We’ve all seen the movies where the pilot collapses in the cabin and the nervous stewardess asks if there is anybody on the plane that can fly. In reality, this scenario has never happened and jet liners always have more than one pilot in case of emergencies.
However, it does make you wonder just how difficult it would be to take the controls and fly the plane….
Of course, there is a big difference between getting behind the controls of a large jet airliner compared with flying a light aircraft, although the principles of flying all airplanes are the same.
If you’ve ever seen the cockpit of a major airliner, you’ll know there are a bewildering number of dials and controls. However, in all airplanes there are several fundamental controls and dials that are the same for all airplanes. The first is the altitude indicator, often called the artificial horizon, which is a dial that normally looks like a miniature airplane and shows the pitch and angle of the plane.
All planes also have two speed indicators. The first is called the ASI (air speed indicator) that measures your speed in the air in knots. The other is the GS (ground speed indicator) that measures ground speed, also in knots. The next important dial is the altitude meter, which measures height in feet.
As for the controls. All planes will have a yoke (control stick), which controls the pitch (up and down) of the nose and banking of the wings. There are also two pedals on the floor, which control the rudder, which swings the aircraft left or right (known as yaw).
Thrust is normally controlled by a throttle lever in the center console, where also you have controls for the flaps, which are used for landing and take-off.
To take off, planes need to achieve a certain speed to allow the airflow over the wings to create enough lift. This will vary depending on the size of the plane, but it is normally indicated on the ground speed indicator.
To make things easier, flaps are used to create more lift at slower speeds. Pulling the flap lever one notch will lower the flaps on the wings, which should be visible from the cockpit. For a light aircraft, taking off into a headwind is normally preferred as this also allows lift at slower speeds.
Once the flaps are down, the throttle should be pushed as far forward as possible to generate thrust. The airplane will then start heading down the runway. If the plane starts to veer from a straight line, the pedals are used to make corrections.
Once the plane achieves enough lift the nose will rise off the ground, and to achieve flight, the pilot pulls back on the yoke, which lifts the whole airplane into the air.
Controlling a plane in the air is relatively easy. Once the plane has reached a certain height and airspeed, usually indicated on the ASI, the flaps are raised.
Using the altitude indicator, you can keep the plane level by making sure the wings in the dial are level on the artificial horizon. If the wings fall below the artificial horizon, the yoke should be pulled back to raise the nose.
If the wings are above the horizon, the yoke is pushed forward. However, one eye should always be on the altitude meter to make sure the plane isn’t stalling, which would require more thrust to prevent it from falling out of the sky.
To make a turn, the yoke is turned (if it is a wheel), or pulled (if it is a stick) to the left or right to bank the plane. To ensure a smooth turn, the corresponding pedal is pushed which brings the plane round in a smooth arc.
Landing is perhaps the most difficult aspect of flying a plane. To land, a plane should first be heading towards a runway, but the angle of descent and airspeed are crucial.
To slow the plane, the flaps are lowered two notches and the throttle is pulled back. However, it is important to prevent the plane from stalling, so gentle adjustments on the throttle are used to control the angle of descent.
When close to the runaway, the pilot lowers the nose, whilst also keeping control of the throttle. The plane’s descent is controlled by a mixture of throttle and yoke until the plane is just above the runway.
The nose is then raised by pulling back on the yoke and the throttle reduced until the wheels touch down, after which the throttle is pulled right back and the plane should slow to a halt.
Have you ever flown a plane? What tips would you give to a novice flyer? Let me know in the comments below.