taught me a lot about the relationship between the yoke and the throttle for controlling ascent or descent while simultaneously holding the airspeed where it should be for a particular part of the flight, especially for setting up before landing. I never go a license, but I believe I could have gotten us down on one piece if he had suddenly taken a long, unexpected nap.

    Bryce B
    Bryce B

    5 years ago

    Nice job, i fly planes myself but i think people should know for an emergency