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Cabin crew landing an airliner?

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Cabin crew landing an airliner?

Old 19th Aug 2017, 11:21
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Cabin crew landing an airliner?

Hi all,

I'm writing a story about a cabin crew member landing a 737-800 after crew incapacitation (depressurisation a la Helios 522). I'm sure it's been done to death, but the topic has always interested me and I'm wonder if a landing would actually be possible.

This would be a flight from Dublin - Stansted. Like Helios 522, the cabin crew member has a CPL/multi IR, 500ish hours. He has flown a 738 fixed base sim for an hour or two and read the FCOM. Using a POB, he enters the flight deck at TC to find the captain on the floor behind his seat and the FO slumped over. Because this is fiction, I'm assuming the CC member either can't find the flight crew oxygen masks or doesn't know how to use them. Unlike Helios 522, the 738 would have about 90-120 mins of fuel on board.

Passenger O2 has just run out and he has, by my calculation, about 10-12 minutes before everyone on board suffers from irreversible brain damage. Communications are probably out as he doesn't even know where the transmit button is hiding.

My question is this: What are his chances of getting the 738 on the runway in one piece? It'll probably get damaged in the landing, I imagine. He will have plenty of pitfalls:

- Flying manually
- Aircraft management
- Low speed handling
- Dealing with airspace (or ignore it and plough through squawking 7600 or 7700)
- Weather (possibly)

Does anyone believe this can be done without killing everyone on board? In reality it has been done with smaller (King Air size) aircraft, but the one time it happened with a 737 the CC member couldn't (or wouldn't) even disconnect the autopilot. Perhaps he was too terrified, or maybe he noticed the very low fuel state and assumed that it was pointless to try.

Just a note, I'm not a published writer, this story is be written because I'm enjoying writing it. I'm only 3500 words in, so some early input would be hugely helpful.
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Old 19th Aug 2017, 22:05
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'm assuming the CC member either can't find the flight crew oxygen masks or doesn't know how to use them.
This would be your first major plot hole, considering all cabin crew are instructed in the use of flight deck oxygen in the event it must be administered during pilot incapacitation events. You'd be better going down the road of oxygen line contamination - for example, oil was found in the O2 lines and that led to the incapacitation.

Also, if your character had spent an hour or two in the sim and read the FCOM, they would know where the Push-to-Talk (transmit) button is. Otherwise, that was a lot of wasted time and effort on the part of the character.

Finally, that much time in a simulator for a 500-hour pilot would be enough that they'd be able to hand fly the airplane, albeit not with the finesse of a more experienced pilot. It would be the automation that would be a problem, but then this could be resolved by discussing the matter over the radio, leaving the automatics on and having the thing autoland at an airport with CAT III capability.

Ultimately, can it be done? Yes.

Would it be safe? No.

Are injuries likely? Yes, but perhaps more from a subsequent evacuation than the landing. Now, put a non-pilot in place of your cabin crew member who is a pilot and the outcome is not as likely.
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Old 19th Aug 2017, 22:36
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I have about 500 hours of PPL time in light singles and a few in light twins.
I've spent a couple of hours in a 738 sim.

Two out of six of my landings would definitely have been crashes. One was really smooth, but we would've gone off the end if I hadn't overshot from touchdown. The others were rough. Rough enough to probably damage the aircraft.

In addition to the post above referring to CC training (use of O2, and ability to find the transmit button) consider the room in the flight deck. Small captain, if he/she can fit behind the seat.
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Old 19th Aug 2017, 23:05
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TA, I'm an ATC.
I can say with reasonable confidence that you can probably forget about the likelihood of the average controller being of much more than very basic usefulness when it comes to "talking down'' a complex airliner with non-rated pilot flying.

Most of us would have an idea of how to operate a light aircraft (decreasingly so, as flight training hasn't been part of the curriculum for most ANS providers for some time) but a 738?
Forget it.
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Old 19th Aug 2017, 23:07
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Of the aircraft I have flown the one that that is the most capable of an automatic landing set up by a novice is a Fokker 70/100. A little bit of radio work, press a few buttons and that's it. The braking would be the hardest bit.

As for passing out, food poisoning, meningitis etc. Oxygen deprivation is really a bit too far fetched and few cabin crew will not know how the masks work in the flight deck. Also have you considered how they will get entry to the flight deck? Now given a simple radio setup like a Fokker's, a person with little or no flying experience might be capable of being talked down anywhere with an ILS; CAT I,II or III.
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Old 19th Aug 2017, 23:15
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TBH I think TAngoAlphad is on the money and certainly even on the more user friendly modern Boeings a non pilot, or even a low houred PPL, would be pushed and certainly need a lot of luck to salvage the situation, and would certainly need talking through the button pressing and configuring by someone familiar with the machine.

If... if, prior to pilot incapacitation a complete route (with no holds embedded) to an ILS runway had been loaded into the FMC then maybe with "coaching" by R/T being given with regards to gear, flaps and control panel settings maybe a survivable auto land would be possible....but the minute you end up with say something simple but unforseen happening e.g. an ALT capture at top of descent or in the descent then I suspect a complete tyro would be up against it. It's also worth considering on most sectors you haven't got fuel for more than perhaps two or three abortive attempts at an ILS at destination.

Last edited by wiggy; 20th Aug 2017 at 09:43.
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Old 19th Aug 2017, 23:32
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I suppose the next question is where do you get your equivalent of Rex Kramer from to do the talk down?...........

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U4tU3ZRFoUI

I guess if the aircraft is heading back to home base someone familiar with the aircraft might be available ...OTOH if the flight is heading off downroute then good luck.. "not one of ours" ....

Even at homebase, especially if in the U.K., can our author get our "Rex" through security and to the tower before the inbound aircraft runs out of fuel........maybe the author can arrange for the assisting pilot to be airborne in a company aircraft in the vicinity.....the plot could thicken...

Last edited by wiggy; 20th Aug 2017 at 09:36.
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 09:43
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Interestingly .. it really is horses for courses and the experience of the bunny.

Years ago, I was running some 737-300 endorsements and, on one evening session, I took along two chaps who worked for me so they could have a looksee at what goes on.

Neither was a pilot (but both were very experienced LAMEs and OEM tech service reps), and both had lots and lots of flight sim playing.

In some spare time after the session which the techs let me have .. both had a go at some flying and an ILS approach and landing ... each did a very nice landing and roll out ... quite amazing, I thought.

Minimal talking from me in the back seat ..

All raw data and hand flown.
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 10:10
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both had lots and lots of flight sim playing.
I suspect that sort of factor is the key..

It would be interesting to take a non pilot, non simmer, plonk them in front of something like MS flight sim ( or something better), and try talking them through a descent from the cruise and the landing....without the "instructor" being able to see the PC screen...........( oh, and you have to land within an hour ).

I think in the real world if the OPs scenario happened your best chance of success wouldn't be on a short haul sector, it would be at the start of an Ultra Longhaul sector..... ATC and our mythical Duty pilot could stick the flight on radar vectors (e.g out of LHR use heading select to fly up and down the North Sea) and spend the next X hours teaching/explaning and even dictating procedures before commencing the approach......
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 12:02
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You're all ignoring the fact that there would be plenty of type rated pilots on the same frequency.

I'd like to think at least one would step in and help. ATC can talk to the helper, the helper can talk to the helpee. Job's a goodun.
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 12:56
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This would be a flight from Dublin - Stansted.
Sounds like Ryanair.

by my calculation, about 10-12 minutes before everyone on board suffers from irreversible brain damage.
Not an issue with Ryanair passengers!
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 13:38
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You're all ignoring the fact that there would be plenty of type rated pilots on the same frequency.
It did come up in the context of the OPs story .

maybe the author can arrange for the assisting pilot to be airborne in a company aircraft in the vicinity....
I still think we do tend to underestimate what we do in the day job a bit.....there's a reason we do a type rating, and we know it's not an attendance course. As to the remote coaching, well I'd leave that to an A1 QFI and keep my fingers crossed...anyone who has instructed will know of situations where you think you've explained something clearly and then............

From my own POV I've done more than a fair few Boeing hours but have also spent enough time jumpseating on Airbus Flight decks to know that they are different, a machine of wonderous mystery where push is pull and there's this odd thing called "Open Descent" which might or might not be FLCH..... I would hope that if push came to shove ( there's that A v B thing again) I could take a 320 from cruise altitude down to an acceptable landing if the situation called for it.....but it sure as heck wouldn't be pretty......the OPs non type rated CPL might possibly manage something that people might walk away from, especially with the help of one of Chesty's type rated pilots...as long as "Blogs" didn't press or select something irreversible......

Less experience than that...I wouldn't be putting money on it, you really would be rolling the dice, even with remote coaching. Lets hope we never find out for real.....

Last edited by wiggy; 20th Aug 2017 at 16:46. Reason: "you think you've explained something clearly"...I hadn't
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 13:53
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Doris Day was a flight attendant in the 1956 movie "Julie." She landed a DC-6. It was the joke of the day in the airline industry for many years.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPlrjUzZLbc
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 15:12
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The reaction of my wife and friends over the years is the 'overwhelming' sense that they experience when they see a jet flight deck for the first time - "how do you remember how and when to press all those buttons" is one common comment.

The reality, as we all know, is that we tend to only be concerned with one 'button' at a time ...

Overcome the 'wow' factor (which a 500-hour pilot with some sim experience probably would) and you have a chance.

The possibility of a 'lager-drinking' non-flyer taking control, somewhat limited to say the least in my view.

The comment about sim technicians flying the simulators is interesting - I have been told that is the case in the past - because they 'fly by attitude, numbers and settings' and as a machine the simulator always follows their commands exactly.

So the idea of a sim technician taking over control is possibly more likely to achieve a successful outcome than cabin crew ... maybe ... ?

Last edited by SpannerInTheWerks; 20th Aug 2017 at 15:13. Reason: added text ...
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Old 20th Aug 2017, 20:59
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The other probability is that there is a pretty good chance that there would be an airline pilot, possibly type rated (very popular aircraft, the Boeing), in the passenger cabin.
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Old 21st Aug 2017, 02:41
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What if the airline type rated pilot was on holiday and had consumed alcohol? Would they step into the seat or sit in the jump seat and talk the CC through the process?
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Old 21st Aug 2017, 03:42
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I was involved in a study many years ago looking at just that. We took some inexperienced people who had a mix of flying experience (including a couple of PPLs) and got a type rated pilot to talk them down on a fairly realistic B747 PC simulator - one used by the industry for training and not MS Flight Sim.

There's two elements to this. First, the person in the seat has to find the correct function to activate and second, the pilot doing the talk-down has to express himself correctly in order for that to be achieved. This one is the most important for if the seat occupant gets the wrong selection, then there is problems ahead as the talk-down pilot now will not know which mode the auto-flight system is in - unless he gets the occupant to confirm every mode through the Flight Mode Annunciations - which isn't easy.

Interestingly, the experience of the person in the pilot seat made little difference. It was the quality of the talk-down which was the deciding factor. In fact, some experience could be a bad thing as one of the PPLs though that it would be best to take out the Autopilot on the approach as he had the (over)confidence to land it himself. It's safe to say that if this happens - it's game over. An auto-land is a must.

I recall there was about a 50% success rate.
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Old 21st Aug 2017, 03:47
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In fact Wiggy makes the point that even a qualified pilot may not be able to make the right selections if he's not familiar with the type.
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Old 21st Aug 2017, 09:46
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Doris Day was a flight attendant in the 1956 movie "Julie."

Two observations come to mind ..

(a) better looking than any captain I can recall ...

(b) on the other hand, the real captains scanned the instruments in a somewhat less robotic style and the landing bounces were less pronounced

.. and to think that the girl is now in her mid-90s and, apparently, still going strong.
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Old 21st Aug 2017, 18:39
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The daytime outdoor scenes were shot in the Carmel, California area. She had to spend quite a bit of time on location. She became so enamored with the area she eventually moved there. She has been an animal activist since she retired from Hollywood.
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