I know objectively that flying is the safest way to travel, but it’s still scary when you think about it. In fact, if you ask me, it’s much better not to think about it. And if there happens to be actual danger, please, PLEASE don’t tell me about it. If we’re going down, I don’t want to know until the last possible second – especially if there’s a chance that we might actually pull through.
These 15 AskReddit pilots know what’s up: namely, don’t freak out the passengers. Bad weather, instrument failure, and no visibility? Don’t tell me, just get us down. It’s their job, after all.
1. “Bit short for a 737”
Landing in Jersey (UK). Jersey is a very short runway, the shortest runway we land on by far, with one end of the runway leading over a cliff and into the sea. 737’s can just about land on it but we are quite limited to certain weights and winds. It is always interesting. We usually use max brakes and max thrust reverse. With headwind it is no big deal really but it’s never 100% comfortable.
On one particular day we had the maximum tailwind we were allowed to accept (means a longer landing distance due to increased groundspeed) at the maximum weight – right on the limits. The captain floated the landing for only half a second but still managed to touchdown just inside the landing markers. I have never been so sure that we would not stop in time, I thought we would end up in the sea. We just made it. The passengers in Jersey are used to braking hard so they were none the wiser. It might sound dodgy but our performance calculations are very precise and it worked out ok. This is Jersey – bit short for a 737.
2. Into The Valley
I fly 737’s for a major airline. Scariest by far was doing the circling approach to land in Austria. We do a lot of training for this particular air strip, basically it’s in the middle of a very tight valley with mountains rising up to 13,000 feet. It is very demanding and we actually require 3 pilots (rather than 2) to go as there is so much to take in.
This is a nice day. Imagine this with snowstorms, clouds, gale force winds and not being able to see the mountains. The valley is too tight to do normal turns so we have special procedures to perform tighter turns in an emergency or go around.
3. Navigation Failure: Mountain Edition
I was flying into Pristina in Kosovo. The airfield there has very basic navigation facilities. We got a massive shortcut from air traffic control which meant we were very very high – higher than we were supposed to be. To resolve this we pretty much dive the aircraft at high speed with a high rate of descent, a pretty normal manoeuvre but man we really needed to get down.
Pristina also has some very high mountains, right beside the final approach. As we were hurtling towards final approach, in thick cloud, at low altitude (lower than the mountains) trying to catch up with the situation our navigation screens failed and went blank.
For about 20 seconds we had no idea where we were (except very close to a huge mountain at high speed) and the air traffic controller pipes up: “are your navigation systems ok, you are 2 miles away from where you should be?” – This was another mess yourself moment. We ended up going around (aborting the approach), getting to a safe altitude and landing on the other runway. Passengers none the wiser.
4. Instrumentation Complication
My uncle who was a pilot had to do a landing at night with cloud cover. The thing about night landings and with cloud cover is that you rely pretty much entirely on your instruments (airspeed/heading/altitude ect). When pilots fly this way it is known as IFR (Instrument Flight Reference).
The problem is that his instrumentation and his co-pilots instrumentation was reading different airspeeds and altitudes. He quickly checked with tower and figured out his co pilots instrumentation was at fault and guided the plane down using his own.
The problem? Someone messed up with pilot tube maintenance.
5. Skydiving through clouds – apparently a no-no
I was instructing (single engine Cessnas): I hate skydivers. Not as people, mind you, but as aviators. They don’t seem to follow the rules. I was practicing holding over a NDB in north Florida that happens to be on the field of a very popular skydiving airport. We were on an IFR flight plan and there were some clouds over the airport. In fact, we were punching in and out of them during the hold. ATC advised us about skydivers in the area and we kept a lookout.
The plane I was flying had a skylight, two oblong windows above our heads – and thank goodness. As we were about to cross the fix, we popped out of the clouds and I saw two black figures drop right in front of our nose. Like someone above us was dropping sacks of potatoes. I immediately looked up through the skylight window to see a parachute canopy unfurling and a very scared skydiver being jerked back as his canopy inflated. I would guess he missed hitting our tail by about 10 feet. Note to skydivers: Don’t jump through clouds – or even near clouds. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.