17 Pilots Share The Scariest Situations They've Ever Been In That Passengers Didn't Know About.
Being a pilot is hard enough, but in these situations, it would be tempting to toss in your 2 weeks notice and never look back. If that wasn't enough, the passengers had no clue!
Thanks to these pilots for sharing their stories with us.
1/17. Airline pilot here, going on 4 years now. I was flying into a small Midwestern airport in the middle of summer. On approach to the airport, we received an alert by the onboard equipment to climb immediately to avoid hitting another plane. Fair enough, climb as instructed, see the offending aircraft below us, and decide to continue the approach. On a 3 mile straight in final to the runway, we spot a wall of torrential rain rapidly approaching the field. Looks far enough away that we think that we can beat it to the airport. About 100 ft off the runway the rain hits us and we go complete white out, cant see anything out of the windshield. Immediately start a go-around, and we get as low as 20 ft before the airplane finally starts climbing. Upon exiting the rain, and at about 500 ft, we finally are able to see again, and get ANOTHER alert for a helicopter right in front of us. This time we are told to descend... All in all, the most hectic and terrifying series of events in my entire time in aviation (about 10 years total now).
2/17. ATC (air traffic control) gave my plane clearance to take off on runway 35 (north) at airport GFK while simultaneously allowing for a similar aircraft to depart from runway 26 (west). These runways cross one another. We almost collided at 500 AGL (above ground level). The other aircraft was so close I could make out the expression on the pilot's face.
3/17. Pilot of an Airbus 320 here. Flying into a high elevation port in Asia 23000feet on descent had a TOTAL loss of electrical power. All screens went dark including standby instruments and emergency lighting. To put this into perspective airbus designed this aircraft with three electrical generators in addition to power supplied by batteries and the emergency generator. It is designed NEVER to be without electrical power even if BOTH the engines failed, you ran completely out of fuel and the auxiliary power unit is in operative. Its a scenario pilots dont even train for because its never suppose to happen.
After a partial recovery of our screens it was followed by 12 consecutive warnings associated with different onboard systems. We landed safely. Passengers didnt notice a thing apart from the lights temporarily going out in the cabin.
The car analogy would be you driving at 100 km/hr on a highway and suddenly all your windows are covered up, you lose your speedometer and all electrical systems, theres no response from the brake or accelerator. But you can still feel the car going.
4/17. Something smashed into the windshield and there were many visible cracks. We had no idea what we had hit. Thankfully it didn't go through every layer and we remained protected from the 600 mile per hour winds, but with the sound it made and damage it did to the windshield I bet it was pretty close to breaking through.
We had absolutely no clue what had smashed into us; it was way too big to be a bird. My copilot guessed that we ran straight into a meteor and honestly I believed him, since I couldn't think of any better ideas. When it was investigated upon landing it turns out we hit the [serious] tag that OP forgot to secure to this post.
5/17. I use to fly into a small airport that happened to be a resting stop for thousands of geese migrating south at the end of summer. Being a small airport, there was no wildlife control. It was not uncommon to see bears or deer on the field.
The birds would all be settled in amongst the tall grass that surrounded the runway. As soon as you came in to flare on the landing, or started your takeoff roll, they would all be scared up into the air. These 12 pound birds would fly EVERYWHERE. It's pretty much impossible to dodge, so you just have to hope that you don't smack any. They could easily go through the windshield and take out my face. Somehow I never did hit any, but it definitely was a scary experience every season. I'm sure some passengers saw birds, but it was never anything that we needed to tell them.
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6/17. I have been a commercial airline pilot for 12 years. A few years ago, during the middle of a transatlantic flight, we got into some bad turbulence. Nothing I hadn't experienced before, but definitely something that's not fun. My co-pilot was getting back into his chair, and right as he sat down we hit a bump and his elbow went flying into my face. Knocked me out cold for about 30 seconds. Thankfully my co-pilot was able to hold everything down and he didn't panic. When I came to, it was the worst last stretch of a flight I've ever experienced. Terrible headache and bad weather.
7/17. Private pilot here. We were on out last leg of a flight from Florida back home to Kentucky. It was night time, full moon shining down on us. My wife and friends were sleeping. Autopilot was doing its thing. I was flying VFR, meaning I was not talking to traffic controllers. Just killing time during the long flight home.
I start my decent into my home airport. It's an uncontrolled non towered airport. I start making my radio transmissions announcing how I'm going to land. Airports have landing lights so you can see the runway, most of them pilots can turn on or off by clicking the broadcast button on their radio 7 times.
Here is where shit went bad. So I click, nothing. I click again nothing. I think to myself I know I'm close enough, weird I'll just wait till I'm right beside the runway (on down wind) and try again. Click, nothing. Well damn. I switch radios and try to call the closest towered airport, nothing. Complete radio failure. Both radios.
I've landed at my home airport probably 750+ times. Full moon shining down, I decided to land with out the Lighting. Wasn't my best landing, but not my worst. I woke everybody up as we were taxing to the hangar nobody knew anything about the 10 minutes of terror I went thru.
8/17. When I was <100 hrs as a PPL I took some friends out in the winter, I cleared the frost on one wing and they cleared the other. I was very specific about the wing being completely clean, but failed to check their work. Turns out they did a shitty job, and we barely made it off a fairly short runway, struggled to climb, significant banking tendency. I continued the flight and the frost melted off in the sun and everything was fine after that. Never told them anything was wrong and they had a blast. I just about soiled myself. Learned a very good lesson and didn't die!
9/17. Had a huge lightning strike landing into Heathrow. Saw the bolt flash right in front of my windscreen. The passengers were told about it (the ones at the front would have known anyway) but they wouldn't have seen all three of us jump in our seats like little kids.
I was expecting a fairly large entry point but there were 7+ smaller entries on the front right of the nose cone.
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10/17. Military pilot, returned to base fairly quickly once; didn't feel like telling the soldiers in the back that the right wing had tried to melt off. 2 are required for flight.
11/17. Beginning a takeoff run. Flight was delayed and everyone was eager to get going. Going down the runway looking at the gauges... Not good. Engine RPM was not the level it should have reached in those conditions. Continued the takeoff run a bit longer because the RPMs were seeming to rise to the required levels. Right as we reached rotation speed (no V1 today, guys, we were in a DA40 with a 5200 ft runway) and the aircraft began to lift off the ground, I made the decision to abort the takeoff and cancel the flight. As soon as we lifted off the runway, I cut the power and landed straight ahead. Would we have made it? Probably. Was the engine running abnormally? Yes. Rather safe than sorry.
12/17. I was flying into Oshkosh for the big air show with my (then) girlfriend in a Piper Archer. This was the first year that they had closed the field for being full. Everybody in the pattern diverted to nearby Fond du lac. I was on short final and remembered to do a quick pre-landing checklist. One of the items was to check the fuel was on the fullest tank. I looked at the fuel gauges and I had forgotten to change tanks and was sucking fumes. I quickly turned on the fuel pump and switched to the fuller tank and landed uneventfully. Lesson learned on distractions. We have been married for 29 years now and I never have told her how close I came to plastering us into a field in Wisconsin.
13/17. Private pilot. I did a low pass on a friend's cottage up north. 172 full up. Humid day. Forgot the carb heat as I descended for the pass. As I throttled up for the climb out to head for the air strip. The engine nearly quit. I'm at 100 feet, nothing but rocks, trees and water. For miles. I realized my mistake quickly. I pulled the carb heat knob out so hard and fast the panel bent.
Young and dumb.
14/17. A lot of things happen that we don't tell the passengers, but the scariest by far is near misses with other aircraft. I have come very close a couple of times when evasive maneuvers were made. Unless you really have to crank and bank, most passengers notice the movement but think it's due to turbulence. But there's usually one or two back there that ask about it. At that point, I'm pretty honest, but never reveal how close we really were.
15/17. Picture this: while flying your family cross country in a single engine Tiger a very large, very nasty and very fast moving storm cell rolls in towards your flight path. You've got two options: risk flying through the cell despite not being instruments qualified or go around the storm and risk running out of fuel and crashing.
This happened to my dad almost 30 years ago. My mom slept through it and I was too young to realize what was going on. My dad recently decided it was a good idea to tell me about this over some brisket and beers.
16/17. Part of my aileron detached on approach. I didn't tell them about it, but they'd be blind not to see it flapping behind the wing.
It wasn't that scary for me, but if a passenger notices parts falling off the airplane, they might be concerned.
17/17. About halfway through a short ferry flight I realized I had a wasp in the plane, and it wasn't too happy. It made for an interesting approach to landing. I couldn't get stung, or I would have reacted badly. I'm usually a stickler for checklists, but the shutdown one got ignored just pulled the mixture and ran.
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