Follow TV Tropes


Crash Course Landing

Go To
The two halves of a Crash Course Landing: those on the ground, and those in the air

The pilot(s) has been taken out somehow, and only you can land this plane. The thing is that even if you know how to fly a plane, such as a light recreational plane, you don't have training with how to fly this type of plane (a huge jet). A variant is there is a passenger with flying experience on big planes, but it was during the last war, so they don't understand the electronic screens and procedures on a modern jet. So someone has to walk them through working all the complicated machinery and instruments, and hopefully you can glean enough from what they are telling you to land the plane safely.

Seems ridiculous, right? I mean, just a few simple instructions and you can learn how to land a plane? Please!

Well, Mythbusters tried it out, and Jamie and Adam both pulled it off. Who knew? The common knowledge was that it shouldn't have been possible even under controlled conditions. The feat has since been done in real life, making the trope Truth in Television, if still a situation few people would want to find themselves in.

It was still a cliché long before they tried it out, and even if it's actually possible, the contrivances to get the hero into this situation tend to stretch the Willing Suspension of Disbelief.

The basics of flying a plane that's already in the air are very, very easy - in fact, planes today pretty much fly themselves (at least in most situations) and are designed to land in full autopilot if necessary. The hard part about flying is doing it 15 hours in a row in bad weather with a sky full of other planes, with air traffic control constantly yelling at you and your crew mishandling the complex avionics. Start-up of a contemporary jet involves roughly 30 minutes of systems checking and button mashing, and of course you'll have to land the plane >100 times a year without a scratch. So there, that explains the 1500 flight hours requirement for the Airline Transport Pilot License.

Compare Falling into the Cockpit and Coming in Hot.

Contrast Captain Crash.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Case Closed Non-Serial Movie Detective Conan Film 08: Magician of the Silver Sky features a particularly intricate example: after poison incapacitates its pilots and a lightning strike disables the autopilot and radio, high school girls Ran and Sonoko must manually land an airliner (that is also missing one engine and almost out of fuel) on an unlit pier. Fortunately they have help from high school detective Shinichi Kudo (in the person of Conan disguising his voice, calling them from an intercom phone to talk them through the procedure) and flamboyant thief Kaitou Kid (who manipulates the dozens of police cars chasing him into forming up as makeshift runway lights).
  • A variation in Pokémon the Series: Ruby and Sapphire had Max and Gym Leader Tate taking instructions from Tate's father to land a rocket ship.

    Comic Books 
  • An issue of the Barbie comic featured Barbie having to land the space shuttle like this. The comic justified with the claim that because Barbie already knew how to fly planes, flying the shuttle was easy to learn in a matter of moments.
  • MAD parodied this in a segment for "obsolete movie clichés" where a flight attendant has to activate the automated emergency landing sequence, which doesn't require her to do much at all.
  • Happens at least twice in Mortadelo y Filemón:
    • In Secuestro Aéreo, Mortadelo goes disguised as copilot to the cockpit of an airliner and is mistaken by the captain as the actual copilot. He's forced to seat and begin the take-off procedures having absolutely no idea while the plane is accelerating on the runway. Mortadelo mistakes the button to turn on the radar with the one that drops a fire extinguisher in the captain's head, leaving him KO. Things only go worse from here.
    • In Los Ángeles '84, Profesor Bacterio when brawling with Mortadelo knocks unconscious both pilot and co-pilot of the airliner that's carrying the protagonists and the athletes to the Olympic Games. Bacterio offers to pilot the plane managing to land it upside down
  • Subverted in Y: The Last Man when airline stewardess Beth II tries to land the aircraft after the male pilots die in the Gendercide. The plane crashes, killing all but three of the passengers. She later realises that the automatic landing system had already been set and if she'd just left the controls alone they would likely have landed safely.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side had a jet liner going down in flames, with the pilot taken out and chaos in the cockpit, and a poodle stepping up to the controls to save the day.

    Film — Animated 
  • Played with at the end of Bee Movie. First she thinks she can fly a plane due to instructions from a bee, by simply following his motions. She finds this incredibly easy...until lightning strikes the plane, shutting off the autopilot which was running the entire time. Turns out, flying a plane isn't so easy. Fair enough. Then it goes into Refuge in Audacity by having a hive of bees carry the plane to the runway. Must be a pretty light plane. Oh, and as they land, they break every law of aerodynamics by having the airplane hover, move backwards, etc. around a large flower.
  • Tintin and the Lake of Sharks: After the pilot jumps from the plane with a parachute, Tintin has to take control of the plane and perform an emergency landing.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • This almost happens in Airport 1975, when the chief stewardess ends up flying a 747 after a mid-air collision. Almost, because George Kennedy and the U.S. Air Force managed to drop Charlton Heston into the airliner's cockpit so he could land it instead.
  • Blood Red Sky opens with a hijacked airliner being talked down onto an air force base in Scotland, flown by passenger Farid al Adwa. Unfortunately his troubles are not over yet as the authorities assume he's a terrorist and refuse to let him leave the aircraft despite his urging. We then flashback to How We Got Here. It's later revealed that one of the pilots Bastian was in league with the real terrorists, but on being told that Farid could safely use the autopilot to land the aircraft, the heroine (a vampire) killed Bastian to drain his blood rather than Farid's.
  • Chariot. The plot involves seven passengers who have been placed on an airplane after a nuclear attack on the United States. When they force their way into the cockpit the pilots open fire on them, leading to a shoot-out that kills one pilot and seriously injures the other. Turns out none of the passengers know how to fly the plane, so a passenger who is a truck driver agrees to assist the wounded pilot. When that man also dies, he has to try and land the airplane as they've completely run out of options. The movie ends at that point, so we don't find out if he succeeds.
  • Subverted in Executive Decision. The Big Bad shoots up the cockpit, killing the pilots, and taking out the radio. So the heroes have to flip through a flight manual to learn how to land. Given that the hero in question had some experience as a light-plane pilot (but not yet certified) he at least would know enough of the jargon to keep the plane flying and make a decent landing attempt. His only mistake is overshooting the runway and putting the plane into a crash barrier, but as they say, any landing you can walk away from....
  • Played with in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. Teddy is obsessed with aviation, and is shown having constructed a mock-up of the controls of a plane at his table in the hotel, and is getting a pilot to talk him through how to take-off his particular aircraft, with the implication that he has done this before with other pilots. This experience allows him to steal a plane in Syracuse and chase the bomber holding Indy, despite never actually having flown before.
  • In the movie It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, Ding and Benjy are forced to make one of these landings after their inebriated pilot hits his head while flying and knocks himself out.
  • The Doris Day movie Julie (1956) is notable as potentially the first film to feature the subplot of a stewardess piloting an aircraft to safety . Julie is warned that her Psycho Ex may be on her flight. She spots him, but Lyle pulls a gun on her, then kills the pilot before being shot himself. Julie is "talked down" receiving instructions on how to fly the aircraft.
  • In episode 11 of The Mysterious Mr. M, after Waldron shoots Kirby Walsh and parachutes out of the plane, Shirley takes the controls and Grant tries to talk her down. The Cliffhanger has Shirley flying right at some power lines that come out of the fog as she's making her final approach to the runway.
  • The 1986 movie Panic In The Skies involves Kate Jackson and Ed Marinaro having land the plane after the pilots are dead. The Air Force decides whether to shoot the plane down to avoid from crashing into the city.
  • San Francisco International Airport: Played with in the Davey subplot, as Davey stole the plane in the first place. The movie explains that the plane is "easy to fly" (which is apparently true!) and earlier establishes Davey as an aviation nut to explain how he ever got it up in the air and why he hasn't crashed it within seconds.
  • This trope is Lampshaded in Snakes on a Plane when the stewardess says "I can't believe I'm saying this" before the trope's calling card "Is there anyone who can fly a plane" line. Then it overlaps with I Know Mortal Kombat when the best they can get is someone who plays piloting games obsessively.
  • In Sharknado 2: The Second One, Fin had to land the plane when both pilots were killed; at least one engine was destroyed, there are several holes in the plane, and there are sharks flapping around.
  • The Turbulence trilogy:
    • Turbulence lacked some of that "learning how to fly on-the-fly" magic that graced Airplane!, because the 747's controls were entirely automatic. The flight attendant basically pressed the "Fly me to Los Angeles" button, and the "Land me" button.
    • Turbulence 3: Heavy Metal involves a heavy metal concert on-board a 747, which turns into a hostage situation after members of a Satanic cult hijack the plane with the intent to crash it into a small church in Kansas with millions of people watching online, which they believe will bring about the Apocalypse. Slade Craven, the star of the concert, manages to subdue or kill the hijackers, but now there's no one to land the plane (the captain is shot by a cultist, while the co-pilot is himself one who commits suicide in front of Craven). Also, the control tower at the airport is destroyed by an explosion. A hacker and a great fan of Craven's music, along with an FBI agent, manages to contact Craven and guide him to land the aircraft, while the hacker himself tries to simulate the landing with a flight simulator. Interestingly, the hacker fails in the simulator, but Craven succeeds.
  • Ted Striker did this in both the dramatic film Zero Hour! (1957) and the much more famous comedy remake, Airplane!. Ted was a pilot, but he was shell-shocked and had bad eyes in the former, and in the latter he was entirely unused to a multi-engine jumbo jet (see Runway Zero-Eight in literature below). And he has this drinking problem. *SPLASH*

  • Robert Munsch wrote a children's book, Angela's Airplane, where a girl accidentally takes off in a plane, and the air traffic controller coaches her down.
  • In Blind Flight by Hilary Milton, a blind girl is successfully talked through landing a small plane after the pilot is knocked out from a bird strike.
    • Blind Flight should not be confused with Flying Blind by Frank E. Peretti, which also involves a blinded kid having to pilot a plane (in this case, blinded due to smacking his head due to a near miss with a bigger plane, which knocks out the adult pilot.)
      • Note that in the case of Flying Blind, the blinded kid had some training and experience co-piloting the plane and therefore was familiar with the controls. The difficulty came with him being unable to see any of the gauges or obstacles when landing.
    • Would be possible with someone who knew the controls or provided extremely good communication skills.
    • Has recently happened in England: a pilot went up (alone) in his small plane, and suffered a stroke which caused him to go blind. Following instructions from the control tower and another plane which took off to fly side-by-side with the first one and provide direction, he managed to land safely.
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus: After the pilots become hypnotized in the air, Lucky and Bigman have to figure out how to land the plane on their own. They manage it (but barely), crashing through the planet-wide ocean of Venus.
  • Runway Zero-Eight by Arthur Hailey, who also wrote Airport, is perhaps the originator of this trope. The pilot and copilot of a four-engine airliner are rendered unconscious by food poisoning. A former RAF fighter pilot, who hasn't flown for 10 years and has never flown a multi-engine airplane, has to be talked through landing the airliner. Zero Hour! (1957) is based on Runway Zero-Eight and Airplane! is a spoof of Zero Hour!.
  • In the first book of The Survivalist series by Jerry Ahern, World War III breaks out while the hero John Rourke is on a passenger flight across the United States. The flight crew are blinded (and eventually die) from the nuclear flash, so Rourke (as per usual, he has only single engine training) has to land the plane with the help of the stewardess. He manages to crashland the aircraft (ironically the stewardess is killed despite Rourke insisting she leave the cockpit), and hikes into the nearest town to get help. By the time he's able to return, the survivors have been massacred by one of the outlaw gangs that have sprung up After the End.
  • The Two-Headed Eagle by John Biggins. The protagonist Otto Prohaska, after seeing this trope on television, remembers it happening to him while he was on a plane trip to the Channel Islands in 1959, and the pilot had an allergic reaction to a bee sting. Unfortunately the response of the British air stewardess to a Funny Foreigner telling her he flew biplanes for the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War One is to first ignore him, then tell him to shut up, and afterwards castigate him for his silly joke. Luckily there's a British ex-flight engineer from a more recent world war on board whom she ropes in for the task instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Air Crash Investigation: Averted; see "Ghost Plane" below. The male flight attendant who was the only conscious person on the plane was possibly under the influence of hypoxia and had insufficient training to handle a 737, and by the time he reached the cockpit, the fuel was already critically low. The plane eventually ran out of fuel and crashed.
    • The possibility is raised in a few other episodes, but it never actually happens.
  • In an episode of The A-Team, the team takes over a plane from the bad guys, only to have Murdock blinded. Hannibal lands the plane, with Murdock giving instructions.
    • The team originally called the control tower for help. They planned to give the team a false heading and have them crash-land in the ocean. Amy was at the control tower, pulled a security guard's gun and radioed the team to tell them about it. The control tower and Murdock were able to guide Hannibal to landing the plane.
  • The Boys (2019): A chilling aversion in "The Female Of The Species". Homelander and Queen Maeve are sent to stop a mid-air hijacking, but a terrorist kills the pilots just as they enter the cockpit. When asked if he can fly a plane, Homelander just shrugs (he's a Flying Brick, so why would he learn?) and points out that even if he could, he inadvertently destroyed the flight controls when he shot the terrorist with his Eye Beams. He then callously leaves the passengers to die, refusing even to save a mother and child because they'd be witnesses to how the Supes screwed up.
  • Bugs did this in an early episode where a disgruntled computer scientist was hacking into an autopilot system he designed in order to get them to pay him royalties on the system.
  • Cheers subverts this; Sam and Diane go up in a three person plane, and the pilot, a massive prankster, fakes a fainting spell, whereupon they are forced to get air-traffic control to walk them through it; the radio shorts out just as the Air Traffic Controller says "This is very important; whatever you do, don't-".
  • Chuck did this with a helicopter. Interestingly, when Casey first tries to guide him through using technical terms, Chuck is completely lost. Then Sarah steps in and tells him to pretend it's a video game.
  • Subverted on Desperate Housewives. When the pilot of a small plane has a heart attack and dies while flying, his wife (the only passenger) can't find a safe place to land, so she crash-lands the plane onto Wisteria Lane, killing herself and several people on the ground.
  • In a first-season episode of Emergency!, a man and his teenage son are out flying in a light plane when the father has a heart attack. The son has very little flying experience, so Roy has to talk him through landing the plane before the paramedics can treat the father. Just another day in the life of an L.A. County paramedic...
  • Father Brown: In "The Missing Man", Father Brown has to be talked through landing a light plane after the pilot (a young girl) freezes at the stick. The person talking him down inadvertently makes the 'crash course' joke, and Father Brown mutters several prayers throughout the process.
  • Get Smart. At the end of "Closely Watch Planes", Maxwell Smart realises he's stuck with this trope after knocking out the KAOS agents who are disguised as the airliner crew. We're not shown how he resolved the situation.
  • The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries: "The Strange Fate of Flight 608" has all three jet pilots knocked out by some weird drug...leaving Frank and Joe Hardy to fly the plane. In a hurricane. In the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. Without any radio help, and the one semi-conscious pilot falls asleep mid-instruction. Guess who manages to crash-land in the middle of the ocean?
  • The Derren Brown special Hero at 30,000 feet leads up to the subject (with a major fear of flying) being put on an airplane and told that the pilot had passed out. After volunteering to land the plane, he was put into a trance during which the plane was landed normally, and he was moved to a flight simulator. He landed the plane in the simulator successfully.
  • The Incredible Hulk (1977). The episode "747" had David Banner being the one who had to land the plane, while suppressing his Hulk Out from the pressure of doing it. He's able to land the plane only to hulk out before he can activate the brakes, but fortunately a teenager who'd been reading a pilot's manual enters the cockpit and is able to show the Hulk what to do.
  • JAG:
    • Harmon Rabb lands a 747 airliner belonging to Oceanic Airlines in ”The Bridge at Kang So Ri” after having taken out South Korean radical-left hijackers. Considering that he’s a pilot, he only gets a reminder of how big a 747 really is.
    • In the pilot episode, he has to bring in a damaged F-14 Tomcat after the pilot was injured on a recon mission. Harm was trained to operate the Tomcat, but he's five years out of practice and needs help from their Wing Man and from Mission Control to bring the plane in safely for a night-time landing. To further complicate things, Harm suffers from Night Blindness, the cause of the crash that previously ended his flying career.
  • Leverage had a variation. The team creates a fake emergency at an airport and the air traffic controllers divert all the planes before evacuating. Hardison is the only one left in the control tower when he realizes that one plane could not divert and has to land. With no real controllers left in the building Hardison has to try and give the flight crew landing instructions. In an "Eureka!" Moment he loads up a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator and simply reads back to the pilots the instructions the simulator gives him for the landing scenario for that particular airport.
  • The Librarians 2014: In "And Santa's Midnight Run", Baird and Stone have to figure out how to land the cargo plane.
    Baird: You want to help me out?
    Stone: Yeah. How?
    Baird: Google "How to lower landing gear."
  • Magnum, P.I. did it, referencing several movies where it had occurred. Higgins is the one talking him in and, unfortunately, fails to tell him how to stop the plane once it is on the runway; causing him to crash after he's landed.
  • In a first season episode of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the villains, in a rare moment of brilliance, attempted to kill Kimberly by sneaking her uncle a sleeping potion just before he took her, Bulk, and Skull up in his airplane (the two bullies also sipped the potion). The presence of civilians meant she couldn't simply teleport away, and so this trope was brought in to save the day.
  • Mission: Impossible: In "Target Earth", Shannon has to be talked through landing a space shuttle.
  • The Mod Squad: Linc did this in "Real Loser," in a small single-prop aircraft.
  • As mentioned, MythBusters proved this trope is plausible. They just can't call it confirmed because there is no actual recorded incident of it in Real Life, and it was done in a simulation (which they did fail without help though). The expert attempting to walk them through the simulated landing noted that even a simulation was extremely stressful.
  • In the Person of Interest episode "4C" Finch had to hack into the controls of an airliner about to crash into the runway at an airport in Rome (The pilots had been injured by a member of the Carnival of Killers trying to kill the week's Number) from his library in New York and land it remotely. A previous episode had established that he did have a pilot's license - for prop planes. This was his first attempt at piloting a 747. The plane bounces a little on the runway, but does land safely.
  • In an episode of Pixelface, Kiki gets trapped in a flight simulator game and has to be talked through the landing procedure by Rex. However, being the Cloud Cuckoolander, Rex is only able to do after first constructing a mock-up of the flight controls made entirely of fruit (It Makes Just As Much Sense In Context).
  • Mentioned on an episode of QI, in which they refer to a study that showed that only one in ten American pilots of private planes could safely land a commercial airliner in simulation.
  • In Quantum Leap, Al guides Sam through piloting a plane (actually the X-1) but tells him not to bother trying to land but to just eject once he's broken the sound barrier.
  • Quantum Leap (2022): While Cory is rerouting the hydraulics systems in "The Friendly Skies", Ben is left to land the plane. Ian steps in as the hologram to walk Ben through it and provide him with a Heads-Up Display.
  • The pilot movie for San Francisco International Airport (as seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000) has one subplot revolving a boy who steals a light airplane; Parnell Roberts' character has to talk the boy through how to land the plane. Justified by having the plane in question being "easy to fly", and the boy having a fan's knowledge of aircraft to build on.
  • Saturday Night Live.
    • In one sketch, host Lisa Kudrow plays a flight attendant who discovers the flight crew has died. She then has to land the plan with instruction from the control tower. Unfortunately, the person she's taking instructions from is Chris Kattan's unintelligible character.
    • In a similar sketch, members of Kylie Jenner's entourage are forced to land a plane, with the help of two air traffic controllers (Kate McKinnon and James McAvoy), who they unfortunately can't understand, due to their thick Scottish accents.
  • Some Mothers Do Have Em: Frank is forced to make one after his instructor passes out mid-flight in "Learning to Fly".
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Coming of Age", after Jake steals the shuttle, his inexperience at the controls causes him to fall into the planet's gravity well. Picard talks him through how to "bounce" off the planet's atmosphere to avoid burning up.
  • One episode of The Unit had Brown and Gerhardt talking a guy down whose pilot had died on him. Apparently the man in question was former black ops, and somebody higher up had it out for him as their rescue attempt was repeatedly interfered with. First the pilot died, then somebody called the base and told them to stop helping — which they chose to disregard — and finally somebody jammed their radios as the guy was on approach.
  • Voyagers!: At one point in the episode "All Fall Down," Jeffery must land a plane after everyone else on board is knocked out (including Bogg). He's walked through it by an air traffic controller, and manages to successfully land the plane.
  • An episode of Walker, Texas Ranger (insert Chuck Norris Joke here).
  • It was probably inevitable that Wings would utilize this, and they did. In the second season episode "Airport '90", Brian takes Helen up so she can practice flying. Sure enough, Brian falls during some turbulence and is knocked out cold, and Joe must talk Helen through the landing.

    Music Videos 
  • Dierks Bentley grabs the controls of a Boeing jet in his music video for "Drunk on a Plane" after the pilot gets knocked out during the in-flight party. Bonus: Dierks is a pilot in real life and sometimes flies himself and his band to shows in his private aircraft.
  • The music video for "Learn to Fly" by the Foo Fighters. The entire flight crew and most of the passengers on a flight that the Foos are on are incapacitated by coffee that had been accidentally drugged (during a guest cameo by Tenacious D at the beginning of the video), requiring the Foos to leap into action to land the plane themselves. Ironically, the Foos were not taken out by the coffee because they were drinking cocktails instead.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Critical Role: Tal'Dorei Campaign Setting: One of the books adventure hooks forces the players to learn how to ride wyvern-mounts or freeze to death in a mountain-side blizzard. Since the hook is called "The Impossible Task," it seems to be written for characters that don't have dragon-riding as part of their backstory.
  • The GURPS adventure Flight 13 may result in this scenario, since the eponymous passenger plane has its pilot incapacitated by a heart attack and its co-pilot by flashbacks. If none of the player characters has a suitable Piloting skill, an NPC passenger has some experience, but is wheelchair-bound, and needs to coach one of the characters through operating the foot controls.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 
  • In the middle of The Idiot Apocalypse you must land a plane in order to get to the fantasy island Trizabet, as the pilot is unable due to the intelligence decreasing virus. This involves noticing the randomly flashing numbers being described by the game and hearing Lisp Guy's hint about prime numbers, thus needing to enter any prime number between the two flashing numbers in order to successfully land.
  • Larry Laffer from Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work successfully landed a plane by turning on the autopilot, because the pilot went on strike while the airplane was still in the air. Larry's total flight experience up to that point had been selling flight simulator software.
  • Resident Evil 6:
    • Leon Kennedy (a known Captain Crash of the series) has to land a plane after one of the pilots mutates and kills everyone onboard except Leon and his partner Helena. They survive with minor scrapes, but before that the plane drags itself along the street across half the small Chinese town and collides with a train. This event is the only one shown in each of four campains of the game, with other characters freaking out when a huge airliner glides several meters above their heads.
    • Later, Leon and Helena get into similar situation on a helicopter. After barely avoiding yet another collision with a train, they crash into a building they were heading to.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • Bob's Burgers: In "Seaplane!", Linda is forced to land Kurt's sea-plane based on having seen him fake a crash-landing earlier in the episode.
  • Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers: The Rangers manage to pull off not a "simple" landing, but a freaking planetfall and touchdown with a NASA experimental space plane. After about five minutes in a simulator (and crashing twice there). And this might have happened before Gadget gave Dale his piloting lessons.
  • This was used in the Codename: Kids Next Door episode "Operation: H.O.L.I.D.A.Y.". Lizzie is forced to take the controls of the plane after Numbuh Two and Numbuh Three both became incapacitated after inadvertently taking a bite from the pie that Lizzie was going to give to Numbuh One. Numbuh One was forced to give Lizzie instructions on how to fly and land the plane. The episode even threw in this amusingly clever Shout-Out to Airplane!:
    Numbuh One: Surely you'll realize you don't want to crash?
    Lizzie: [on the radio] Who is Shirley?!?!?!
  • In Donkey Kong Country, DK, flying in Funky's biplane as part of a Zany Scheme to undo a I Owe You My Life situation, finds himself out of control when Dixie's pet crab chews away the remote control Funky was using to steer the plane on the ground. Luckily, Cranky's hologram appears to coach DK through.
    DK: I didn't know you could fly.
    Cranky: I'm also one heckuva mirangue dancer. But this is no time to discuss my list of accomplishments!
  • Family Guy
    • In "Death is a Bitch", Peter, taking over Death's job is forced to kill the kids from Dawson's Creek to prove people can still die. He fails to do so and accidentally killed the pilots. Actress Karen Black steps in and land the plane.
    • In "Airport '07", Peter, Cleveland, and Joe plan to get Quagmire's pilot job back by boarding the plane, drugging the pilots, and Quagmire stepping in and saves the day. Quagmire missed the flight because he had sex with an airport worker. He mourns at the bar and with the help from Hugh Hefner, he went to the control tower and instructs Peter to land the plane safely. In the end, Quagmire got his job back and the other three are released from prison.
  • Happened in an episode of The Flintstones when Fred is taking piloting lessons. Barney ends up with Fred when he's taking the license test. Fred got himself ejected out from his plane after a mishap from flying in restricted area and leaving Barney behind. Fred instructs Barney from the radio on landing the plane safely.
  • The Garfield and Friends episode "Skyway Robbery" also had this plot point halfway through. After Jon, Garfield, and Odie have taken off in the rundown plane that they boarded (thanks to Mr. Swindler), the plane starts to have problems after the pilot bailed out, leaving the three in the dark about how to land the plane. It was fortunate that Jon was able to contact the air control tower who starts to talk them down. However, when the air control officer tells them how to work the plane, Jon doesn't know which control to use, but when said officer begins describing the controls in a way that Garfield understands (the air control officer began using food and pasta-related terms because he was having spaghetti), Garfield was able to flawlessly land the plane back on the ground again.
  • The Scooby-Doo crossover ep with The Three Stooges "The Ghost Of The Red Baron" has Curly applying for the position of cropduster for a farmer, but his flying skills leave a bit to be desired, crashing through the corn field to halt his forward movement after a haphazard flight. Then later, the Red Baron sets a plane airborne with Velma in the cockpit. And in spite of her bright mind, she doesn't know how to operate it. Scooby falls off a windmill and into the cockpit next to Velma. They embrace each other as the plane, running out of gas and skimming the ground, crashes into a haystack.
  • The Simpsons: In "He Loves to Fly and He D'ohs", Homer has to land a private jet after the pilot passes out. Marge calls his life coach to talk him through the process, but the life coach doesn't know how to land a plane either.
  • We Bare Bears: In "Baby Bears on a Plane", Baby Ice Bear is the only one who can fly the plane when the pilot nearly chokes on his pancakes and passes out, and the co-pilot is accidentally locked out of the cockpit.
  • Young Justice (2010). In "Misplaced", a spell has made every adult in the world disappear. Billy Batson (who can't change into Captain Marvel or he'll disappear too) persuades a teenage girl called Amber to fly him in a Cessna to their headquarters at Happy Harbor. Unfortunately Amber turns eighteen at the stroke of midnight and disappears as well, leaving Billy stuck in the airplane. Rather than try to land it, he takes the risk of transforming into Captain Marvel which is just as well, as the adults are actually in an alternate universe where all the children have disappeared, so Marvel can tell them what's going on (and save Amber who's now falling to her death in that universe).

    Real Life 
  • This has never happened in a big jumbo jet, where there is always a copilot ready, but there have been a handful of cases where this was able to be done with a small private plane.
    • An early 1980s episode of Thats Incredible where they tell the story of a husband-and-wife who went up in his small plane. During the flight, he has a heart attack and falls unconscious. The wife, getting instructions from the aircraft control tower, successfully landed the plane.
    • A similar (or possibly the same) incident was recounted in an issue of Reader's Digest.
    • The 2009 case of Doug White is another example. White and his family were flying home after a vacation when their pilot died at the controls. White commandeered the plane and was talked down to the ground by ATC. White wasn't completely in the dark, as he had flight experience, but not all that much and all of it in a single-engine. This plane was a King Air 200, a twin-engine turboprop, which requires considerably more training.
    • On May 10th 2022, a fully untrained passenger pulled this off on a flight from the Bahamas to Florida after the pilot passed out (the plane in question was small and privately owned, so presumably there was no copilot to take over). Thankfully, with the help of air traffic control, he was able to land the plane safely. The passenger (Darren Harrison) left quickly after landing the plane.
      "I have no idea how to stop the airplane... I don't know how to do anything."
  • Although he was a flight instructor, Dennis Fitch (who initially boarded the plane as a passenger) landing United Airlines 232 is this to some degree, because being trained to fly a DC-10 under ordinary circumstances doesn't exactly prepare a person for flying a DC-10 with no hydraulics. Making the feat even more incredible is that no one had ever been trained to fly under those circumstances (the chances of a total failure of the triple-redundant hydraulic system on an otherwise airworthy aircraft were so infinitesimal that it was erroneously believed to be functionally impossible — in fact, Fitch, who had played around with the idea a tiny bit in a simulator, was probably as familiar with the idea as anyone), so Fitch didn't even have someone talking him through it; he had to figure it out as he went along. It was far from a perfect landing, as the plane crashed on the runway and broke up, but over half (184) of the 296 people onboard survived, when the expected outcome of that kind of failure would have been a total loss of the aircraft and all persons onboard. note 
  • As mentioned in the main article, current autopilots are actually designed to handle landings, making this more than plausible as long as the radio is still working so the non-pilot will know what buttons to push.
    • An essay in Robert A. Heinlein's Expanded Universe even lets us know that it was possible at that time (1982) to fully automate an airline flight—it's just never happened before because people are afraid that something might go horribly wrong.
      • Heinlein had also written an Author Tract against automation of anything as complex and potentially hazardous as a garage door, stating that controls should have triple redundancy to execute and half a dozen manual overrides (though he was for giving self-aware AI's the same rights and autonomy as any other sentient being.)
    • James May (of Top Gear (UK) fame) has published a book called How to Land an A330 Airbus which in the titular chapter explains to a complete novice how to land with autopilot and radio assist at an airport equipped with landing assist. The chapter has a disclaimer saying (I paraphrase) "To be used only in the event of complete buttock-clenching emergency."
  • On February 20, 1944, a US Army Air Forces B-17 was badly damaged during a raid over Leipzig, Germany. The pilot was severely wounded and his co-pilot was killed, and the ball turret gunner, Staff Sergeant Archibald Mathies, and the bombadier, 2nd Lieutenant Walter E. Truemper, took the controls and flew the plane back to the base. Neither man was trained to land the bomber, and neither one was willing to leave the pilot (too badly injured to Abandon Ship) to die in a crash. They received permission to try and land the plane after the rest of the crew bailed out. The plane made two failed landing attempts, and on the third attempt, the plane crashed in a field, killing all three aboard. Mathies and Truemper both received the Medal of Honor for the attempt and for their refusal to abandon their crewmate.
  • Another unsuccessful example happened in 2005. In a strange incident, a pressurization problem apparently deprived Helios Airways Flight 522 of oxygen. Two hours later, a military plane sent to find the aircraft saw the pilot and co-pilot unconscious, then a flight attendant (who had apparently used spare oxygen bottles to stay conscious) enter the cockpit and sit at the controls. He made visual contact with the military pilots, but within minutes, the engines used up their fuel and failed, and the plane crashed. Investigators later determined that the flight attendant did have some flight training, but only in light aircraft, not passenger jets, not to mention that he was likely suffering some effects of hypoxia; furthermore, at the time he entered the flight deck, the fuel was already so depleted that safely controlling the aircraft (never mind landing it) would have been an extremely difficult challenge even for a flight crew experienced in handling this specific aircraft. The flight attendant attempted to call for assistance over the radio — he called "Mayday" five times — but because the radio was still tuned to Larnaca, not Athens, the messages didn't get through, nor could he hear ATC's attempts to contact the plane. Whether he could have pulled off the landing had he gotten to the controls sooner and been able to make radio contact with the ground is anyone's guess.


Video Example(s):


Linda Lands Shoshana

Linda is able to land the seaplane from watching Kurt previously fake land it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / CrashCourseLanding

Media sources: