Airplane Pilots Share The Scariest Moments They Experienced That Passengers Never Found Out About
Flying can be a scary event for many people, but it's actually quite safe to fly, statistically speaking. But then there are the incidents we don't hear about... Those were the basis for today's burning question from Redditor Splitdesiresagain, who asked the online community: "Airplane pilots of Reddit, what was your biggest "We're all fucked up" moment that you survived and your passengers didn't notice?"
"He ended up..."
Mine is from many many years ago when I was a student pilot. I was 14 I think at the time. I had about 15ish hours done and getting close to soloing for the first time but still had a few hours and more landings to practice. I was doing some basics and getting ready to come back with my instructor to practice some touch and go's for a bit. Coming back through we had to pass through DTW's bravo airspace (means need permission to go through it). A few min before I was about to call for permission, my instructor got really quiet. I looked over at him and he looked really bad. I thought he was going to puke so looking for a bag. But then I notice he isn't breathing. I figure out where I am at and call up DTW approach. Declare a medical emergency and that my instructor was not breathing.
I also told them I am a student and never landed on my own before, and never in a large airport. Detroit approach was amazing at helping me. They gave me an option for DTW or Willow but Willow would have added a good 5-10 min since i was coming in from the SE. Opted for DTW and they were great at giving me vectors while also getting the big jets out of the way. I remember hearing them tell several planes to go around and several more into a hold. Anyway, did my approach and made the most butter smooth landing I have ever made in my life (even till this day). Ambulance was right there on the taxi waiting for me. Turns out my instructor who was only 25 had a heart attack. He ended up being ok. All in all from first call to him in the ambulance was less than 10 min thanks to ATC and DTW tower.
"I'm a CFI..."Giphy
I'm a CFI at this point and I'm flying with a student. We see a spider in the cockpit. I'm ok with spiders but I don't want it distracting the student so I mash it.
Student missed the spider but saw my movement and asked what it was. I responded "It was a spider, I killed it" as I'm glancing into the backseat area. I manage to casually add "...why, are you scared of spiders?" without the student noticing the break in the sentence. Turns out the student is scared of spiders.
For the rest of that flight I squished spiders behind my students back as they came forward from the nest I had just spotted in the back of the plane. He never knew.
"I was in the process..."
I was in the process of getting my PPL (private pilot licence) and I was flying circuits solo. Before I took off, the CFO of the flight school asked me if "I was sure it was a good idea to fly, it's pretty windy". I was flying a cessna 152 on a day with wind pushing 15 kts and turbulence around 20. I honestly don't know what I or anyone at the flightschool was thinking letting me (16 years old) take off.
Anyways, a few bumpy circuits go by with no problem. I actually got some great practice landing in turbulence. So the last circuit of the day, I'm on final with full flaps doing the ABSOLUTE minimum speed for approach in a 152, not taking into consideration that the air is super turbulent. For those who don't know, when it's bumpy you should be going a little faster on approach than usual. Anyways I'm quite close to the ground, maybe 300-400 feet and I can HEAR the wind blowing over the sound of the engine.
Suddenly, no wind.
I had just lost 15-20kts of almost direct headwind on final approach with absolutely no airspeed to spare.
I remember my shirt sleeves looked like they were inflating and the plane's stall warning started screaming at me. The controls became totally useless, like a limp computer joystick. Thankfully I had my hand on the throttle like my instructor taught me and for whatever instinctual reason (good instructor probably), I gently pushed the throttle all the way and slightly lowered the nose.
All of this took place in the span of about 5 seconds. I remember what I did, but not thinking about doing it. It was like when you drive somewhere and you suddenly realize you've arrived without remembering driving.
Anyways I landed the plane just fine and went home and took a nap. My parents said I was pale as a ghost when I got home.
Flying is fun until it isn't.
"It wasn't necessarily..."
I'm a relatively new student pilot and I was just starting to practice pattern work by myself, but my instructor either wanted me to go up with him for a few laps before soloing or with another instructor if he had other students. So, my instructor has another student he's teaching, I end up going up with another instructor just to verify that little 10 hours me can still fly a plane before I practice for an hour or two. We take off, and as I'm on final for our last practice run, it's a little shaky as it is usually in the mid-afternoon in Florida, but I'm confident in my ability to land the plane. Well, to my surprise when I'm about maybe 100 feet above the runway, the plane just drops in an instant like someone took their hand and just pushed down.
Luckily, my instructor must've trained me well because like you, I had my hand on the throttle and just gently pushed the power to full, leveled the nose, and made a smooth go-around. Made me feel good knowing that my brain knew what to do without having to think about it much. Also, the instructor I was with I always thought seemed to look a bit angry, but I was pleasantly surprised when he smiled and complimented me on my quick decision making. Getting a compliment for doing something specifically well (other than like "Good job today!") boosted me as a new student.
It wasn't necessarily a situation where I'm thinking "Oh sh!t, we could've died," but knowing that I'm capable of recovering from a scenario as such and not ending up like the guy who slammed a plane onto the runway and broke the gear.
Was learning to fly when I worked for the gov. So on my first flight with me taking off, we've been climbing for about 5 minutes and We're going through some gentle turns when instructor says. "were going to head back I don't feel well" He takes over the stick and he looks ashen. He then starts to breath erratically and says I need to help him control the plane. He radios tower and up till now I'm thinking it's a prank. Mayday mayday. He talks me through the whole thing, I'm trying to talk to the tower, repeat info, read gauges remember lessons, listen to him and hope he don't pass out. I was shitting myself. Take off is one thing, but landing? We land like a kangaroo with a rocket up its @ss, I'm surprised the wheels didn't fold. Must of been 4 big bounces, but it's a big runway. Scrub speed, finally get the plane to stop and instructor passes out. He had an heart attack. He survived but only for a few months before I heard he passed away in his sleep. But he got us down. I never continued the lessons.
Not a pilot but a flight attendant. We landed, everything went smoothly, as we're deplaning the pilot steps out of the flight deck and goes "wow, I'm glad we made it, we lost 2 hydraulics on the way down".
"This entire story..."
This entire story occurred in less than 10 seconds and should've ended with headlines on CNN. Military pilot and not commercial but it still could've ended in a disaster.
Flying a CH47D Chinook helicopter in Iraq mid July 2008 when the temp was over 130 degrees. Packed full with 36 passengers at an altitude of only 100 feet and speed of 140 knots, (lower and faster than you'd ever fly in the US.). We hit a thermal (pocket of warm air) that pushed us up, so I nosed the cyclic (looks like a joy stick between your legs) forward to maintain altitude. I was a brand new pilot flying with a combat vet who wanted me to maintain altitude of 100 feet almost exactly, so no higher than 120 or lower than 80 feet) Nosing the aircraft down kept us from going higher, but we immediately hit a downdraft and the aircraft started to fall like a rock. I pulled back on the cyclic as hard as I could to get the nose up but it hit my body armor and wouldn't go back any further. I watched the altimeter drop all the way to 19 feet and miraculously we started falling and began to climb at the last possible second.
During the debrief the other pilot (now one of my closest friends) who had well over 1,000 combat hours told me he's never been so close to dying before. I wasn't shook up until I heard that....even typing this today gives me chills.
"There's never been a moment like this for me..."
There's never been a moment like this for me because you're always trying something else to save the plane. There's never been a real situation where I had to save a plane from imminent disaster. There's decisions I've had to make that if I chose wrong we can be in a bad spot but never anything like "we're all going to die."
Once when landing a RJ on a short runway out in the northeast, I was carrying a little bit too much speed and caught a gust at the wrong moment in the landing flare. The plane lifted maybe 10' higher and I slowly lowered the nose. I realized at this moment that where the plane will touchdown will not give me a whole lot of opportunity to stop before the end of the runway.
As a matter of fact its probably not going to stop until we get into the trees at the end. I pushed the power up and we did a go around maybe 20-30' feet off the ground. The controllers vectored us around and we landed safely on try #2.
In the simulator we do all the "oh sh!t" stuff and even when a training event goes sideways, we still try to fly the thing until it hits something solid. I can't imagine ever giving up on the plane in flight. There's thousands of decisions made every day on flights by pilots that prevent a difficult situation from becoming dangerous. Flying these days is very cautious and conservative. Safety is always first and nothing is allowed to ever slide.
"I was flying myself..."
I was flying myself and three passengers over the Appalachian mountain on a clear day. We hit some mild turbulence and the door opened to the cabin. The passengers all started panicking so I basically said "chill out guys this happens all the time" and tried closing the door. I couldn't get it shut while also flying the plane so I simple landed at a nearby airfield and closed it on the ground.
After the trip was over I told the passengers that was the first time that had ever happened to me and I was slightly panicked as well.
Uncoordinated turn and all the fuel went to one side of the plane. Choked both engines... sputtered and cut out. 3000ft high, so brought back the coordination and pointed down a bit. Then started back up. Yikes.
"To set it up..."
I'm a commercial helicopter pilot. Probably the closest moment to "we're f*cked" I ever had was a few years ago.
To set it up, I was ferrying a helicopter by myself to another location about 200 miles away. The helicopter I was flying was set up for IFR (instrument flying), and I'm a fairly experienced IFR captain. The helicopter I was in does NOT like ice. That means that flying in the clouds when it's below freezing is basically impossible. This was in the high arctic, in the early spring. So basically always cold.
Weather wasn't great, but I still wanted to give the trip a shot. If it was bad, I would just turn around and come home. About 50 miles out, the cloud ceiling was coming down, and visibility was dropping. I was over a small frozen lake, and I could see at the other end of the lake that the clouds were right to the ground. At this point I'm at about 300 feet above ground.
I make the call to turn around, and start a left-hand turn, but as I'm half-way through the turn I enter cloud. Under normal circumstances, a VFR helicopter unintentionally entering cloud is often a death sentence, but I'm a trained IFR pilot in an IFR helicopter. I start a climb, as I know there is rising terrain on the side of the lake.
I don't mind flying in cloud. What I do mind is the fact that my helicopter starts icing up instantly. I'm not talking about a bit of ice, I'm talking about a MASSIVE amount of ice, in a helicopter that doesn't like any ice. There is no way I can make it the 50 miles back to the airport to shoot an IFR approach, and I know the clouds are too thick to climb above them. I also can't descend because the ceiling is so low that I risk impacting the terrain if I don't pop out of the cloud soon enough.
I'm running through the options in my head, but my heart rate is going up. This isn't something that normally happens. I'm not the type of pilot that gets into situations that scare me. I'm rapidly running out of time, so I head to a larger flat-area (as indicated on my GPS and maps), set my radio-altimeter (a device that tells you exactly how far above the ground you are) to beep at me when I reach 250 feet, and start descending. I figure if I don't break out by 300 feet, I'm in some serious trouble.
As I'm approaching 300 feet, I break out of cloud. Good visibility, and a clear path all the way back to the airport. I do a normal approach and landing, and shut-down at our hangar. The blades are covered in ice. After I change my underwear, we pull the helicopter into the hangar to let the ice thaw. The next day, the weather is beautiful, and the trip goes off without a hitch.
After flying for 10 years and thousands of hours, it was the only time I was actually scared. I'm glad I didn't have any passengers on board at the time.
"This was about seven years ago now."
This was about seven years ago now. I took my brother and two cousins up for a short sightseeing flight one morning in a Cessna 172. I knew there was some weather coming in so I wanted to get it over with quickly. About twenty minutes in I notice the clouds getting worse and then some lightning off in the distance, definitely time to head back. Heading back I radioed my intentions, uncontrolled airport but with an FBO, and someone radioed back with the current winds. It didn't compute what they said, and in retrospect I should've asked for clarification. Get back to the airport and as I'm on final I realize just how bad the wind is. Having a hard time keeping on centerline and eventually go around on the first try. By now I'm starting to sweating bullets and planning on rerouting if the next attempt doesn't go well.
I make sure to turn the intercom off so my cousins in the back can't hear how panicked I'm becoming, though I did keep my cool through the whole thing. On second attempt I've got the rudder pegged to the left and manage to get the wheels on the ground safely. I taxi to park, shutdown, jump out, and start shaking with adrenaline and let out a huge sigh of relief. Cousins had no idea what just happened, it was just an exciting flight to them. My brother kind of knew what was going on, and I let him in on what I was thinking later. Apparently I had an audience of guys from the FBO watching me as well, probably yelling at me too go somewhere else. I'm honestly surprised sometimes I managed that landing with no incidence, especially since that was basically my first crosswind landing.
"Long time ago..."
Long time ago, back in 1989 I was a First Officer on the 747-100. We pushed back from the terminal in Anchorage and taxied out for a departure to Narita, Tokyo. We were full of people and very close to max take off weight. At the end of the runway (it was my takeoff) I stood on the brakes, stood the thrust levers up and the engineer set full take off power. Released the brakes and off we trundled. And we rolled, and rolled and rolled down the runway. It was not sparkling acceleration by any means. As the end of the runway loomed into sight and take off speed still some distance away... with the lights going... red white red white red red red... the Captain said, and I quote, "best you rotate!" We were a good 20kts below Vr. Not being a total numpty, I slowly and smoothly rotated and the beast flew away off the end of the runway like a lady. We slowly climbed away, cleaned up, turned and headed out West. Not a word was said for a long while. Finally through 20000 feet the engineer launched himself at the (my) performance figures. Nothing was wrong, and we were at full power anyway. It turned out that extra cargo had been loaded in error, and we were well overweight. Apart from me wetting the seat and a raised heart rate, the passengers were none the wiser.
"During my first solo flight ever..."
During my first solo flight ever, I was really excited and wanted to video record the special occasion. So there I was, taxiing down the taxiway with one hand holding the my phone. One thing about old propeller planes is that they're just like old cars, and don't always drive straight. I suppose I was a little too concentrated on making sure my camera was properly angled and focused...next thing I knew my plane ended up rolling off the asphalt...into the grassy ditch
I PANICKED...how tf am I supposed to get this plane out of here
Over the radio, there was a silence, as the controller likely saw what happened from the tower. After a few seconds, probably still speechless at this point, she casually checked on me to make sure I was doing okay
To save my embarrassment, I tried to power up and drive out of the grass back to the asphalt. Much to my surprise, it worked. I did my short flying as planned and returned to the hanger where my instructor was waiting. I have no idea how many people saw what happened, but from the look on his face, I'm pretty sure he knew too. And yes, that video of me driving a plane into a ditch still exists somewhere
...I suppose this is the airplane equivalent of "don't text and drive"
I was a c-141 navigator for my first AF assignment. We were flying a group of families moving back to the US from Japan. As we were in the approach at Travis Air Force base we had a massive multi bird strike. It sounded like the world was ending inside the cockpit it was so loud. Shattered glass that was coated in blood and feathers, bent radome, you name it. Flight controls were fine but we declared an IFE and the co pilot could see well enough out his window to land and I and the FE were over his shoulder to help spot however We could and we landed without incident. The passengers deplaned and even complimented us on the great flight. I will never forget the right side of the passenger bus driving away and the look of horror on those people's faces when they saw what the front of that airplane looked like.
DQ: What was your scariest moment in flight?