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Improbable Piloting Skills

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Let's hope the "fasten seat belt" sign is on.

"They were spectacular. We recorded thirty-four kills out of a possible thirty-six with no losses. If I hadn't been there, I'd think it was propaganda."
Tycho Celchu, Rogue Squadron

A trope possessed by many an Ace Pilot, and sometimes their Wing Man too.

Heroes, as a rule, are supposed to be better than everyone else. However, if everyone is using similar (flying) machines to fight, it can be hard to make him stand out above his peers: enter Improbable Piloting Skills. If there’s ANY chance something can be done with a Cool Plane/Humongous Mecha/Hover Tank/Giant Flyer of choice (and indeed quite possibly even if there isn't), he can do it on the spur of the moment with a 100% success rate. And, of course, anything he climbs into basically gains an instant + 100 to all its stats.

Some of the most common Improbable Piloting skills are:

  • If it flies...
    It doesn't matter what sort of machine it is - so long as it can fly, he can pilot it like a pro. Be it a glider, ultra light, single engine Cessna, mach 50 transforming super fighter, or alien spacecraft, just give him five minutes and he'll figure it out. This also applies to when the pilot receives their mid-series upgrade. There's never any mention of the months of retraining needed to fly it... At best he's maybe a little clumsy for one episode, or if not, just as likely to blast off in it to save the day against impossible odds five minutes after he first sees the thing.

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  • Flying Computer
    This pilot has extremely high intelligence, has excellent 3D perception skills and can estimate distances, altitudes, times and velocities in a split second. He can perform mental calculations in a snap of fingers and estimate what kind of manoeuvres are needed to perform a certain feat. He is usually excellent on aerodynamics and what is possible and what not, and eager to take calculated risks which seem impossible for the laymen.

  • Aerody-whatsit?
    The hero's plane is not bothered by concepts such as drag, stall, or lack of thrust. He can throw his craft about the sky in an often physics-defying manner with no repercussions. This also applies to ships that are an aerodynamic nightmare which would, in reality, have trouble getting off the ground, never mind back flipping at mach 2.

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  • Gravity Shmavity!
    The hero is immune to G-Forces, or at least remarkably resistant to them. He can hold casual conversations while pulling 9Gs and executing moves that would probably kill a mere mortal.

  • Reinforced Plot Armor.
    Planes and most flying things tend to be fragile: if an unnamed character’s craft is so much as nicked by a slingshot's pebble, it will explode in a fiery conflagration. Not so the hero's craft, of course. Once he climbs aboard, any Personal Plot Armor he happens to be wearing is transferred to it and indeed quite possibly boosted. His craft may be missing a wing, so full of holes it looks like a sieve, and with one engine out, and he’ll still manage to shoot down five enemies with it before making an emergency landing. (Note that the B-17, Zivi Nedivi and the Warthog are Truth in Television.)

  • My Missiles are Better.
    The weapons on the hero's craft may be identical to the weapons used by other characters, but they will often function in a superior manner - fly faster, be harder to intercept, do more damage, and track better. This also applies to the defensive measures on the hero's craft: they will always distract the enemy missiles, while flares deployed by the enemy will never do a damn thing against the hero's own.

  • The Eyes of An Eagle.
    The hero doesn’t just have good vision - he has wide angle telephoto vision with a super slow-mo shutter! He’ll always spot the enemy first and never lose track of him once sighted. He can clearly see and shoot down/dodge incoming missiles that would be nothing but a blur to a real human being as they are often moving faster than bullets.

  • Three Times Faster than a Normal Zaku.
    Any craft the pilot climbs into is instantly rendered improbably faster and more maneuverable than others of its type (may coincide with Reinforced Plot Armor by increasing evasion skills). Sometimes this is "justified" with an Ace Custom or by painting it red (or both), but other times, the pilot is simply so awesome he can push his machine to an arbitrary speed, technical limitations be damned.

  • White Hole Engines, Inc.
    The pilot will not run low on fuel. Magazines are bottomless, except for dramatic effect. As a corollary to Reinforced Plot Armor, electrical, hydraulic, motor, and other related systems do not show signs of wear or damage, regardless of how long the device is used, or in what conditions.

  • Space travel
    In science fiction a pilot will often fly his spacecraft as if it were a terrestrial airplane, especially using banking turns. In a vacuum, any controllable acceleration has to come from the ship's thrusters, so changing the ship's orientation alone won't do anything to the ship's speed or direction of movement.

While these powers, particularly "If it flies", can occur alone, they're normally part of a package deal that is free for any hero whose main mode of combat is aerial warfare of some kind. Less important characters may be allowed weaker versions of these, but the highest grades are the domain of the main protagonist (and probably his obligatory rival) alone. This aerial awesomeness may be counterbalanced if they're Graceful in Their Element and clumsy outside of it.

Do keep in mind, though, that Tropes Are Not Badsome of these can actually happen in Real Life (and very much have).

Sister trope to Ace Custom that makes it a little more believable. Contrast Captain Crash.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Often enough used in all kinds of Gundam (except the unlimitied ammo thing, which occasionally occurs). Interestingly enough the actual planes tend to be less impressive than or equal to contemporary Real Life designs apart from the occasional Energy Weapon unless piloted by a main character, to hammer home just how much of an advancement Mobile Suits are. The spaceship-like Mobile Armors are all over the performance scale with some being flying (as if someone just threw them) bricks and others matching the vaunted Gundams themselves in terms of mobility.
    • Two very similar examples of G-forces: the Tallgeese from Gundam Wing and Union Flag Custom from Gundam 00, each used by their show's Char Clone (Zechs Merquise and Graham Aker respectively), boast incredible speed and acceleration, but do so at incredible risk to the pilot (for Tallgeese this is the reason it's a Super Prototype, and the standard Mook mobile suit is a deliberately downgraded version that normal people can survive piloting; the Custom Flag's mods were done on request of the pilot). Both men are shown to suffer effects like Blood from the Mouth, tunnel vision, near blackouts, and in Zechs' case a full-on heart attack as a result of the stresses they put on their bodies in order to fight the Gundams on an equal footing.
    • Taken to extremes in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED, though not by the numerous ace pilots as one might expect. Rather, the most improbable is Arnold Neumann, the helmsman of the Archangel, who isn't well known enough to be mentioned even once on the trope page of that series, and yet is responsible for some of the most insane maneuvers ever performed by a battleship in a Real Robot series. Doing a barrel roll to point the ship's guns down or circumvent an enemy battleship? No problem. Recovering from a botched atmospheric re-entry? Not even worth a mention. Dodging beams and guided missiles alike between the time they are fired and the time they reach his ship (many times maneuvering so quickly it looks like the crew would surely be turned to red paste against the walls)? All in a day's work. And the Archangel isn't a small ship. It's The Battlestar, and several times larger than the biggest modern aircraft carrier. It ought to break its wings, if not break in half, for doing such things. In Destiny he manages to avoid a point blank shot from Minerva's cannon by banking the Archangel completely to one side, dodging the shot and flying completely past Minerva (who's own helmsman just looks completely stunned) to get behind her. While they were between two mountains with barely any room to move. And he does it before even getting the evasion order as the Captain was too surprised, he just does it by instinct.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Wing was also one of the bigger offenders when it comes to Reinforced Plot Armor; the basic mook MS, the Leo, is Made of Explodium to such an extreme that at least twice they're blown up by shots that missed. But put a named character in the cockpit, and they get dramatically more durable. Especially if it's Zechs or one of the Gundam pilots.
  • The Macross franchise hosts several pilots of this kind, even if they're not always the main protagonists:
    • Shin Kudo, who did well against Variable Fighters while piloting an ordinary F-14 Tomcat. "Well" as in "was able to get a VF into gunsights before it transformed."
    • Maximilian Genius, the confirmed top ace of the UN Spacy (and a brilliant military tactician, to boot).
      • Goes for his daughter Mylene, too, whose first flight in a Valkyrie is about as kick ass as Max's. This after every other candidate failed horribly at it.
      • And for Milia Fallyna (Max's eventual wife), who was known as the top Zentraedi Ace who had never been shot down even once. Then she went up against Max.
    • Isamu Dyson and Guld Bowman, test pilot virtuosos whose Super Prototype Valkyries can barely keep up with them.
      • However, Gravity Shmavity is notably averted. During the Dog Fight sequence, both Isamu and Guld are noticeably straining to avoid blacking out. Also in the movie, Guld dies due to the very insanely extreme G's he goes under while fighting the Ghost X-9.
    • Alto Saotome, who, after a few weeks' training, was able to match and surpass seasoned SMS and NUNS veterans (and became almost equal to a cyborg flying a Super Prototype of his own). However, it was noted that he already had some pilot training before joining SMS.
    • Zigzagged with Hayate Immelman. In his first time piloting a Variable Fighter, he's already able to dodge close-range Beam Spam with breakdancing. However, he was already a skilled civilian mecha pilot who was familiar with the control scheme used in VFs. Additionally, while he's an excellent mecha pilot, he has zero experience at piloting aircraft, which results in him getting shot down almost the instant he transforms his VF into jet fighter mode.
  • While about 90% of feats in Strike Witches can be attributed to the Strikers being magical, some of the feats are still improbable. Mainly, The Eyes of An Eagle and White Hole Engines, Inc.
  • Sonic exhibited improbable piloting skills in a few episodes of Sonic X. Episode 63 "Station Break-In" in particular. His antics behind the controls of the X-Tornado are wild and dangerous and include dodging pipes at breakneck speed and using the plane itself as a weapon rather than the plane's ammunition, much to Knuckles' displeasure. However, he has enough aviating skill by far to pull off these stunts with incredible fortitude and grace.
  • DokiDoki! Pretty Cure: This is pretty much the only explanation as to why Alice (aka Cure Rosetta), a 14 year old, is capable of piloting a space shuttle. A space shuttle that she personally owns.
  • Hakura/Sailor Uranus of Sailor Moon is a champion-level racer in an improbably-wide variety of motor vehicles, including sports cars, Formula 1, road motorcycles, motorcross, and even helicopters. Her Establishing Character Moment has her playing Minako in a racing video game, and overcoming a Mercy Lead so fast her tailwind capsizes the other car. Theoretically, this could have been based on some kind of physics engine exploit, but no explanation is provided—Haruka's vehicle just seemed to be inherently faster because she was controlling it.

    Comic Books 
  • The Blackhawks exhibited just about every type of improbable flying over their long run, but White Hole Engines, Inc. is undoubtedly the most common. Typically, the Blackhawks are depicted as being able to reach any location in Europe (and sometimes outside Europe) and return to Blackhawk Island with little trouble - even when the location is deep within Axis territory, like Czechoslovakia in 1940.
  • Ronto, a Rogue Squadron pilot in Star Wars: Legacy, invokes the "If it flies..." variant when asked if he could fly an Imperial shuttle during a prison break. He responds with, "Lady, if you had wings, I could fly you."
  • Ben Grimm is occasionally portrayed as having been an almost impossibly good pilot before becoming the Thing, being able to fly anything from normal planes to spaceships to whacked-out sci-fi vehicles. This (along with being Reed Richards' best friend) is why he on the space mission that led to the Fantastic Four's existence. After his transformation he still has the skills, but is hampered by being too big to comfortably get into a normal pilot seat and strong enough that he's in danger of breaking "fragile" steering mechanisms unless he's very careful.
  • Flamingo from the Golden Age Contact Comics who pulled such blatantly impossible stunts as landing on the side of forested mountain. And taking off again.
  • Subverted in CrossGen's Negation. The group of fugitives believed sigil-bearer Westin's ability was to pilot any alien spacecraft he could get his hands on, which was true, but he could actually look into the recent past and see how the ship's previous owner operated the ship. Westin would then copy their movements.
  • Cyclops, leader of the X-Men, and one of the best pilots in the Marvel Universe. Remember, he's colour blind (those special glasses/visors he has to wear to control his Eye Beams leave him seeing everything red-tinted), but apparently his Improbable Aiming Skills, which are officially part of his power, allow him to maneuver better at the seat of a plane than a normal person. When he isn't leading the X-Men, he's usually working as a civilian pilot of some sort. This also seems to run in the Summers family. His grandfather Philip was an Ace Pilot in World War II. His father Christopher was an Air Force and NASA test pilot elite enough that he was one of the only a few dozen pilots chosen to fly the SR-71 Blackbird (appropriately enough Cyclops later pilots the X-Men's own Blackbirds, the original version of which was a modified SR-71), before being abducted by aliens and becoming the Space Pirate Corsair.
  • The heroines of Jet Dream, who are particularly good at improvisation, such as (for example) disabling an enemy plane by dropping an empty external fuel tank on it.
  • This is the schtick of Kevin "Ace" Koss in Fred Perry's Gold Digger. Pulling a Curb-Stomp Battle against a squadron of enemy pilots (all of them veteran fighter aces, all of them using technologically superior fighters—and with his weapons mostly non-functional) is just a typical adventure with the Diggers sisters. His rivals (and one unwanted Stalker with a Crush) Roxanne "Dark Bird" Rabinowitz and Skipper "Skippy" von Richtofen are just as good—and the only people who can make any of them break a sweat in a dogfight is either of the other two.
  • Batman. Most versions of the Bat Wing should instantly spiral out of control and crash if they somehow managed to get airborne due to how small the control surfaces are. The fact that he can get the thing to fly level, much less actually dogfight with it, lands him squarely in this trope.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Wonder Woman (1942): In the Golden Age—before Diana could glide on the winds—Diana was capable of piloting her own admittedly advanced air/spaceplane through impossible tasks, possibly helped along be the inclusion of the Amazon mental radio tech in the plane's piloting system. She was also able to pull off some impressive stunts in other planes, including piloting a heavily sabotaged plane so that it would be believable for her to survive the inevitable crash even as a baseline human.
    • Steve Trevor has lived up to his Ace Pilot status fairly spectacularly on multiple occasions including when having to pilot while his co-pilot was possessed and on fire, while in a plane crashing into the sea, and while in a plane being torn apart by being ripped betwixt dimensions.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Discworld of A.A. Pessimal, Olga Romanoff has become Captain Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch Air Division and the Pegasus Service. The Air Division is probably the nearest thing Ankh-Morpork has to a combat Air Force, and is composed of witches with a particular interest and aptitude in flying. Olga realises that her deal with flight is like Jason Ogg's bargain with blacksmithing - if you aspire to be the greatest flying witch on the Discworld, then you have to be prepared to fly anything, however ludicrous and pointless and potentially dangerous it is. Olga is therefore skilled in a dozen different types of broomstick, flying carpets, the Pegasus, the yarrow stalk of the elves, and the mortar and pestle of her own people. In The Price of Flight, Olga has branched out into mastering a new kind of heavy air-capable craft...Osibisi. Winged elephants.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Apollo 13, one of the astronauts, Jim Lovell, is seen this way by his elderly mother, who states that if they could get a washing machine to fly, he could land it. Maybe she's right. Normally, the Apollo capsules were flown with assistance from the flight computer with the main engine. After the accident, not enough power remained, so the flight computer was off. Also, the main engine was feared damaged, so the engines from the lunar lander were used. They lined up their target (earth) with an optical sight (read: crosshairs in the window).
  • In the movie Biggles: Adventures in Time, World War I flying ace Biggles is able to work out how to fly a late 20th century helicopter by experimenting with the controls for a few minutes. Definitely a case of "If it flies..." Lampshaded, with his present-day associate telling him he can't fly it, he doesn't know how, to which Biggles just replies "If you can fly a Sopwith Camel, you can fly anything." Well, the Camel was notoriously unforgiving of pilot error...
  • Top Gun is entirely based around this trope. Subverted with the flat spins. Watch out for that jetwash, Maverick!
  • Stealth was mostly based around the notion of introducing AI pilots who would be unaffected by the physical limitations of human pilots. At one point, the AI plane is ordered to pull off a maneuver which would be incredibly difficult for a human pilot to do and survive, in order to destroy a bunker full of terrorists. One of the human pilots disobeys orders and makes the run himself (apparently just to satisfy his ego) and suffers no lasting injury (or punishment). The human pilots manage to keep up with the robot plane for most of the film, except when the plot requires them to fail.
    • It's clear from the dogfight scene with the Su-37s that the animators either didn't know or didn't care about G-forces.
  • Will Smith gets an If it flies in Independence Day with the alien space craft. Then he crashes.
    • The President orders anybody with piloting experience to fly F/A-18 Hornet fighters in the battle over Area 51. This includes a crop duster pilot.
      • Somewhat subverted in this case, as Russell Casse described flying combat missions in Vietnam before his crop dusting job, so his ability to handle a military airframe isn't exactly improbable...but his ability to adapt to a fighter that doesn't even have analog instruments kind of is.
  • Hot Shots! as it is mostly a parody of Top Gun parodies most versions of this trope. Topper's plane can cartwheel through the air, paddle enemy planes out of the sky with his wings, and fly through downtown traffic. He also loses both wings, his engines, his instruments and most of his hull but lands successfully on the aircraft using a perpendicular trajectory.
  • The Italian Job helicopter pilot. What's crazy is that the director was surprised how well the actual pilot did during the ordeal. There's even a featurette, or part of a featurette on the DVD about it.
  • The A-Team had Murdoch do some impossible things with a helicopter and then culminated with him 'flying' a tank.
  • Most of the subtropes can be justified by the Force, and we all know George Lucas is in hot, drooling love with the Old-School Dogfight, but all that aside, Luke Skywalker (and to a lesser extent, Wedge Antilles) has massive Reinforced Plot Armor. He and his dad seem to have a healthy dose of "If It Flies..." as well.
    • Add both Han Solo and Lando Calrissian to this list. With no Force assistance they both make the Millenium Falcon perform some absurdly precise and extreme maneuvers.
    • Anakin somehow manages to land the remaining section of a breaking-apart capital ship on a landing strip on Coruscant, not to mention blowing up the Droid Control ship in The Phantom Menace despite having never flown before.
    • As for Luke? Well, he has flown a T-16 Skyhopper, which is manufactured by the same company (Incom) that makes the X-Wing, with a similar design. This allows him to climb into the cockpit with little trouble. And he is, after-all, not only Force Sensitive but, per Lucas, the strongest Force-user in all of (Legends) canon. Still...
    • Poe Dameron in The Force Awakens. He actually manages to exceed anything even Luke has done onscreen, despite (supposedly) not being Force-sensitive. He is practically a one-man squadron. At Takodana he takes a massive toll on First Order TIE Fighters (downing half a squadron in a single pass!) as well as managing to snipe Stormtroopers on the ground! At Starkiller Base he accomplishes an Airstrike Impossible, flying through a trench while under heavy fire (like Luke in A New Hope) and into the weapon through a burning rupture formed by explosives so that he can shoot out crucial systems from the inside while still making it out alive (like Wedge Antilles in Return of the Jedi)! He also invokes the "if it flies..." trope when Finn frees him from his cell and ask if he can fly a TIE Fighter, saying "I can fly anything."
      • Rey pulls off some impressive maneuvers herself after stealing the Millennium Falcon on Jakku, despite all her previous experience being on simulators for smaller ships, and some of the controls being physically out of reach from the pilot's seat (the minimum crew of a YT-1300 is supposed to be a pilot and co-pilot). She evades TIE Fighters by flying through the remains of a crashed Star Destroyer, and sets up Finn to kill the last one despite his turret being jammed downward, by flipping the ship and pointing the now very awkwardly placed gun straight at the enemy fighter.
  • The Matrix justifies this trope: Trinity turns into an Instant Expert at helicopter flying after having the knowledge directly uploaded to her brain. However the helicopter does end up crashing.
    • Some of the maneuvers with the real world hovercrafts fall into this trope as well.
  • Always has pilots diving headlong into a blazing forest, with the tips of trees brushing their belly, and coming out in one piece. Al describes just what they're up against:
    Al: In a real fire, there's heat! There's heat that can suck you under, flip you over! There's currents that can tie a knot in a windsock!
  • In Sky Bandits, Barney and Luke manage to land their unwieldy gunbus on top of the German airship!
  • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, we see that 23rd century denizen, Sulu, is able to fly a 20th century helicopter with minimal difficulty. Helming a starship is hardly the same thing. It's possibly justified that Sulu seems to have piloted antique helicopter's in the future just for fun as he is indeed familiar enough with the technical specifications of a Huey to strike up a conversation with the actual pilot about it and convince him to let Sulu borrow it for a short while.
  • Naturally, First Man shows off the incredible and dangerous maneuveurs pulled off by the Apollo 11 astronauts.
    • Neil manages to regain control of the X-15 flight as it threatens to skip off the atmosphere helplessly into space and he even manages to land roughly where he was supposed to.
    • Neil recovers the spin on the Gemini flight, with little help from Mission Control, in pitch darkness, and after his co-pilot has passed out from the G-forces. He does it by correctly deciding that the flight control thrusters are causing the problem, turning them off, and then using the ship's re-entry thrusters to regain control. He saves the astronauts' lives, but the mission has to be aborted because he used up three-quarters of the re-entry fuel doing it.
    • Neil fails to regain control of the LLRV (in reality the vehicle suddenly lost fuel pressure to its attitude thrusters, so there was no way to regain control), but he does eject in time to avoid being killed in the crash.
    • Lastly, and most memorably, landing the LEM manually to avoid landing on top of a boulder or in a crater, all while the landing computer keeps setting off the master alarm. The movie, in fact, downplays the precariousness of the LEM landing as the error codes displayed by the computer required more serious intervention than just turning the alarm off each time. This was displayed with some accuracy in From the Earth to the Moon.

  • Almost everyone of Korval in the Liaden Universe. Though given the huge emphasis on breeding for pilot skills and reflexes, studying, flying, and ship owning, it might actually be reasonable for them to be able to fly any ship they end up in. Even Pat Rin (who ends up finally getting his license after having to fly his ship in an emergency) has studied a lot about ships and flying, even if he somehow freaked out and never passed any official exam.
  • Force-Sensitive pilots in the Star Wars Expanded Universe are seen as possessing these. In Death Star, a decent Imperial pilot remembers flying in training, with low-powered lasers so that no one was killed, and how during one demonstration Darth Vader decided to join them. He toyed with the best of the trainers, a veteran that made the decent pilot feel like a child who could barely walk trying to keep up with a marathon runner, matched every move, did things that TIE fighters should not be able to do, and was later found to have shot everyone down with his targeting and navigation computers disabled before launch, which the decent pilot believed was flatly impossible. Said pilot concluded that if he got on Vader's bad side and was pursued, he'd just overload his engines and commit suicide.
    • Prior to his Face–Heel Turn Anakin Skywalker already had a well-deserved reputation for this. The height of his achievements was piloting General Grievous's flagship from orbit and landing it on Coruscant, without burning up on reentry and with minimal property damage. Note that said ship was not designed to land on a planet. And it was exploding at the time. And that Anakin didn't have any actual piloting controls to work with: he was flying entirely by opening and closing vents on the ship's hull to steer it where he needed it to go. When Obi-Wan told Luke that Anakin was the best pilot in the galaxy, he was being completely sincere.
    • A somewhat less dramatic example (usually): The pilots in Rogue Squadron are some of the best in the galaxy. They built up a reputation for being able to succeed at impossible missions. Wedge Antilles, the long-time squadron leader of the Rogues, is the only man in the entire galaxy to have the kill mark silhouettes of two Death Stars on his ship.
      • Specifically... During the Vong war, there was that time when Wedge was slow to evacuate from a base, his escape shuttle was destroyed, the only ship functioning was a droidless X-Wing marked "Blackmoon Eleven". So he got in it. And destroyed an entire squadron of Vong coralskippers, which generally only happens through superior firepower or trickery. In certain parts of fandom this has lead to the very small, specific meme, "Blackmoon Eleven: the Greatest Pilot of All Time".
      • Wedge explicitly has a combination of nearly-inhuman reflexes, situation awareness, and experience that totals up to making him almost supernaturally good. More than once he's able to "stretch his senses" through and past his X-Wing into the cockpit of enemy craft, knowing how they'll react before they do. He claims that it has nothing to do with the Force. A variety of tests for Force sensitivity (which show him having none whatsoever) confirm this.
      • Many quiet mentions are made of Tycho Celchu's piloting skills throughout the series, usually referring back to past feats, but the big example comes in I, Jedi where he very nearly takes Corran apart with his Awesomeness by Analysis style. Corran is not only an ace pilot, but a Jedi as well.
    • In Galaxy of Fear, Tash finds while navigating an Asteroid Thicket that while she's a decent pilot most of the time, with the Force to help she's pretty spectacular.
    The two smashed asteroids had turned into a hundred smaller rocks. There was no way to avoid them. Tash closed her eyes tight and moved her control stick, flying totally by feel.
    When she opened her eyes, she'd passed through the debris untouched.
  • Hawk Hunter of the Wingman series by Mack Maloney is this x50. He can fly any craft, even shooting down and outmaneuvering several MiG jet fighters with an A-1 Skyraider prop plane, a relic with nothing but cannons. He's also a certified genius and engineer, which lets him know every detail of every plane in the world (to the point of knowing the location of all the individual bolts and weld spots on his own F-16) and is in fact psychic, letting him tell the direction a plane is going and what speed/altitude it's traveling at before it's within visual range, or tell when his F-16 is approaching with another pilot at the stick.
  • Harry Potter, as soon as he gets out one of the clumsy, old-as-sin school training brooms (without having touched a broom before), can catch an apple-sized (glass) sphere in his hand after a fifty-foot dive, and topple gently to the ground. Granted, it's magic, but dayum.
  • The Michael Crichton novel Airframe involves a plane that went through a series of wild dives and climbs that nearly tore it apart, leaving everyone wondering how the pilot was able to get it under control and land. Subverted when it turns out the pilot was actually causing it due to not being familiar with the type of aircraft.
  • Lethally subverted in Dread Empire's Fall - not only are maneuvers like those of this trope terribly hard to comprehend, never mind perform, but in what is essentially an atomic slugfest, your pinnace is the least survivable cans on the firing range. And the closest. And missiles can pull more G's than you. The only wartime purpose they serve is to coordinate the missiles at the relativistic battle distances, and they're only slightly more retrievable than their explosive flock.
    • Even with large ships, this trope is averted. Good tactics and firing solutions served the protagonists better than piloting did in any combat. And lighter armor or smaller arsenals only meant you had less firepower to overwhelm the enemy with.
    • There's one avian-style species noted to have a much better comprehension of 3D maneuvering than most other species', but being avian-esque, they have weaker bones and so they can't pull as many G's. And since all travel is acceleration based (thank you, Einstein), fleets with ships outfitted for them can't accelerate nearly as hard.
  • In the Biggles books, Biggles and his companions never seem to have much difficulty mastering the controls of whatever aircraft they're required to fly in each volume. Probably justified, as Biggles has been a professional aviator since the age of seventeen, starting out as a fighter pilot in wood-and-canvas biplanes and then spending the twenties and thirties in civil aviation before being called up for the Second World War; there can't be many classes of aircraft he hasn't flown at some point, and his colleagues aren't far behind him in professional experience. There's also a surprising exception: It was a plot point in one of the earlier novels that Biggles was not IFR-certified. It never comes up again, so presumably he eventually corrected this gap in his skillset.
  • In Melisa Michaels' Skyrider series, Melacha "Skyrider" Rendell has this reputation. She's widely considered to be the best pilot in the belt. To some extent, the reputation is deserved, as she proves when she has to manually dock with a spinning, out-of-control ship, rescue its crew, and get away safely again.
  • John Ringo's characters tend to be larger than life, but in Citadel and The Hot Gate Dana "Comet" Parker stands out for her flying skills. After a fair amount of training, on her first mission she accelerated into the landing zone (she was being chased by missiles), executed a skew turn (on her first try) to decelerate, and barely survived smashing into the far wall before dropping into the landing zone as her craft lost all power. The people watching this were debating whether to give her a medal for such skill or a Mast for being utterly insane. Later she accelerates into another landing zone and the decelerates at 400 gravities (Ringo goes on and on about how Earth based equipment cannot accomplish 400 gravities even with head-on collisions) with such skill that she comes to an almost dead stop exactly on the landing zone "with a slight bump". The people watching were openly screaming in terror as they saw her heading towards them at incredible speeds, convinced that she was going to crash and kill them all.

    Live Action TV 
  • Dobbs from the German TV action show Der Clown. The movie Payday takes his badassness to the max as he flies multiple loops with his helicopter only a few hundred feet above ground while successfully evading heat-seeking missiles.
  • "Howlin' Mad" Murdock from The A-Team is of the "If it flies" variety. He once helped Hannibal land a large passenger jet at LAX with his eyes closed (Murdock had been temporarily blinded by a gun that discharged in his face.) The air-traffic control workers acknowledged how implausible it was.
    Face: Hey, I got us a Gulf Stream. Can you fly it?
    Murdock: Hey, brother, if it's got wings, you know I can fly it.
  • Colonel Jack O'Neill from Stargate SG-1 pilots an F-302 on a couple of occasions, despite a conspicuous lack of pilot's wings on his uniform. He has stated in dialogue to have been a test pilot in the past, to give a Hand Wave for this.
  • Stargate Atlantis:
    • Colonel John Sheppard from claims he can fly anything. He proceeds to do so over the course of the series. He's flown or operated helicopters, Air Force fighters, human-alien hybrid F-302 interceptors, Daedalus-class warships, Wraith Darts (without knowing the language), Ancient Puddle Jumpers, Ancient Aurora-class battleships, the city of Atlantis, and an asteroid.
    • In the Grand Finale, Dr. Carson Beckett (a physician) manages to not only fly the titular city but also engage in a battle with the Super-hive and successfully almost crash-land the city in the San Francisco Bay, with hardly a tiny wave from the splash-down. This is the same guy (or rather, his clone) who had trouble controlling anything with the control chair prior to the mission and didn't really get much training in the meantime. Could be justified by the fact that it's mainly the city flying itself with Beckett just giving overall commands.
  • In Firefly, if it weren't for Wash's piloting skills the crew of Serenity would have been captured, dead or worse several times. Mal even calls him a 'genius pilot' at one point, and it's noted several high profile people courted him before he signed on with Serenity. He's done a flat spin in atmosphere, successfully docked the ship with a space station, unpowered, from 6000 miles out, barnstormed down a snowy canyon, and in the movie Serenity, he flies their tiny ship through a titanic battle without a scratch and manages to crashland it safely, even after losing one engine and getting hit by an EMP weapon.
    • "I'm a leaf on the wind. Watch how I soar!"
  • One episode of the new Battlestar Galactica has Starbuck, stranded on an uninhabitable moon after crashing her Viper, have to get home in the Cylon Raider she shot down in the process. She makes some interesting observations about flying machines.
    Starbuck: Every flying machine has four basic controls: Roll, pitch, yaw, and thrust. If you can figure those out, you can fly.
    [touches a control, and the guns fire]
    Starbuck: OK, don't touch that again.
    • Starbuck does however have a few advantages over most examples on this page: She's trying to figure out how to get a Space Fighter off the surface of a moon with fairly low gravity, which means that once she gets it off the ground and up to escape velocity she doesn't have to care about its stalling speed, never-exceed speed or other aerodynamics issues for very long. Space is also by its very nature largely free of anything to crash into.
  • JAG had Harmon Rabb, Jr. - whether it's pushing a crippled F-14 with his plane, landing a 747 after the pilots have been shot by hijackers, landing a C-130 on the deck of an aircraft carrier, or flying his restored WWII-era Stearman he demonstrates time and again that as long as he's at the stick you're probably going to make it home in one piece. Whether or not the plane does is a matter of debate.
  • Tom Paris in Star Trek: Voyager. While this can be explained by the universal controls on all Starfleet ships and shuttles (and the one Starfleet shuttle with nonstandard controls has a cockpit of Paris's own design, so that's not exactly going to trip him up), he was still able to pull off some incredible maneuvers, such as putting his shuttle in one of the Voyager's blind spots when the ship was hijacked.
  • Air Crash Investigation: The series covers actual incidents that have occurred in aviation, a number of which feature pilots having to control aircraft under highly unusual and dangerous circumstances. Several of the incidents are listed under Real Life.
  • Comedy ensemble show The Mary White House Experience subverted this trope. A sketch noted that as the skills required to pilot a modern jet fighter in combat were converging more and more with those necessary to succeed in air-fighting computer games, the next generation of RAF aces were not going to be craggy manly Biggles types. Oh, no. A sketch followed through the recruitment and training of Up to Eleven spotty, geeky, teenage nerds into the Royal Air Force, who all became fighter aces in an unspecified war somewhere.
  • Intergalactic: Echo is a very skilled pilot, matter of factly saying he'll fly the ship with just one thruster while riding out the turbulence (he does).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Genius: The Transgression features the "if it flies" variant of this trope. Geniuses never take penalties when applying skills to unfamiliar situations. This means that a genius with high Drive skill is an ace pilot with everything that flies, from a crop duster to a space shuttle.
  • GURPS has the wildcard skill Pilot! which allows the user to fly any plane or spaceship.
  • Some ace pilots in Aeronautica Imperialis, who can use pilot skill checks to miraculously survive when their chosen maneuver would put their plane at below stall speed or at altitude 0 (otherwise known as 'the ground'). Especially awesome when a bomber pilot pulls off an insane maneuver.
    • One fan-created scenario based on Dr. Strangelove pits one ace-piloted Imperial Marauder, Space Marine Thunderhawk Gunship, or Tau Tiger Shark against an assortment of enemy interceptors and ground defenses in an attempt to maneuver through a series of canyons to reach a ground target. Needless to say, the bomber pilot has to be very, very good to pull it off.
  • Games with sufficiently broad skills can easily end up with the "If it flies..." version by definition — if handling everything airborne falls under the purview of a general-purpose "Pilot" or even "Vehicles" trait, then of course anyone in the game who can fly, say, a Cessna can fly anything else just as well (or poorly, depending on the individual in question).
  • All over the place in X-Wing Miniatures. While Space Is Air being in force is mostly inherited from Star Wars, you get some impressive displays of piloting implausibility: Juno Eclipse's ability to modify her manoeuvre speed by 1 allows her to do things with a TIE Advanced that even Darth Vader can't, Hera Syndulla can turn a chunky freighter on a dime even if she was heading into a long-distance Koiogran turn, BB-8 in the astromech slot allows slow, chunky Y-wings to barrel roll, and the list goes on.
  • The Speed Demon Advanced Class from d20 Modern Urban Arcana, who uses explicitly supernatural enhancements, falls under Aerody-whatsit? (due to outright reducing speed penalties to piloting skills), Reinforced Plot Armor due to having the class ability to apply their own Defense bonus to the vehicle they are piloting, making it almost untouchable at higher levels, and Three Times Faster than a Normal Zaku due to possessing a class ability that improves the top speed of any vehicle they are currently piloting by 25%.

    Video Games 
  • The Super Robot Wars crank up the skill Amuro Ray displayed in the series to a ridiculous degree, to the point where even the Eldritch Abominations let alone every anime's cast recognize him as one of if not THE most badass person in the universe (Which he shares with people like Ryouma, Kouji, and pretty much every sort of god-like Super Robot ever so that says A LOT while he's piloting a GUNDAM.) His stats reflect this.
    • To say nothing of Tetsuya Tsurugi who have been broken in several games, and being considered as The Ace of the group(and yes, this is the same group with several badass from mecha anime on it).
  • Along with Zeerust, this trope is pretty much what powers Crimson Skies.
  • On a larger scale, Non-Action Guy Joker in Mass Effect claims to be able to make the Cool Starship Normandy sit up and dance. He proves he's not exaggerating when, among other accomplishments, he swoops down from orbit and drops a TANK in a narrow street, not 30 feet from the main villain without scratching it at all, while facing hostile fire and then swooping back up into orbit with no problems. He is the best pilot in The Alliance, after all.
    • He pulls a Han Solo in the sequel when he flies through an entirely unmapped debris field close to a black hole (the ship had strong protection), ensuring the Normandy took barely any damage.
    • Joker comments that banking in a vacuum is actually really hard, but he's just that good. He was probably exaggerating to promote himself. Regardless, he's one of the best human pilots alive, if not the singular best. Makes you wonder how someone with weak bones can pull that many G's, but when you accept the Mass Effect itself, you can pretty much handwave most of physics quite comfortably.
  • An earlier BioWare example was Carth Onasi of Knights of the Old Republic. Flying a damaged escape pod and managing to crash it in the "good" part of town, flying through at least one Sith blockade, a dramatic escape from the Sith flagship Leviathan, no less than five Sith patrols, and setting down on Lehon, despite having most of the Hawk's engines and systems crippled by the planet's defense shield (the place they land is pretty much a starship graveyard with hundreds of ships fallen over he centuries). Atton in the second game also flies the Ebon Hawk and several shuttles through overwhelming blockades and hostile fire. Atton is confirmed to be a Force sensitive and drawing on it subconsciously to help him fly. There are several hints in-game saying this could apply to Carth as well.
  • Another example would be Kang the Mad in Jade Empire, though it's mostly a case of his flying machines probably shouldn't be getting off the ground at all, and he's piloting them with ease. Justified in that he's an amnesiac minor deity.
  • Halo:
    • Captain Keyes is guilty of this, to the point of turning down Cortana's offer to figuring out the controls of the alien aircraft they're pirating in favor of doing it himself; he proceeds to take down two Hunters with it before flying off. That said, it's very possible that he's piloted alien craft before, as he's had some adventures in the past (to say the least).
    • However, Keyes is best known for the "Keyes Loop", where he defeated a force of four superior Covenant ships with just his one, with one part involving charging straight past a Covenant destroyer so that the plasma torpedoes chasing his ship would hit the destroyer instead. Of course, fighting in space allows you to pull off all sorts of maneuvers that you wouldn't be able to do in an atmosphere.
    • In some games (notably Halo 3) vehicles can only be destroyed by killing the player - making this a surprisingly literal example of the extending-shields aspect of this trope.
  • Katana in Project Sylpheed for Xbox 360. At the beginning of the game, it's nigh-suicide to take on a trio of destroyers. If you, the player, actually manage to do it, you get a special conversation where Katana's commanding officer exclaims that it was one of the most awesomely psychotic things he's ever seen anyone do, but he doesn't want to see Katana do it again. By the end of the game, you're taking on ships a hundred times the size of your support ship, and it's all okay because, as one copilot puts it, "we've got Katana!"
  • Ace Combat has this in spades. Beyond the Hyperspace Arsenal, your character is easily capable of taking down multiple squadrons at once, while attacking ground forces, and avoiding their combined fire. Hard turns at over 1000 mph? Check. Flying the A-10 and F-117 well beyond supersonic in level flight? Check. Being capable of surviving multiple missile strikes? Check. Hell, if you do it gently enough, you can fly into, and seemingly bounce off of, the ground and water.
  • Freelancer. Let's begin the checklist, shall we?
    • If it flies...
      Oh yes. You can move from a Liberty Light Fighter to a Corsair Heavy Fighter instantly, without any prior knowledge. Add a mod or 2, and you could end up piloting a battleship or a prison ship. Possible justified, as humans have learnt how to harness wormholes, so how hard can it be to create ships that are linked to the owner telepathically?
      • Or have universal controls.
    • Reinforced Plot Armor.
      Then again, so are the enemy ships, so not really counted...
    • White Hole Engines, Inc.
      The ships run on fusion engines, with a special concoction of hydrogen, and its isotopes. Practically all the weapons are lasers, or variants of lasers. The few exceptions include missiles, mines, torpedoes and countermeasures.
  • Sazh freakin' Katzroy. The first time he gets into a plane in-story, he does a High-Speed Missile Dodge before the bad guys hit him. And he's a civilian pilot, so it's anybody's guess how he learned to dodge anything in the first place. Also a mild offender of If It Flies.
  • The Star Fox series picks and chooses which tropes to use. Most common are My Missiles Are Better, Eyes Of An Eagle and White Hole engines. Interestingly, some of the others are subverted - multiple times, especially in 64, you have to boost to catch up to enemies, or brake to avoid them.
    • 64 subverts the 3x Faster rule too in the Hard version of Venom: Team Star Wolf has ships that have about as much armour as the arwings, and are considerably faster, to the point where it's difficult to use the traditional manveuring tricks to get behind one that's tailing you, and even then, you only have a couple of seconds to get a shot off.
  • The If It Flies rule is present in Tachyon: The Fringe, as Jake cam go from a barely-fliable Mako to a top-of-the-line Archangel without any training.
    • Hell, the backstory claims he single-handedly saved the shuttle him and his family were taking by piloting it... as a teenager with no prior experience.
  • EVE Online is possibly the poster child for this trope. Although it does take time (lots and lots of time), you can fly any ship, from 747-sized frigates to Titans that are MILES long. And enhance their capabilities just by virtue of being that damn good. Make your weapons more damaging, faster firing, more accurate and longer ranged? Check. Make your ship tougher, faster, more agile and more powerful (in a literal, 'generate more power from the powerplant' way)? Check. And most importantly, do all of the above without actually adding anything to the ship? Big check. Particularly jarring when you consider that this can happen in the middle of a fight if a skill completes at the right time.
    • You hit the nail on the head though: While you CAN fly anything in the game, it takes weeks or even months (real time) to actually learn all of the necessary skills...and that's only to be able to pilot it with the efficiency of a drunken whale. Not to mention your ship is always a highly customized piece of equipment, and finishing a skill amounts to learning how to tweak something to get a tiny bit more performance out of it...ya know, kind of like how most people customize things in real life.
  • Solatorobo has Chocolat, a thirteen-year-old girl who's capable of flying a huge, chunky airship (think "flying home base", not fighter plane) through a Beam Spam and drop her brother onto a relatively small target without so much as singeing the paint on her ship.
  • In MechWarrior Living Legends, aerospace fighters behave somewhat like a real plane - provided you fly it like one. Ace pilots rely on exploiting the wonky aircraft physics, such as flying a Sparrowhawk scout plane at 30 kph upside-down mere meters from the ground, or by cutting the throttle while hammering the pitch/roll/yaw controls, causing the plane to turn on a dime in mid air. It's possible to land planes on each other or have battlearmor ride on the wings (albeit very prone to ending in disaster). Planes will bounce harmlessly off battlemech torsos (but nothing else), allowing pilots to literally ricochet themselves out of danger. Additionally, planes suffer no consequences for flying underwater or in space, the latter courtesy of all in-game aircraft being both atmospheric and vacuum flight-capable
  • Averted in Kerbal Space Program due to fan opposition. Developers had proposed making experienced pilot Kerbals bring boosts to rocket engine performance. Negative reaction from the fanbase resulted in the idea being scrapped. Although the game still has it share of Aerody-whatsit, it's the same whatever Kerbal is in the command pod.
  • In Hardwar, you are the only pilot who has the skills to perform crazy stuff with your Moth in the Titan moon, even if you're flying in the smallest and weakest Moth in the game. All of the other AI pilots including the police don't have such skills and are restricted to flying predictable patterns of which you can easily exploit even in their best days. In multiplayer, though, expect the other human pilots to utilize the same flying skills as you do so don't get cocky.

    Western Animation 
  • Baloo. He possesses all the aforementioned skills sans one (the Seaduck isn't armed with missiles... unless you count thrown fruit. Which he's a pretty good shot with, anyway.) He figured out the world's very first, prototype helicopter and Jet Pack in just a few minutes, despite them being so revolutionary for his 1930s-style world that he had never been trained or even SEEN them in his life. His beloved Sea Duck, an old, rusty and unwieldy cargo plane, is customized up the wazoo, making it faster and more maneuverable than the Air Pirates' zippy miniplanes, to the point only Baloo can pilot it to its full potential. He can withstand the immense G-forces from said plane's Overdrive, which is heavily implied to be a supersonic drive designed by Wildcat and Baloo himself (and remember, these are propeller engines spinning hard enough to go supersonic.) He can catch small objects (and people) mid-fall, while flying at top speed, just by reaching out the window, and they're not even hurt when he yanks them in with his bare hand. He can fly into caves and cracks in cliff-faces barely wider than his plane, through rainforests, through a skyscraper-filled city, under bridges, and into highway tunnels, the ends of his wings scratching and scraping the walls, and fly out without incident even as the aforementioned miniplanes (about a tenth the size of the Sea Duck) smash and crash. He can kamikaze into Wave Motion Guns as they fire at him AND glide the resulting wingless hull of a plane safely enough to save everyone on board. If a plane is missing the yoke, he can fly it by yanking the control cables directly. With his teeth. To top it all off, he once flew a prototype jet engine past the speed of sound. We say again: a jet engine, not a jet plane. As in, a turbine that wasn't attached to anything. And he flew it successfully just by hanging for dear life and tugging on it to change course, proving that he doesn't even need wings to fly. Oh and he was officially acknowledged as the first person to break the sound barrier in his world, while riding on the engine. So even when he gloats, no one blames him for it. He has earned it:
    Baloo: If you can't fly, don't mess with the eagles!
  • Anakin Skywalker. Reportedly one of the best pilots in the movieverse, it's not till the CGI Clone Wars movie where we see him commandeer a flying bug and an Alleged Spaceship and pull it off both times.
  • DuckTales (1987) has Launchpad McQuack, who has the Catchphrase "If it has wings, I can crash it." He can fly anything - even live animals, untested technology, and alien spaceships with controls not designed for his species - with excellent skill. The only thing he can't do is land. He appears to have overcome this problem by Darkwing Duck, or else maybe the Thunderquack just has auto pilot landing skills, or a thoroughly reinforced hull.
  • In The Legend of Korra, General Iroh manages to fly a biplane within moments of hijacking it. This was the first time he had ever encountered such a machine in his life and had zero training in it, yet despite a rocky start he manages to get it in control and dogfight in it.
    • If it can be driven or piloted, Asami Sato can drive it. She's an expert biplane pilot who can strafe enemy encampments with, at most, six months of study.
  • In ThunderCats (2011), Tygra manages to pilot an aircraft they had built, having never flown before in his life much like Iroh from the example about. Not only that though, he manages to beat Vultaire, a seasoned pilot with a better jet, in a flying contest, though just barely. The next episode he's leading flight formations. It is hinted that his skills were somehow passed on to him through his ancestor Tygus, who was an Ace Pilot.
  • Shane Gooseman in Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers can pull off maneuvers in an interecptor that are physically impossible for humans. Good thing he's not exactly human. Bad thing is that he drives ''exactly'' the same way he flies
  • Aerrow in Storm Hawks will perform at least one crazy and/or suicidal maneuver per episode if he has a chance to fly his skimmer or use its motorcycle alt. mode, and succeed with style. At various points he's managed to outfly the opposition on broken-down or otherwise rusted-over vehicles barely held together. He's even surfed on a vehicle's thruster like it was a skateboard!
  • In the Ready Jet Go! special "Back to Bortron 7", Celery assigns Sydney the role of the co-pilot of the Mothership. Sydney figures out how to steer the mothership almost instantaneously. This continues into the regular season 2 episodes as well. In "Souped Up Saucer", Sydney becomes the Wingman of the flying saucer, proving herself to be just as skilled a pilot as she was in "Back to Bortron 7".
  • In The Sky Crawlers: Innocent Aces, main character Lynx/Cheetah demonstrates the ability to perform post-stall maneuvers such as the Kulbit, which explicitly require thrust vectoring because they are by their very nature maneuvers that cannot be performed with purely aerodynamic forces, in a piston-engined fighter, which cannot possibly have anything like thrust vectoring. Even for an exceptionally skilled pilot, this should be impossible.

    Real Life 
  • As mentioned above, such things do happen in reality, though they are not usually by choice.
    • One such case was Aloha Airlines Flight 243. Pilots Robert Schornstheimer and Madeline "Mimi" Tompkins suddenly became test pilots when the roof of their 737 blew off, throwing off the aerodynamics of the plane. They now had to fly to an airport and land a plane that seemed on the verge of snapping in half. They managed to get the thing down, and the only fatality was a flight attendant who was blown out when the roof first came off.
    • Another incident was Air Canada Flight 143, a.k.a., "The Gimli Glider." Due to Unit Confusion with the refuelling, this plane ran out of fuel over central Canada and had to be glided into land. They couldn't reach the main airport, so they diverted to a former air base, but as they approached they realized they were too high and fast. In order to quickly lose speed, the pilot, Bob Pearson, turned the plane sideways and used the fuselage itself as a giant airbrake.
      • This is more improbable than it seems at first glance. Most commercial airline pilots would not know how to perform a forward slip. It just so happens that, prior to becoming an airline pilot, Bob Pearson was a glider pilot with a great deal of experience. The passengers were really lucky. If anyone else had been at the controls, they would've crashed. In fact, in future simulations where the pilot crew taking the simulation were given the circumstances that the Gimli Glider had, all attempts resulted in failures.
    • The most well-known, of course, is Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, the pilot of US Airways Flight 1549. After losing both engines he pulled off one of the few water landings to not kill anyone.
      • In an aversion of the trope, Sully explicitly and repeatedly refused to be called a "hero", or acknowledge that he did anything extraordinary; he simply did it all by the book. He was definitely lucky, however; even going by the book, several factors had to come together in a narrow combination for them to be able to pull off a water landing in the Hudson river, rather than struggle to the Atlantic Ocean or - far worse - try to set down on the streets of New York City.
    • United Flight 232. A DC-10's rear engine blew its turbine and knocked out the hydraulic lines, which meant the plane had lost all the control surfaces. The pilot and copilot, assisted by a flight instructor who happened to be onboard and was kneeling between the pilots, managed to control the plane just by varying thrust on the two remaining engines, and managed to crash land it in Sioux falls. Over half the passengers (185 out of 285) managed to survive, which is impressive given the circumstances.
      • Particularly fascinating about this incident is that the flight instructor, Dennis Fitch, had a professional interest in the crash of Japan Airlines 123 four years previous, where a failed pressure bulkhead disabled all the hydraulics of a 747 that subsequently crashed with only four survivors. Fitch went so far as to spend time on a DC-10 simulator attempting to control with engine thrust only, to see if he could develop a method for landing a DC-10 without any control surfaces.
    • A DHL Airbus A300 cargo plane also managed to safely land in Baghdad in 2003 after being struck with a surface-to-air missile in 2003, which knocked out all flying surfaces.
    • A Brazilian Boeing 737 collided with an Embraer business jet being delivered to the US. Despite suffering damage to the left wing and horizontal stabilizer, the Embraer's crew managed to keep the plane flying and eventually landed safely at a Brazilian Air Force base. The Boeing, alas, was not as lucky.
    • The captain of TACA Flight 110 was preparing to ditch his plane in the canals surrounding New Orleans following a loss of power in both engines when the first officer suddenly noticed a grass levee running beside it that was large enough to land on. With only seconds to react, the captain completely changed the plane's trajectory to line up with the levee and then landed so perfectly that every single person was able to walk off the plane. Oh, and in case this wasn't difficult enough, said captain pulled this off while having only one eye, having lost his left eye several years earlier.
      • The incident in which the pilot, Carlos Dardano, lost his eye also qualifies. Upon landing on a rural airstrip in El Salvador, Dardano inadvertantly ended up in the crossfire of the country's raging civil war and was shot in the face. Gravely injured and with a hole where his eye had been minutes earlier, Dardano nonetheless got back in the cockpit of his plane and flew himself and his passengers 20 minutes to safety. Afterwards, Dardano went through and passed special certification trials to ensure he could qualify continue with his flying license despite his handicap.
    • Though it ended with a crash that killed all but 4 passengers, the crew of Japan Airlines Flight 123 managed to keep their 747 aircraft aloft for just over half an hour after the entire vertical stabilizer tore off and the hydraulic lines were completely severed. None of the simulator crews (who knew all of the factors affecting the plane, unlike the actual aircrew) could come close to that amount of time.
      • To add to this, the flight crew had no indication that the aircraft had suffered an Explosive Decompression, and therefore, were not wearing their oxygen masks. As a result, they were suffering from Hypoxia, which is caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Now just think about that for a second. This crew managed to keep a crippled 747 in the air for over 30 minutes when their brains weren't even able to function properly. That in itself is a major feat of aviation, and even though they died in the crash, they did their best to try and save everyone (even though their actions were only able to save four).
    • The Speedbird 9 incident of 1982. British Airways flight 9 was cruising near Jakarta when it encountered a strange kind of St. Elmo's Fire which seemed to envelop the plane in white lights. Shortly thereafter, all the engines failed. The 747 was now a 800,000+ lb glider. With only so much time before they hit the ocean, the crew abbreviated the engine restart procedure to give them more chances. Finally, the engines started back up and the plane turned back to Jakarta. Not long after, however, one of the engines started backfiring and had to be shut down. As they approached the airport, the pilot noticed he could barely see out the windscreen, and, proving Finagle's Law is at work, the guidance equipment on the ground was not working. He had to land using only a tiny sliver of glass on one side that was clear enough to see through. The reason? They'd been flying through a volcanic ash cloud. The plane had literally been sand blasted at 500 miles an hour!
    • British Airways copilot Alister Atchison managed to pull off a textbook landing in a substantially overweight plane, by himself, at an airport he'd never flown to before, while beside him the flight attendants were holding onto the captain, who had been sucked most of the way out of the plane in an explosive decompression. The only injuries were to the captain himself (though he miraculously survived) and one flight attendant who was minorly injured while holding onto him.
    • The pilots of Eastwind Airlines Flight 517 managed to wrestle their plane back to level and land it safely after experiencing a violent rudder hard-over on approach — a malfunction which in two previous cases had resulted in a total loss of the aircraft and everyone aboard. (The source of the malfunction was identified and corrected shortly thereafter.)
  • French Ace Pilot René Fonck (75 victories) was an example of the Flying Computer variant. He had excellent 3D perception skills, and he could actually calculate mentally with trigonometry where he had to shoot to bring the enemy down. He was extremely skilled flyer, and survived many fights against overwhelming odds.
  • The incident known as "Panic Over The Pacific": On 19 February 1985, China Airlines Flight 006 was approaching California coast when the No.4 engine flamed out. While this wasn't any threat to the flight - the 747 still had three fully operative engines - it triggered a series of misjudgments, omissions and errors on behalf of the pilots, resulting in the aircraft literally falling from the sky: the 747 was diving through thick clouds at a rate of 150 meters/second, resulting in a 5g forces experienced by the people on board and the aircraft performing maneuvers that vastly exceeded its operational limits, which resulted in a vast damage to its horizontal stabilizers, main landing gear doors being ripped off, one of the hydraulic systems destroyed and the wings being permanently bent slightly upwards. The 747 fell from 41000 to 11000 feet in less than two and a half minutes. It came out of the clouds slightly under 11000 feet; half a minute later, at 9600 feet, the captain had his aircraft in fully controlled, leveled and stable flight. The NTSB experts described the recovery of the aircraft as "a masterpiece of flying". The 747 landed safely in San Francisco with no loss of life - 24 of 251 people on board were injured (2 seriously). The errors of the flight crew that triggered the incident were found to be caused by a severe jet lag - a factor whose influence on flight crews was not studied before.
  • United 811: While cruising from Honolulu to Auckland, a short circuit in an 18-year-old 747 caused the front cargo bay door to open in mid-flight 16 minutes after take-off. The resulting explosive decompression caused a large chunk of the fuselage to be torn off, resulting in 9 passengers being sucked out of the plane. Engine no.3 (inner right) was destroyed by the debris and at least one of the ejected passengers being sucked inside; engine no.4 soon after started burning and had to be shut down. The pilots, having only 2 operational engines on a massive 747 with 346 people on board (both of them on the left wing, which caused the aircraft to roll heavily to the right) and with damaged horizontal stabilizers and wings, managed to turn the Boeing around and return to Honolulu, performing a smooth touchdown. When the simulator crews attempted to repeat the emergency landing, not one succeeded - all pilots crashed the aircraft in the Pacific soon after the explosive decompression, even when some of the factors affecting the actual Flight 811 crew were eliminated from the simulation.
  • The crew of FedEx Flight 705, who had to fight off a suicidal would-be hijacker while all suffering life-threatening injuries. Let us count the ways:
    • James Tucker, an ex-Navy pilot who not only flew the plane with a hole in his skull and half of his body suffering paralysis, but did extreme aerial maneuvers with said jumbo cargo plane (including insane rolls, sharp turns, and a dive so steep that the plane nearly went supersonic) to throw the attempted hijacker off-balance as the man fought with the two other crew members in the galley, eventually trading places with David Sanders to restrain said hijacker. With half of his body paralyzed and a hole in his skull.
    • David Sanders, who was also an ex-Navy pilot, was also hit in the head with a hammer and suffered gashes to his head (requiring doctors to sew his right ear back into place), and not only managed to land the extremely weighed-down aircraft successfully, but pulled off sharp turns normally near-impossible with said plane to land it... with his glasses missing and blood flowing into his eyes... manually.
    • Andrew Peterson, the crew's flight engineer, who also got hit in the head multiple times with a hammer and had his temporal artery severed, but managed to fight back despite massive blood loss, eventually helping to beat the shit out of and restrain the would-be hijacker. Also, he was thorough enough in his pre-flight check that he noticed that the cockpit recorder had been shut off by the hijacker in an attempt to cover his tracks beforehand.
    • A simulation of this flight and many others are avaliable from YouTuber Xplane.
  • The real life epitome of "If It Flies..." would have to be Captain Eric Brown, RN. He's officially credited with having flown 487 different aircraft types in his career as a test pilot (and that's only counting basic models), including everything from Mach 2 jets to gliders and from helicopters to airliners, often hopping between up five separate types in a single day's testing. He even taught himself to fly helicopters with nothing but the instruction manual, mere hours after first seeing one.note 
  • An Israeli F-15 pilot, Zivi Nedivi, refused to bail out after crashing with another plane during a training exercise, claiming he could still return his plane safely to base and land it. When he climbed out of the cockpit on the runway, he said he would not have hesitated to eject for a single second if he had know that he had lost an entire wingnote . When American technicans arrived to evaluate the damage, they assumed a truck had crashed into it while on the ground.
    • There are aircraft designed to stay aloft at least long enough for an emergency landing with that degree of damage. The F-15 is not one of them, although its large wings mean a single wing still provides significant lift. The pilot was, however, extremely lucky as well as extremely skilled; the probability of an F-15 losing an entire wing while suffering little damage to the fuselage and engines is very low.
    • The F-15 and its older brother the F-14 also benefit from the fact that a large portion of the actual lift that keeps the plane aloft is provided by the shape of the plane's body, which in essence acts almost like a third wing. Even after losing one wing, the F-15 retained around 60% of its actual lift.
  • Aerody-whatsit? Finnish air force pilots show that laws of aerodynamics do not apply on F-18 Hornet
  • Werner Voss, a German ace pilot in World War I, managed to fight seven British aircraft by himself for over ten minutes, managing to damage all of them before finally being shot down. His opponents were no amateurs: they were led by the Victoria Cross-winning ace, James McCudden and included 20-victory ace Arthur Rhys-Davids and two other eventual aces. The British pilots all report him doing insane maneuvers on his triplane, including strafing enemies by practically flying sideways. Note that he did this by taking often problematic and unstable aerodynamic properties of the design, which often cause pilots to lose control, and instead using them to his advantage.
  • There's the image of a Navy pilot flying sideways with only a few feet clearance between his wingtip and the deck of the carrier. This is especially dangerous because the carrier sways just like any boat, and pilots normally require deck assistance to ensure a proper approach. Also, carrier aircraft landing gear are four times as thick as their land-based counterparts to withstand both dropping onto the deck and the deck rising up with swells.
  • NASA had (and probably still has) its pick of the best pilots in the United States. Especially in the days of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, one needed to have Improbable Piloting Skills just to get an interview.
  • The presence of thrust vectoring in some of the world's most up-to-date fighter planes has allowed pilots to perform maneuvers that would have been very difficult, if not impossible, in the past.
  • During a test flight of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II (the VTOL version of the design), a pilot ended up flying the jet backwards at about 400 mph for half a minute before recovering. Due to the stealth design of fifth generation fighter jets being about as aerodynamic as a flat stone, the maneuver is so easy to pull off as to do it on accident. The pilot had actually done it in a panic due to a computer malfunction, causing the jet to do a perfect horizontal rotation with the VTOL thrusters. Though the event was extremely dangerous and stressful on the body, an observer suggested it could be used as a last ditch maneuver to confront a pursuing aircraft.
    • British pilots flying Harrier jump-jets in The Falklands War used similar tactics to outwit faster and technically superior Argentinian jet fighters, with the result that no British planes were lost in combat, and Argentinian combat losses soon approached operationally critical levels. One Royal Navy pilot became a recognised ace, shooting down five Argentinean fighters from his Harrier. In this case, the Harrier pilots kicked their planes into hover mode, causing the plane to rapidly decelerate and their persuers to overshoot. Any plane can attempt this maneuver (by deploying air brakes, flaps, and landing gear, in worst-case scenarios), but planes not designed for hovering have the not insignificant issue that slowing down too much will cause them to fall from the sky.
  • In February 1941, Luftwaffe bomber wings were sent to Sicily to support the Italian Air Force and regain control of the Med from the British. A priority for the Germans was to sink the Royal Navy aircraft carriers whose aircraft had crippled the Italian fleet in its home port of Taranto. When HMS Illustrious was attacked in Grand Harbour, Malta, by ninety German aircraft, an antiquated Swordfish biplane was in the landing circuit and was practically the only British plane in the sky. As landing on the carrier was not practicable, the Swordfish set about being as big a nuisance as it could to the German attackers, despite being obsolescent and slow and outnumbered ninety to one. Exploiting its advantages of slow speed and greater mobility (the Swordfish flew so slowly that typical fighter aircraft over-shot or stalled trying to keep it in their sights for long enough), the pilot, Lieut-Commander Charles Lamb R.N., repeatedly disrupted bombing runs by Stukas, forcing them to bomb wide, while his air-gunner took whatever retaliatory shots he could. Lamb eventually realised, when the aircraft juddered and the whole port-side wing assembly flapped, that the retaining pin securing his port wings (used to fold them back and save space on board ship) had been shot away and the aircraft was on the point of folding up in mid-air. Incredibly, he was able to crash-land and both men survived, even though his biplane presented a lopsided appearance. Lamb, later in the war, shot down three Italian fighters in a single engagement, who appeared to consider an old obselete biplane easy meat..
  • Many so-called "unorthodox" and "unclean" (because the bank indicator will swing wildly) manoeuvres will befall on the "Aerody-whatsit?" category. Examples are slips, snap rolls (a controlled spin along the horizontal axis where the tail of the plane will draw a "corkscrew" track), lomcovaks (Czech for "headache" and kulbits. Snap roll is called in Finnish as älytön ("scatterbrain") as the stick and pedals are actuated in diagonally opposite directions.
  • Incidentally, the modern more relaxed requirements for eyesight (i.e. eyeglasses or corrective surgery allowed) have paradoxally opened aviation for Bespectacled Eagle Eye pilots. The reason is that the visus value ("20/20") and refraction value (dioptric value) of an eye are two different values. The visus value measures the acuity of an eye (i.e. how accurately the eye can distinguish between two lines) while the refractive value measures if the eye is nearsighted (myopic) or farsighted (hyperopic). A person whose eyes have -2.0 dioptric value is hopelessly nearsighted without glasses (perhaps having 20/100 or 20/200 visus bare-eyed) but he may well have 20/10 acuity with good eyeglasses, making him a true eagle eye. Contact lenses are especially suitable for aviators.
  • Pan Am 843. Seconds after take off from San Francisco International Airport, the right most engine on the Boeing 707 exploded and started a fire that caused 1/3 of the right wing to fall off moments later. The pilots, despite telling air traffic control they weren't sure they could keep the plane in the air or not, managed to keep the plane with 153 people on board flying for 34 minutes and made a safe emergency landing at Travis Air Force Base.
  • Kai Tak Airport, the former international airport of Hong Kong before it was replaced with a new airport elsewhere and then demolished in 1998, mandated this for its unique Runway 13 approach, known as the "Kai Tak Heart Attack." Due to the airport being surrounded by hills, pilots would have to manually make the last leg of the approach, which included a sharp right turn at less than 1,000 feet, exiting with less than 200 feet above the ground to spare, low enough for passengers and crew alike to get the cold sweats as they notice that they're low enough to even see into the windows of hi-rise apartment complexes. Doing this in strong winds was even worse, as turning naturally changes the wind direction relative to the plane, making it much harder to line up correctly in time to touch down on the runway and not the Victoria Harbour surrounding it.