"Hello and welcome to Flying a Light Aeroplane Without Having Had Any Formal Instruction With....
— An unusual chat show on A Bit of Fry and Laurie
In most action series/computer games, the player character or the hero has the ability to drive any vehicle they come across, be it a little Volkswagen or the biggest earth moving machine on the planet. Even if they've never seen it before, as long as the keys are in it, it's fair game for a joyride or hasty escape.
Sure, anyone with a driver's licence can be expected to drive about any car or light truck out there, since the controls are more or less standardized, but beyond that realm, most earth-bound vehicles require some specialized training or familiarity with their controls to drive. Even something as common as a motorcycle is beyond the experience of many people. (What's that lever on the left handlebar? If you said 'brake' guess again, that thing is your clutch.)
Things like bulldozers, tanks, tractor trailers, ships, railroad locomotives, etc. would probably leave an inexperienced person at a loss to use if you dropped them behind the controls in an emergency situation and told them to "get us out of here!" Yet time after time, characters just take off as if they operated one for a living.
Sometimes the character fails badly and wrecks the vehicle seconds later, protesting "I told you I don't know how to drive one of these!" or else you get a I Know Mortal Kombat, Suddenly Always Knew That or You Didn't Ask answer as to why they didn't crash.
Writers seem to frequently exempt aircraft from this. The plea of "Can anyone here fly a plane?!" when the original pilots get incapacitated is almost a trope by itself. But, everything else out there that doesn't have wings is treated like the family sedan.
Holders of this license are usually also qualified as a Crew of One.
Sometimes even alien spaceships fall under this rule, though not always.
Can be handwaved as an acceptable break from reality. Also see Improbable Piloting Skills. Contrast Driving Stick.
Subverted in Part 3: with both the pilot and copilot of a plane taken out, Joseph declares he can fly it because he knows how to fly a propeller plane. Kakyoin then yells, "This is a jet!" The plane crashes moments later.
And then, later in the same series, they get on another plane. Three guesses what happens to it.
Justified in Cyborg 009, where one of the title character's cybernetic enhancements gives him the ability to drive any vehicle flawlessly, which allows him to get a lucrative job as a racecar driver during a sabbatical.
In Sonic X, Tails is actually given a literal Universal Driver's License (or rather a whole stack of them) for anything he can build to drive, helm or fly. And this is a (albeit extradimensional fox) kid who is somewhere around 8 or 10 at the most, just as well he's a genius.
Granted, these are licenses for "anything he builds". Hopefully the building process includes him designing controls he can use.
In Mahoromatic, Mahoro once showed a full driving license, complete with every single type of civilian vehicle listed on it, from cars to different tonnage trucks to boats and ships, including even aircrafts.
In Daiakuji, it is revealed that Satsu has licenses for small planes and boats as well as normal civilian cars.
Sailor Uranus in the Sailor Moon anime. Sure, it's not strange for a 16 year old girl to be able to drive a car, but a helicopter? This is lampshaded in the Dead Moon arc, where the Inner Senshi think of how cool she is for being able to fly a helicopter, and express a desire to learn to do the same. They drop the idea when they realize that they probably need a special license to do so, and really have no idea how to learn.
The helicopter he learned from a computer simulation at the science center. Kogoro still doesn't find it very reassuring.
Tintin is the king of this trope. He's too sickeningly talented for words.
Oddly, his main weakness seems to be tanks, which he drives somewhat more awkwardly, despite the fact that his ability to drive a tank is at least partially justified; on one occasion when forced to do so, he implies that the controls are similar to the moon rover from Explorers on the Moon, for which he presumably received training.
In the animated series, Captain Haddock is visibly surprised by Tintin's clumsy handling of the tank, as though he expected him to adapt to it as easily as he does anything else.
"You should have told me you couldn't drive this tank!"
This actually seems pretty prevalent in the Marvel universe as a whole. It would make sense that people like Captain America and Black Widow would have flight training, but pretty much everybody can fly a plane. Even teenagers. Many people are also great at boats.
Used in one X-Wing Series comic. In the first arc, the agent Winter gets in an ally's X-Wing, and it takes off because its owner told its R2 unit to be somewhere to cause a distraction. She then takes control and shoots down the squadron of TIE fighters, including the one with the owner in it, and yet at the end of the arc she's told that she's not flight-qualified on an X-Wing and will have to ride in a shuttle. Stackpole was reportedly quite unhappy with this arc. Winter did have Photographic Memory, and admittedly knowing how to do something and having the necessary paperwork to prove you can are two different things, but that's still a hell of a Plot Hole.
Parodied in Hot Fuzz: The opening montage states that Nicholas Angel took and excelled in several courses beyond the standard police skillset, including advanced driving (cut to Angel taking a car through a controlled skid-stop)) and advanced cycling (cut to Angel taking a bike through a controlled skid-stop). Truer to life than you might think; police cycle training is basically Le ParkourON TWO WHEELS!.
David: Yes yes yes. Yes, without the "oops". (points forward) That way. :: The director's cut explicitly shows Steven learning to fly the craft, or at least sitting at its controls, long before he makes the offer to fly it; his confusion with the controls stems more from not being used to them than outright ignorance.
By the end of Wild Wild West, it appears that at least one of the heroes (probably Artemus Gordon) has figured out how to drive a giant mechanical spider. Mostly justified with Gordon, the various things he's first seen to drive were built by him, and it takes him awhile to figure out how to steer the spider.
Lampshaded in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: the titular hero steals a red Lectroid shuttlecraft over his black Lectroid companion's protests. ("I flunk out of flight school, that is why I am a diplomat.") Later, Buckaroo convinces the Lectroid to take over the controls so he can man the guns.
Buckaroo: It's easy! It's just like driving a truck!
Alien: That is good. What is truck?
In The Movie version of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Mike assumes he can drive the Satellite of Love because he's "fully instrument-rated in Microsoft Flight Simulator." Within seconds, he crashes the Satellite in the Hubble Space Telescope. Later, on the TV show, Mike has apparently trained for real, and became adept at driving the Satellite.
Time Chasers parodied the trope when Nick attempts to steal a car to escape pursuers chasing him in a pickup truck. He immediately totals the car because he doesn't actually know how to drive (the film depicted him as an avid cyclist.)
A Justified Trope in U571 the American submarine crew are able to more or less operate a captured German U-Boat with a little bit of fumbling. All submarines of that time need pretty much the same controls (Depth gauge, pressure seals, dive controls, etc.) most of which were labeled; they had a translator to help them out; and one of the crew on their doomed American sub is fluent in German, and of Germanic ancestry.
Justified in The Fifth Element. At one point, it's explained that Corben's training and experience in his former military unit qualifies him in the operation of a list of vehicles that extends to several pages.
In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, a bunch of kids and teens travel to a construction site via monorail. Later, they figure out how to use a fire engine.
In the movie Biggles: Adventures in Time, Biggles (transported in time from World War One to the late twentieth century) is able to work out how to fly a helicopter after a few minutes experimentation. He even says, without apparent irony, "If you can learn to fly a Sopwith Camel, you can learn to fly anything!" (the Camel was a notoriously hard to handle aircraft, with a well deserved reputation as a pilot killer. It's not a huge stretch to claim that this would be the truth)
Flash is in a floating city under bombardment. He falls down a chute and finds a Hawkman rocket cycle. Despite having never laid eyes on one before (what with him being a football player from late '70s Earth), he immediately knows what it is, how to use it and even knows to put up the safety bar.
Flash takes the controls of War Rocket Ajax and flies like a pro even though he has no training or experience whatsoever in flying rockets. Possibly justified because he has taken flying lessons (in human planes) on Earth.
In Battlefield Earth, set 1000 years in the future, a group of now cave-dwelling humans come across a group of Harrier jump-jets, still miraculously working, and after some second-hand experience from books and a few days with a flight simulator, also miraculously working, they learn to fly them to defeat the group of Aliens currently controlling the planet. These humans had no education whatsoever, only one human was partly educated by the aliens, yet they still managed to learn to read English. In the original novel there are no Harriers: the bad guy teaches the protagonist how to pilot alien aircraft and the protagonist, in turn, teaches other humans.
Obi-Wan Kenobi seems able to pilot almost anything, from a Jedi starfighter to General Grievous' private ship to a Gungan sub that he's never even seen before. (Note to the uninitiated: Space and water are notthe same thing.)
In Episode III, Anakin is able to land an unfamiliar ship (well, half of a ship), that - as the novelization points out - wasn't even made to be flown by humans.
Interestingly, despite his claim in Ep. IV that Anakin was already a great pilot when they first met, Anakin seems to subvert this trope in Ep. I: He doesn't so much "pilot" the Naboo starfighter as "randomly jab the buttons until something happens." Artoo actually does most of the piloting. The only thing we see him piloting is a podracer that he built himself from scratch, so naturally he'd know how to fly it.
In Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, the Rider is able to convert any vehicle into his hellish mechanical "steed", even if it's something — like a giant earth mover — that Johnny Blaze has never driven before.
Lampshaded in Paycheck when Michael Jennings discovers he bought himself a motorcycle, he asks Uma Thurman's character "How good am I on this thing?"
Snakes on a Plane lampshades this to the point of parody while still playing it straight: after both pilots are incapacitated, bumbling bodyguard Troy has the most experience. The experience being from a PSP flight simulator, displeasing the control tower. He manages to do okay, but has to land the plane under adverse conditions (too much of a tailwind) due to pointing out that he doesn't have time to turn around since the bite victims need help asap. The plane would have crashed into the building if not for all of the fire trucks in the way. Samuel L. Jack's character get's the final word:
In a similar vein, in a much earlier book, Marco attempts to drive a car because he's done it in a video game. His driving prompts Jake to say "Do you hate trash cans? Is that your problem? Do you just HATE TRASH CANS?!"
Doc Savage could operate any vehicle that existed in the 1930s: car, plane, autogyro, airship, submarine, etc.
Lampshaded in the NUMA Series, when Giordino points out that Pitt, as an Air Force major, can fly pretty much any airplane or chopper known to man. He also seems to have no problem with boats, and has a large collection of classic cars and planes in his house.
Lampshaded in Endymion when Raul considers stealing a thopter from a fishing platform. He quickly dismisses the idea because he has no idea how to fly it. Raul notes that in the holodramas he has seen, the hero was capable of flying anything they could steal. Raul, on the other hand, had evidently "missed Hero Basic Training."
In Artemis Fowl, fish smuggler Doodah Day can allegedly drive any vehicle, be it human, fairy or otherwise.
In Stanislaw Lem's novel Eden, the explorers kill one of the Doublers (sentient life forms there), then proceed to return to their ship in the vehicle left behind. The catch? It's a freaking spinning top which also spins like a wheel, and not on its axis as a normal top would do. Still, the crew manages to figure the controls out rather quickly.
As touched upon in Film above, the Biggles books are a justified example; having started out in the Royal Flying Corps during the First World War, spent the inter-war years in civil aviation before re-enlisting in the RAF and then going on to work for a somewhat ill-defined police aviation unit, there's not very many aircraft Biggles can't at least muddle through on. One story did establish that he wasn't Instrument Flight Rules-qualified, which was briefly a plot point, and this may or may not have remained true throughout the series.
Averted at one point in The Three Investigators and the mystery of the Coughing Dragon where one of the investigators tries to start up a bus and fails due to his lack of understanding of the double-clutch.
Lucas (the Blue Ranger) explicitly has this as a knack: "Lucas can drive anything." However, he got into a little trouble when he was caught speeding and tried to show his 31st Century driver's license to a 21st Century cop.
Everybody who becomes a Power Ranger automatically knows how to pilot their Zord. In the original series, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Billy actually mentions the first time he gets in his Zord that he instinctively knows how to drive it. Apparently, once morphed, a Ranger knows how to use most of his equipment.
Presumably, they do get training. And in some of the series, being a Power Ranger is more like being a police officer than being a radioactive civilian. Besides, Zords seem to run off massive amounts of posing and shouting so learning complicated controls or what not is probably unnecessary. Although Justin notes in the Turbo movie that he's thankful that driving a Zord doesn't require a license.
Stargate SG-1. Archaeologist flies alien cargo ship. Film at eleven. As unrealistic as it sounds, it's better for Jackson to pilot the ship than the two airforce pilots he's with - at least he can read what's on the HUD! And the fact that most Goa'uld technology seems to be thought-controlled, being lifted and slightly modified from the Ancients' tech.
Colonel Sheppard of Stargate Atlantis has been known to pilot anything remotely capable of flight, including a hollowed-out asteroid.* Yes, really. There is often an attempt to avert the trope by having him bungle the landing in one way or another, even though most of the Alien crafts piloted by Sheppard (ie: Puddle Jumpers, The Orion and Atlantis) are controlled by thought; you simply need to think what you want the ship to do, and it does it. The control sticks are probably installed because having something to do with their hands helps the pilots to focus their thoughts better.
In the new Battlestar Galactica Starbuck learns how to fly the crashed Raider via gut-poke better that Lee can fly his state-of-the-art Viper. Lampshaded when a frustrated Chief Tyrol is totally flummoxed as to how Starbuck could even get the frakking thing to move.
This trope is used to introduce Al's role as observer in the pilot episode: he can show Sam which switches to flick and 'guides' his control inputs but admits that there's no way Sam can land a 1950s supersonic test plane even with holographic assistance, so Sam bails out.
A later episode set in a plane above the Bermuda Triangle also showed that when 'The Triangle' (possibly) causes Al to disappear, then Sam still can't fly a plane without help.
The three hosts of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond, and James May, probably hold a collective Universal Driver's License, since between the three of them they can operate anything from light aircraft to earthmoving equipment (see the note on Real Life, below)
The Amazing Race takes full advantage of the fact that many people believe this trope to be Truth in Television, making teams operate things like doubledecker buses, armored personnel carriers, and shipyard cargo cranes, as well as extending it to things like dogsleds and donkey carts. Count on at least one shot each season of a team member saying something like "How hard can it be?" just before they screw up royally.
It seems like The Doctor has one of these; he'll ride anything from horses, cars (any time period), space-cruise liners and spaceships. It should be mentioned that he needed to take a test to learn how to fly the TARDIS, and he failed. This is all partly justified because in 900 years of life, you probably get the hang of these things.
In The Curse of the Black Spot, a 17-century pirate crew are flying an alien starship by the end of the episode. Earlier, when the pirate captain first came aboard the TARDIS, he was able to figure out almost instantly what many of the controls were. When the Doctor looked at him in a bit of surprise, he shrugged and said, "A ship's a ship."
Also, in "The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe, Madge Sinclair, who was previously shown to be a terrible driver, manages to operate a Humongous Mecha because the cockpit looks kind of like a plane and her pilot husband took her up with him, ONCE. Partially justified since she's looking for her children and this episode repeatedly shows that a Mama Bear can do anything. It should be noted that she doesn't drive it very well. The Doctor even Lampshades this, saying he can recognize her driving. As soon as she reaches her destination, the whole thing tips over and crashes, prompting the Doctor to mutter, "Nice job, Madge, it's a complete write-off."
In Let's Kill Hitler Rory automatically knows how to drive a WW2-era motorcycle simply because "it's that sort of day".
Not as blatant in earlier Star Trek series, but it seems that a Starfleet helmsman can fly damn near any starship, whether he can read the display in front of him or not. (The same seems to go for any station—tactical, ops, whatever.), although they do have the Universal Translator; the only time it really stretches suspension of disbelief is when Archer does so in Enterprise. On the other hand, averted in "A Piece of the Action", when we find that Kirk can't drive stick.
In an episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she insists that since a regular driver can't be found, she'd drive the heavy equipment needed in a snowstorm.
Mary: "It's got a shift lever like an 'I', right?"
Lou Grant explains it's more like "An 'H' with a 'V' next to it."
Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs is continuously amazed at the range of vehicles - many of them extremely powerful, dangerous, and/or expensive - that people on his jobs will hand him the keys for. He usually manages okay, although on more than one occasion he's followed up by filming an experienced operator behind the controls of the same vehicle and pointing out the vast difference in the results. The show's "Safety Third" special includes footage of the single instance in which someone on one of Mike's jobs refused to allow him to operate a vehicle because he wasn't qualified to operate it and it would be unsafe to let him do so. Mike was quite impressed, not that it stopped him from delivering some good-natured teasing about what things he would be qualified to do.
Played kind of straight in an episode of Mythbusters, in which both of the main hosts were able to land a commercial jet safely in a simulator by following instructions over a radio from a professional air-traffic controller, whereas they had crashed the plane hilariously several times before when they attempted it on their own. However, it was stated on the show that the sequence of events that would have to happen to make something like that necessary is so unlikely that it has never actually happened.
Subverted in the National Lampoon Radio Hour sketch "Land A Million", a game show where the contestant was placed aboard a 747 loaded with 30 minutes of fuel, a million dollars in cash, and a ton of TNT. The pilot then bailed out, and the contestant had to get instructions on how to land by answering typical game-show questions.
GURPS has assorted "Vehicle Skills", which requires the PC to buy separate skills for each vehicle type, but also has "Drive!", which works like the Universal Driver's License and is only recommended for use in "cinematic" games.
This is the case in the Star WarsRole-Playing Game (at least, in the Saga Edition). Any character is assumed to be able to at least operate any vehicle, no matter how exotic, although training is available to learn special piloting abilities and maneuvers. The game explains that Star Wars vehicles have fairly standardized controls. A bit of a stretch if one compares, say, a speeder bike to a starship — not to mention any of the more unusual vehicles, like those with legs.
Shadowrun both subverts this trope and plays it straight. There are separate skills for different kinds of vehicles. It's easier to fly a plane if you don't know how to fly a plane but do know how to drive; it's much easier if you actually have some flying experience. But then, from 3rd edition, "for convenience, Shadowrun assumes that characters can automatically accomplish basic vehicle maneuvers, such as... taking the old helicopter for a little sightseeing hop." So apparently your characters do have a universal driver's license but then forget everything when asked to do something more challenging than moving and stopping.
Timemaster used the universal drivers license. If you were originally from 1920's Chicago and learned to drive a Model T Ford, you could use the same skill roll to drive a late 20th century 18 wheeler, a 30th century hovercraft or a 45th century mecha. Possibly all in the same scenario, this was a time travel game after all.
The Hero System has Transport Familiarity, which has categories covering the basics of everything from riding horseback to piloting warp-driven starships. The catch is, having all the possible categories plus Combat Driving, Combat Piloting, and Riding (plus such perks as needed to be legally able to operate the relevant type of vehicle where that's not the in-game default — in other words, actual licenses) can and will set you back quite a considerable chunk of points. Star Hero and The Ultimate Skill also expand on the basic list if the GM chooses to use the optional categories in game.
The Serenity RPG assumes that characters can perform basic operations of any vehicle without needing its proficiency skill, but more complex operations do require it. Taking a ground-car down the street to a store? Yes. Getting a freighter through a pitched space battle unscathed? No.
Spirit Of The Century has a universal "Drive" skill that covers primarily cars but can be extended to other ground vehicles (aircraft need Pilot, seagoing vessels — controlling most of which would be more of a team effort anyway — aren't really addressed). Somewhat justified in that it's a pulp game set by default in the 1920s, i.e. the still early years of both the automobile and aviation. — In addition, SotC explicitly establishes that most people aren't actually all that good at the skills they use for a living; exceptional skills are for exceptional people while "regular" folk mostly coast through life on being a single step better than the untrained default and just not getting challenged all that much. Which means that the average driver isn't going to be that much more flustered by a tank than by a car because they're not all that hot in a car either to begin with, while conversely a genuinely good one has better narrative license to be able to figure it out on the fly by definition.
Operation Flashpointplays with this trope. You, as the gamer, need a little training to handle vehicles like tanks and helicopters, but once you get the hang of it you can use any enemy vehicles lying around, (no matter which character you are currently controlling and no matter whether or not that character itself has any training for it). In certain missions, if you manage get your hands on an anti-aircraft Shilka, it's pretty much a Lightning Bruiser that can single-handedly win the mission. Because of its four gatling cannons that can fire on full-automatic to take out anything the game throws at you - infantry, RPG soldiers, vehicles, tanks, and even helicopters, which you can catch on radar from an unbelievable distance. Some missions will stop you from mounting certain vehicles (especially helicopters) to avoid this trope.
The various protagonists of the Grand Theft Auto series seem to be able to drive anything from the standard cars and motorcycles, to boats, to tanks, to helicopters. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas introduces airplanes as available vehicles; the Player Character must complete a training course before he can legally fly those, but is still perfectly capable of flying them before that if he sneaks into an airport and hijacks one.
Not only can Carl Johnson pilot airplanes perfectly the first time he clambers into the cockpit, he also learns how to fly a Harrier jet just as fast (all of his previous experience likely being little more than a P-51, an Apache, and a Learjet) and learn how to properly operate all of the weapons systems well enough to defeat several experienced pilots in a dogfight and destroy boats sitting in a lake with heat-seaking missiles.
And don't forget the experimental jetpack that you steal in one mission, and thereafter always have, if you can bother to go pick it up. Not only does he fly it without trouble, but he can fire any singlehanded gun from it as well as from any vehicle.
In The Ballad Of Gay Tony, it's noted that Luis took a two-week piloting class once and the license can be seen.
Likewise, the first time Niko gets in a helicopter, he remarks "I haven't flown one of these since the war!", which is odd, considering he was an infantryman, Child Soldier at that. There is no explanation given for Johnny's piloting skills in The Lost and Damned.
Trevor in Grand Theft Auto V is a military-trained pilot. The other two protagonists have this. The only difference between their flying is a little extra wobble in the controls.
Body Harvest, a Nintendo 64 game made by the same developer using the same engine, in which the hero travels through time, stealing cars (if they're not locked) and using them to fight giant alien insects.
The Battlefield series of team-based FPS features warring armies in various time periods. Players play as infantry with their choice of specific weapon and/or gear. Still, regardless of "kit" choice, hitting the "use" key will allow your infantryman to use vehicles. Any vehicle. Jeeps, tanks, APCs, naval ships, subs, light inflatable boats, jet aircraft, and in the last incarnation, Battlefield 2142, Humongous Mecha. Never mind the fact that none of these vehicles have working canopies or doors, and some have no visible point of possible entry, your basic grunt can drive/fly/hover it with ease. In the series after Battlefield 2, entering a vehicle even magically transforms the clothing grunts wear into appropriate attire for that vehicle (i.e, flight suits and helmets).
The uniform is in the back, just don't ask if it's been washed.
In the original Battlefield 1942, one can even drive the massive battleships and carriers used as bases by one side or the other (or both as on the Midway map), severely annoying other players when the spawn point runs aground. This was eliminated from later games to streamline play, and the big ships in Battlefield 2 are just terrain.
Fortunately, you can still move the Titans in Battlefield 2142. For certain values of fortunate, since idiots sometimes parked them over friendly missile silos, on top of any additional lag caused by a large, moving object with multiple other objects chugging across the map.
Taken to extreme lengths in Final Fantasy VI, in which lead character Terra is basically given a 30-second lesson on how to pilot an airship by gambler/drunkard Setzer. After this, a party can be chosen, and regardless of who the lead character is in the group (and there are many possibilities), the airship can be flown with ease by anyone. This is strange, considering that a past friend of Setzer's crashed another airship and was killed, even though she was a skilled pilot as well. Particularly zany considering it's entirely possible to pilot the ship with not only a yeti, but a yeti that doesn't speak English and you have no control over in battle.
Aside from being able to drive standard military vehicles like the Warthog, Master Chief can also steal lots of alien vehicles and have a fairly easy time piloting them.
Regular USMC grunts are also seen piloting Ghosts and the like during the games.
In the books, this is a plot point: when hijacking a covenant vehicle, the Spartan II's find themselves instinctively able to drive the various Covenant vehicles. It's hinted that the vehicles are reverse engineered from Forerunner technology. This gives some sort of justification for humans being able to drive them without training: as per Halo: Cryptum and Halo 4, humans were designated by the Forerunners to be their successors.
Metal Gear's Solid Snake is so much of a badass, the moment he get his hand on a derelict for 14 years Metal Gear REX, the damn thing moves faster and is far more efficient than it has ever been. In MGS1, Liquid could barely make it walk, in MGS4 Snake make it dance effortlessly, and Humongous Mecha aren't exactly the easiest thing to pilot.
He had Otacon, who designed it, on his side in ''MGS4'', which has to say something about Otacon's awesomeness too.
"RAY might be quicker, but you've got me on your side!" along with his CODEC quips about running REX's software with their plane's computer AND having installed a melee program on REX cause he thought it was cool.
Oddly justified in Fate/stay night, even though it never actually happens. The "riding" skill possessed by both the Rider and Saber classes gives the hero who ends up in that class the intuitive knowledge necessary to ride anything, from horses to fighter jets. Well, technically it's given a rank, but everyone who actually has it has high enough rank to ride any vehicle.
It used in the prequel Fate Zero. Saber drives Iris' BMW with professional expertise. Berserker, as an incarnation of a knight, also gets this ability, and uses it to skyjack a fighter jet.
Rico in Just Cause can drive cars, bikes, boats, and fly prop and jet planes, all kinds of helicopters, gyrocopters, and manouver a parachute with precision. Partially justified in that he is a revolution-stoking, physics-defying CIA agent.
The sequel includes a grappling hook that allows Rico to attach to vehicles. Combining these facts lets you hook onto a commercial airliner, then pry off the door and hijack it in ''mid-flight''. This is arguably the best way to deal with enemy helicopters, too. Grapple-jack one, then use it to shoot down the others.
Scarface: The World is Yours: Cars, jeeps, trucks, bulldozer, speedboats, yachts, floatplane. No helicopter, motorcycle or tank unfortunately.
Gears of War 2: In the final act, Delta Squad hijacks both a Locust Reaver and a Brumak and controls them with little problem, even though they are the first humans ever to do so.
Front Mission frequently depicts single characters piloting tanks, but this trope really comes into play for Front Mission 3. In this particular game, you have pilots capable of not only driving their usual Wanzers, but they also apparently can pilot tanks, armored trains, helicopters, and mobile weapons just as easily. One character even pilots a methane-powered pickup truck with legs.
Pepper Roni, the main character of LEGO Island seems to be able to ride on anything from his stakeboard, boats, horses, motor bikes, desert cars, airplanes to a space shuttle. And he's just a pizza delivery boy.
In the Generals games, American Veteran Units will sometimes eject a pilot with their level of experience, who can then be put into a vehicle to give it that level, regardless of the pilot's current or former vehicle.
Mass Effect has the Hammerhead (hovertank) and Mako (IFV), but given you almost always have at least one teammate at any given time, it's more likely that (for example) Shepard drives whilst Garrus operates the guns and Tali is watching the sensors/etc. In the one of the Lair Of The Shadow Broker missions, Shepard and Liara are chasing after a Shadow Broker agent in a hovercar, which Shepard is able to fly, albeit badly.
Alex Mercer in Prototype has to separately acquire the skills to pilot armored vehicles and helicopters. Played straight in that the armor skill gives him one-man proficiency with vehicles that require different crews to operate.
Given we never actually get a good look at the cockpit of the helicopters whilst he's in them, and obviously can't see through tanks, it's entirely possible he makes some very... drastic changes to himself in order to be able to use all their 'features'.
To those unfamiliar with Alex Mercer's powers, he can manipulate the flesh in his body to impossible degrees. Thus, it is plausible that in order to crew vehicles requiring multiple individuals, he sprouts the necessary components (such as extra limbs or sensory organs).
In BattleZone II, you (Lt. Cooke) can pilot almost any vehicle. Salvage vehicles, floating missile tanks, walkers, morphing alien tanks, and regular tracked tanks. However, floating tow trucks and artillery seems to baffle Lt. Cooke, as you cannot pilot them.
Even more-so in the fan-made expansion "Forgotten Enemies", ask a pilot of a Hadean Atlas to pick you up and he responds in an annoying "I could not."
Happens in Fire Emblem Elibe surprisingly enough. Archers can take control of Ballistae, steering it and shooting it with perfect accuracy. It's not like it's part of the job description, being a Strategy RPG all of your units are named characters with backstories, and your Archers are simply bow wielders and nothing more. Especially strange in that Ballistician was its own unit type in earlier games.
The first time you encounter a Ballista in Blazing Sword, the group decides a good plan is to create a diversion for the Ballista to focus on, and have another unit sneak up on it and kill the pilot. Then Lyn asks resident archer if he knows how to use one, and he replies that he can probably figure it out, since it's "just a big bow". Try GIANT BOW in a carriage on wheels. He uses it with no problem, provided the enemy unit inside the ballista didn't use up all the ammo.
Presumably, it uses horses to move, though they're not seen on the unit's sprite. How strange, then, that the other archer you have that actually rides a horse CAN'T use the Ballista.
The player character in all of the X-Universe games from X-Tension and beyond are capable of piloting almost anything they come across, be it a tiny scout ship or a multi-kilometer capital ship.
In Crysis, Nomad can drive everything from pickup trucks to M1 Abrams main battle tanks to VTOL aircraft and everything in between.
Averted in LEGO Rock Raiders where cadets need to be trained in different fields depending on the type of vehicle you want them to use. Driver for land vehicles, Sailor for water vehicles and Pilot for air vehicles. Although to aversion only goes so far. Once a Rock Raider is trained in one field, they can operate any vehicle in that catergory.
Subverted in MOTHER 3, when a Pigmask mistakes Lucas for their commander and brings him a Pork Bean to ride, which he proceeds to crash off-screen mere seconds after he gets into it. It turns out he crashed because the vehicle somehow slipped on a Banana Peel (Despite being a hovercraft). He doesn't have any issues piloting the new one he gets shortly after.
In Far Cry 3, Jason thought that Riley's newly acquired pilot license means that he knows how to fly a helicopter, turns out, it was only for planes. Riley still managed to fly themselves out of a base without crashing along the way.
Sarge: You do know how to land this vehicle, don't you? Grif: Sure. That just means "stop flying", right? Sarge:Brace for impact!
The fact that Caboose from the Blue Team doesn't have one of these is a fairly important plot point in season one. He sets their tank Sheila into autopilot and accidentally kills Church.
In DuckTales, Launchpad McQuack can intuit how to operate any flying vehicle, from planes and helicopters to alien space ships and whatever invention Gyro Gearloose has cobbled together. But while he can fly anything (kinda), landing is another matter entirely: his personal Catch Phrase is "If it's got wings, I can crash it." Note that this ability (which carried over to Darkwing Duck) is pretty much Launchpad's. Darkwing himself has difficulties when in a cockpit; the only time he's flown the Thunderquack without Launchpad involve either autopilot or immediate demolition.
Lampshaded hilariously in Justice League. Flash, who's been put in charge of the vehicle in question, explains it best:
Flash: "Flash, take the Controls!" But does anyone ask me if I know how? (bashes the console randomly at super speed)
Parodied: The control panel of a fighter jet at an airshow has a large button marked "fly" on it, allowing Sideshow Bob to easily steal it. "Thank God for the idiot-proof Air Force," he quips. He ends up driving it into a giant ditch inexplicably dug into the runway.
Parodied yet again later in the same episode: Bob and Bart escape on the Wright Brothers' plane. Once they land safely, a young pilot driving a tank finally catches up to the plane and runs it over. The pilot admits "We don't use these much in the Air Force."
Subverted in the pilot. Fry says "I'll get us out of here!" and starts pushing buttons on the spaceship's control panel. Instead of taking off, the ship makes him a cup of coffee.
Although played straight with Leela a few seconds later. Apparently knowing "how to drive stick" is all the knowledge you need to pilot an inter-stellar spaceship (though it might have referred to driving spaceships stick).
She can't parallel park though.
Subverted again in "Insane in the Mainframe," when Bender and Roberto are escaping from a robot insane asylum. They run into a barn, and begin to fly out in an old airplane. The plane rises into the air, turns, and crashes into the barn. Bender and Roberto are promptly seen emerging from the wreckage, continuing their escape on foot.
In an episode of Totally Spies!, one of the girls got over her pre-driver's test jitters by flying an alien aircraft...
In The Legend of Korra's first season finale, Asami tries out a mechatank and, looking at the controls, says they're just like a Future Industries forklift! Iroh is less lucky with the airplane he steals in midflight, wobbling madly. He seems to pick up the basics fast, but fortunately doesn't need to land it.
Phineas and Ferb can drive nearly any sort of vehicle that isn't a car, being too young to have an actual driver's licence. They handle those by remote control.
Anyone capable of Driving Stick could probably muddle through behind the wheel of a bus or light truck if they absolutely had to.
As shown in Top Gear's episode where the three drive trucks. They are a bit puzzled by the half-gears, and uphill starts represent a significant problem, but by and large they manage to make the things go.
Many modern buses also have automatic transmissions, which would make that part easier for the uninitiated. Still, manouvering such a large vehicle can be tricky if you're not used to it.
In the early days of motoring, of course there were no drivers' licenses, but if there had been, there would have to have been a different one for each and every model of car: the reason being that there was no standardised set of controls. This was used hilariously in an episode of Top Gear where Jeremy and James are in a 1910s French car with a badly translated manual and can't figure out how to stop before they hit a busy road.
And in the early days of licenses, the only thing you had to do to get one was to ask for it (well around here anyway). Not to mention they weren't too specific with vehicles until way later, which meant you could basically drive anything considered "lower" than the vehicle you applied for, and a lot of people just asked for a truck license just in case. Then there's also the stick/automatic distinction.
In the Top Gear 1940s race Clarkson wasn't allowed to drive the A1 Tornado steam engine on the main line since a license is needed to do that. And Hammond's Vincent Black Shadow bike broke down because he left the reserve fuel tank tap open and clogged the carburetor.
Hammond also damaged his Minsk bike in the Vietnam special and his Opel car in the Botswana challenge by driving them in water, but all of these were more a result of his inattention and fatigue from hours of driving in inhospitable weather (as well as poor judgment in the last case) than by a lack of technical ability typified in the other examples of the trope. Just like forgetting your gas cap on your roof of your Caravan in the middle of a road trip doesn't mean you don't know how to drive a van.
Perennial Top Gear guest Sabine Schmitz is known as the Queen of the Ring for being able to drive any and everything around the Nürburgring (the world's most demanding racecourse/public road located in Germany) in record time. Was demonstrated in one Top Gear segment by driving a stock Ford Transit diesel commercial van around in a time that most average drivers struggle in their expensive sports cars. In addition to this she is a professional racing driver in both open and stock car classes, is the host of her own Top Gear-esque motoring show (D-Motor) which has her participating in a wide range of motoring stunts, she holds a pilots license, owns her own helicopter and finally she is an accomplished equestrian demonstrated by beating a motor bike in an off road race around aforementioned Nürburgring.
Jay Leno's Garage usually features Jay showing how to operate a vintage car and more often than not it would not be immediately obvious to somebody used to modern standard controls. A common phrase to hear is something like "And this is your heater/brake/magneto/indicator... you need to pump that up every ten minutes or the whole thing goes up in smoke". Then there's the pre-drive checks that have to be done on many older cars and motorbikes (like getting steam up in the Stanley Steamer).
In one instance someone asked him how much about the Vincent motorcycle he was writing. The talk show host demonstrated his knowledge by opening up the oil tank and dipping a finger in it. This would cause severe burns in most vehicles after use, but Leno knew the oil in the Vincent would be at about room temperature, even after a long ride.
A cool moment for Iron Maiden's Bruce Dickinson (certified to fly Boeing 757s) was showing on TV that he could land the NASA Space Shuttle simulator (with a little verbal co-piloting from an expert, but still pretty impressive).
Indeed. It should be noted that a Space Shuttle doesn't so much "land" as it "plummets to earth in a (hopefully) semi-controlled manner". Different from a Boeing 757 in that you can't abort a landing and climb again if you screw it up the first time in a Space Shuttle. You're dead.
Chris Barrie hosted a similar Discovery channel program, but unlike Bruce couldn't land the Zeppelin airship (modern, not Hindenburg-era) simulator without smacking into the mooring mast quite hard. In another program he showed just how hard it is to ride a police motorbike round the police testing course, wobbling around and toppling over since all the emergency kit makes such bikes very top-heavy. He could ride an old Brough Superior (belt-drive gears and all) with no problem though.
In season 3 of Ice Road Truckers Alex got into trouble because he could not handle the gear shift on his truck. He has driven trucks for decades but was not familiar with the setup in the truck he was given to drive and would shift to the wrong gear.
He also had problems with putting on tire chains though it should have been trivial to someone with his experience. He rarely had a need for them on the roads and ice roads he normally drove on.
In Generation Kill, Evan Wright notes that the driver in the team he was embedded in, Corporal Person, wasn't licensed to drive their Humvee. This note was part of a list used for examples in explaining the idea that it's pretty hard to "prepare" for war, that a lot of little things you just can't do anything about will start adding up. Presumably, this was more of a formality fallen by the wayside because of need, since quite a few of the drivers were similarly unlicensed (members of their battalion don't normally operate in vehicles out in the open) and Person jokes at one point that their time spent in the Humvee should qualify him.
Humvees are automatic transmission, so it wouldn't be hard. It's most likely that he was simply never given the formal training to indicate that he was qualified for that specific military vehicle.
Someone who had only driven civilian cars and SUVs might find himself at a loss for how to start the Humvee, as the starter system makes perfect sense only AFTER it is explained to you. Incidentally, if anyone sends you to get keys to the humvee, unless there's a padlock involved somewhere, they're messing with you.
If registered in European countries, Humvee is legally a truck ("motorized vehicle over 3500kgs loaded weight") and can be driven by anyone holding a truck license. Controls are not different from a 4x4 truck anyway. Some older military trucks are much more demanding - see the Soviet ZIL-131: 6x6 transmission, 5-gear main gearbox (out of which 1st is the reduction gear, normally the 2nd is used to start) multiplied by 2-gear transfer case, limited slip differentials actuated by pneumatic controls from the dashboard, tire pressure controlled from the dashboard, all controls hard as set in concrete... in Soviet Russia the truck drove you more than you drove it.
The US Army M35 "Deuce and a half" truck similarly has some particular oddities about it, such as a gear shifter that LOOKED like the shifter in a normal car, but had the gears in all the wrong order. The shift pattern reverses itself halfway through. Going from 1st to 2nd to 3rd is a normal down-up-down motion, but going from 3rd to 4th is not back up again, it's over and down with 5th being up. Fortunately, it is typically "Army Proofed" by having the shifting positions posted on a metal plate riveted to the dashboard. You still drive the vehicle primarily with brute violence and foul language. Like the Humvee, it's got a starter system that is counter-intuitive to people used to keys, and there's no power assist for any of the steering or shifting. Hope you like grabbing big heaping handfuls of steering wheel and stomping on the clutch like it slept with your wife.
Inverted, indirectly, by Ronnie Biggs of the so-called "Great Train Robbery"; he had one job to do, locating a train driver to move the mail train they were robbing. He managed to find one - one who couldn't drive the model of engine the mail train used. In the end, confirming the trope (sort of) the rest of the gang managed to get the train into place.
Farmers in modern developed countries have to know how to operate everything from tractors, which can have three gear sticks and all kinds of attachments, to combine harvesters, trucks, ancient rusty utes, (pickups) motorcycles and then operate and maintain all the seeders, cultivators, sprayers and other complicated machines. Optional extras are horses, light aircraft (ranging from ultra-lights to crop-dusters to helicopters) and ride-on lawnmowers. Yeah, farming is not nearly as easy as it looks.
Drivers who drive on the left hand side of the road (Britons, Australians, Japanese, Indians) and people who drive on the right hand side of the road (Americans, Canadians, Continental Europeans, Mainland Chinese) use the same fundamental driving skills but in a different manner. Which gets hilarious when you suddenly think you're driving on the wrong side of the road, reach on the wrong side for the gear stick if driving a manual transmission from the other side, or best of all, look the wrong way at intersections for oncoming traffic.
Many cars in Japan and the US put the controls for the turn signals and windsheild wipers on levers attached to the steering column (fittingly enough, as they are often made by the same companies), but their positions are reversed, due to the left-side-right-side thing. When American military personnel newly-stationed to Japan signal a turn by turning on their windsheild wipers, this is affectionately known as the "Yokota Wave", after a major American air base near Tokyo.
The US Army is engaging in a standardization program so that most of their vehicles can be operated by one interface. Which happens to be a Xbox controller. Link
At the moment the man-portable drone systems are controlled by Xbox controller, while the Humvee-deployed ones are controlled by laptop/PS3 controller. There are also iPhone-controlled devices that the militaryis prototyping, in an effort to invoke this trope. It helps that the control scheme is dead simple and takes 5 minutes at most to be proficient. And that's just the stuff that they'll tell you about.
Surprise! Indy Jones was quite correct. It's easy to fly a (small) plane, and hard to land. It's actually a LOT easier to fly a small plane in a straight line, than to drive a car in traffic. Landing, on the other hand, involves technical precision, which requires both knowledge of the numbers (principally airspeed and rate of descent) for the particular plane, and practice, since the numbers can quickly get out of hand without a smooth hand on the controls.
Sometimes played straight with certain single-pilot aircraft designs where there is no two-seat variant for whatever reason. In order to fly the F-22 Raptor, pilots must gain experience on other, less powerful jets such as the F-16 Fighting Falcon or the F-15 Eagle, and do a lot of homework on the F-22's design and flying characteristics before climbing into the cockpit. The fact that they can practice in simulators nowadays does help though.