That question friends and family always ask - so do you think you could REALLY land IRL?

Anyone else on here get asked this annoying question frequently? It goes, “So now that you’ve been doing this simming, do you think if both pilots died you could land the plane?”. :roll_eyes: It varies, sometimes it’s not about airliners, just regular takeoff/landing. I find it most annoying when someone who already asked you this asks it again next time flight simming comes up.

So questions are do you get this question often and how do you typically answer? And for those of you that started with simming before taking real GA flight lessons what did you feel the difference in difficulty was landing in real life first couple of times after having a lot of sim experience?

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GA possibly, but still a long shot. I did hear of an instructor in Civil Air Patrol who mid-flight on missions would lean back in his seat back and announce, “I just had a heart attack what WOULD YOU DO!”

From personal experience, flying a GA was pretty similar to sim but I was not navigating, landing, or taking off. But I could probably fly around until running out of gas on a nice day for quite some time. Flying an airliner would be next to impossible. I had the opportunity to fly a full size 737 sim. I thought it would be super easy, I have a ton of hours in PMDG. Instead I got quickly lost and overwhelmed with actual real controls and knobs/buttons. Lot different then just clicking around with a mouse. You also realize very quickly it requires a well orchestrated two people.

But to answer your question family / co-workers would ask me while taking off, and I’d respond you bet i could… :rofl:


maybe yes, sometimes student pilots need to land in their first lesson for an emergency and with the atc help can do it. And Mythbusters probes a passenger can land a plane with the atc assistance

I would really like to hear more about this. I could imagine that maybe, once, an instructor became incapacitated while taking a student for the first lesson. You used a plural, “sometimes student pilots”, suggesting this has happened on more than one occasion. Can you point to some examples? This would be an event worth looking into, if it is a regular occurrence.

GA props I reckon I could although if I’m not familiar with the plane expect a very hard landing as there’s no way I’m floating it on a short runway. As for the big birds I think I’d have a chance hand flying a 737 in good conditions on a long strip, but again it won’t be butter and will almost certainly require an engineer to inspect the undercarriage.

If there’s no one better qualified to fly it then you won’t find me hiding under my seat.

noo no is a regular occurrence, maybe my English is bad but you know these things happen

There was a story a few years ago of an 80 year old woman whose pilot husband died midair and she landed the plane.

I always found the ATC chatter bizarrely light hearted for such a tragic event, you can check for yourself.

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You cannot directly compare it. But I enjoy to do things in the Sim I would never do IRL or fly planes that I am not allowed to fly or will never fly it because they are old or expensive, or both :smiley:
IRL the Environment reacts much more complex (wind, humidity etc)
If you start or especially land a real plane (I fly GA) you have to be very aware of the situation you are in (Situation Awareness is a Chapter in Flight School). And sometimes you have to react very fast (for example sheer winds on landing approach). To summarize the difference of the feeling of flying very primitive:

  • IRL it is like a sailboat. You let the plane interact with the environment and you as a pilot are only there to correct some things in the right direction. Otherwise you will permanently fight against the nature and the flight is not very pleasant.
  • In the sim it is more like a car. You a more the permanent “steerer” of Vehicle. You give your command and the Plane does it.
    Though I have to say that even in the sim the Interaction of the plane with the environment is getting better and better. But at the moment and also in longer term I don´t think it is possible to simulate all events of nature to 100% in real time. Even not with the power of cloud services.

In light GA it will be a challenge for a non pilot but for a home simmer they will recognize the controls and have a better handle on things. The sensation of Gs, wind, control forces will feel new.

The massive game changer (specially in GA) in the coming years will be Garmin Autoland.

This amazing system is literally a one-button push and then you sit back and watch Netflix on your tablet as the system auto-flies to the nearest airport and even communicates with ATC. All on its own.

It will shoot the approach, land, and even shut down the the engine. Its already flying and is a truly astounding achievement.

Passengers will be shown the button to press if the pilot becomes incapacitated. The systems tells the passengers what its doing every step of the way and displays this on the screens.

Yes, every home simmers secret dream. When it comes to airliners it will be of course much more complex but they will have a captain from the same airplane type walk you through the autopilot/autoland system and then you sit back and let the thing land itself.

Garmin Autoland

The chances are 50/50. Either you will succeed or you won’t.

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This is exactly right. No mater how many hours you have in a PMDG aircraft, the real thing is a completely different ballgame.

Here’s an example, using the typical, hypothetical scenario, pilots incapacitated during cruise, aircraft on AP etc…

So you get in the seat, and the first thing you realise is you don’t know how to move it forward. After fumbling around for a min or two, you give up, and just leave it out. No worries, more important things to do….

So being a flight sim pro, with lots of time on VATSIM, you calmly think, I’ll call ATC. Then you realise you don’t know where the microphone is. You can’t see the hand held mic by your left knee, because the seat is still out and to the side, hiding it from view. Eventually you find a set of headphones hanging up over your shoulder. You quickly pop it on and get ready to call. Ok, where’s the PTT switch?

Most airliners have multiple PTT switches, the 777 for example has 3 different switches for each seat. But even though you’ve flown the PMDG model on VATSIM for hours and hours, you simply mapped the PTT to your joystick, so you don’t know where they are in the real aircraft. So you keep looking, it must be somewhere obvious… Bingo, the control yoke. With the familiar trim switches on one side, and a single switch on the other. You remember how the Cessna you took a trial flight in a few years ago had a PTT switch in the exact same spot, confirming your selection. You think for a second about what to say, but wisely throw away the idea of trying to use correct phraseology, you’ll just use plain english and ask for help. So you press the button….

Instantly, “Whoop, whoop, whoop…” starts blaring from the speakers, red lights are flashing, you having no idea what’s happening, not because you don’t recognise the sights and sounds, but because it caught you completely by surprise. In a panic you press the same button again, even though you’re not sure why. Luckily, that stops the warning siren and extinguishes the flashing red lights.

It’s now you realise there’s a lot more to real flying than what flight sims taught you. You admit you might be out of your depth. And because of this there’s no chance you notice, let alone realise, that the AP indication on the PFD in front of you has changed to FD. You have just inadvertently disconnected the autopilot…

So now your frozen, complete overwhelmed, in a seat you can’t move, unable to call ATC, hand flying the aircraft at 35,000’, and you don’t even know you’re in control….

Let’s just say things don’t get better from here.

Now I don’t tell this story to bash flight sims, or criticise the detail and accuracy of ‘study level’ addons. They’re incredibly realistic, to the point where I even spent a couple weeks using my PMDG 777 when returning to work after 14 month off due to Covid. However, they can’t reproduce all the nuances that real flight involves.

The best analogy is learning to drive a manual car. You can sit next to your parents for 16 years, watching how it’s done, taking it all in. But odds are when you get in the drivers seat that first time, you bounce and stall your way across the car park. It’s just different when you have to do it for real. Now up that 100 times when you’re in an aircraft seat for the first time.


:laughing: Yes I even struggled with moving the sim seat up. And many times heard in flight, no you pull up and then move that lever. Or twist it, or something. A challenge 3’ off the ground, I can’t imagine at 35k. You don’t realize the sheer amount of buttons and knobs until you sit in one.

Actually Kelsey from 74 Gear on Youtube said a non pilot would have the best chance of a landing a 747 or other airliner than any other plane due to its ‘Autoland’ feature. You would just get ATC to instruct you what buttons to press on the console and it would land for you.

Next best case would be a CRJ.

He says the worst case scenario would be a Cessna with no autopilot.

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But would a non pilot even know how to contact ATC in the first place?


I like Kelsey, but I saw that one and I’m not buying it. A non-pilot wouldn’t even know how to work the radios to get guidance from ATC.

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He doesn’t say, but I’d imagine they would find a way to make contact somehow, ATC would quickly realise the pilot wasn’t responding and make contact. Even if we imagine every staff member and air crew died at the same time I presume ATC has a way of speaking to the captain?

I guess I’d start by taking the captain out of his seat and putting on the headphones, hoping someone would say something. Given that the ‘only’ thing a non pilot would have to do is contact ATC, and I presume the plane will fly straight and level for a while I reckon most people would have a chance of working it out eventually.

Not sure if phone would work that high but I’d try that too…

That said, if I was forced to be stranded and alone in a plane it would be the Cessna 152 as that’s the only plane I have experience of in the sim, around 250 hours of flight time with yoke, throttle and pedals, so I reckon I could at least bring it down. Might not be flyable again after but I’d hope I’d do well enough that I’d survive even if the plane didn’t.

As crazy as it sounds, I think I could do it in a Boeing airliner. No doubt the touchdown would be rough, but I think I have enough knowledge about what buttons to press and what I should see on the PFDs that I could probably do it. I’m not responsible for anyone getting whiplash tho. lol.

Have done actual simulators so yes but only an airbus A320 series.

No to a larger non fly by the wire system

In this video 2 simmers (with some experience in DCS in VR) try IRL flying (full flight, from the engine starting) for the first time.

If you are moderately familiar with the airliner systems on a study level model, I’m confident that you could at least do an autoland with ATC assistance. You’d have much more of a chance than even the flight attendants IMO (country dependant - I think some give some brief instruction but most do not.) The A320 transmit button is on the radio panel on the centre console, pull the switch back to transmit. Another is on the stick, a trigger at the front of the stick, but the console is always better (away from the autopilot disconnect button!)

You would be able to autoland an A320 (or any of the Airbus aircraft) quite successfully. I am an airline captain of an A320 IRL, and have 9 years of flight instructing before that.

A light aircraft, or any that requires manual handing could still be landed successfully. We had a student at Jandakot Perth Australia who’s instructor became incapacitated and the awesome ATC at Jandakot tower talked them back to a great landing. That guy was on his very first flight.

In any case, ATC is your best help, either on the current frequency, or 121.5 ‘guard’.

Don’t touch the autopilot or controls if it is engaged. If the aircraft is not wings level, then you may need to do that whilst requesting assistance.