Pilots Share Mid-Flight Scares Their Passengers Never Found Out About
The Sky High Club... of death!
Flying is not for everybody. There is no such thing as a perfect flight. As a passenger we're not privy to the truth of the journey every plane takes. But our Captains are aware. And they know some things and have some stories we probably don't want to know but can't help but need to hear.
Redditor corrosive_elements wanted the Captains of the Sky to share some secrets.... they asked... Pilots of Reddit: what was your "Oh no this is not good" moment that turned out to be okay without the passengers knowing about it? If you have flying issues, go take a pill before you read.
Private pilot here. Flying a small 4 seater about a year after getting my license at 17 to take may parents to lunch at Harris Ranch in BFE central California. There's a small runway next to a monsterous cattle farm that has a delicious restaurant that I swear they must walk the cow straight into the kitchen and out on a platter.
When we left Sacramento the seating configuration was my small framed mother and myself up front, and my 275 lb dad in the back. This led to a center of gravity to the rear situation that required me to set the trim forward to stay level our the nose would keep drifting up.
Flight to HR was uneventful and we had a wonderful lunch but for the return trip we decided that my dad would sit up front and my mom would move to the back. Stupid 18 year old me didn't follow every step of the preflight checklist and I forgot to retrain the controls to neutral before taking off.
Started down the runway for takeoff and as soon as I hit speed I realized my mistake that with the new weight distribution the CG shifted forward, as well as the controls trimmed forward, I pulled back on the yoke to rotate and it didn't budge. Never in my life has 1000ft of remaining runway suddenly appeared to reduce to nothing. To make things worse the end of the runway was an elevated road leading to an overpass with cars on it.
I literately wrapped both arms around the yoke and pulled back with all my strength to get the nose wheel to slightly lift off the runway and the plane slowly inches off the ground. The embankment to the road got closer and closer and I had visions of emergency crews having to scrape us off the surface, leftovers and all.
As we approached it became clear that we were going to just clear the road but I saw a pickup approaching the road and I wasn't sure we weren't going to collide. He saw us coming and slowed to a stop and I swear I was able to look straight in his eyes as we cleared the road.
When we were safely clear of trees and obstructions I was able to let go with one arm and reach down to turn the wheel that trims the controls.
As I was thanking my lucky stars to have survived the day my dad was muttering at me something like, "very funny. I didn't eat that much."
Both he and my mom assumed I was making a joke because my dad ate a huge lunch and thought I was acting like the plane couldn't take off.
I never told them the truth about how close a call that it actually was, nor did I ever forget to reset the trim before takeoff.
In flight training, we were practicing stalls. While doing a power on stall, pulling back to lose airspeed, I notice another plane coming at us, probably 100 yards away. I immediately throw the nose down to avoid death and my instructor looks at me with a weird look. He didn't see the other guy. He tells me that not even close to the stall speed and I tell him about the other airplane. He says "oh yeah, good call." On the way back to the airport I ask him if he's had any experiences like that. He said he's come so close that he could see the whites in the other pilots eyes. Flying VFR can be fun.
Know your skills...
So had just recently gotten my private pilot license - no instrument rating. Decide to fly the wife out to Ocracoke in the Outer Banks for a little get away weekend. Checked the weather very carefully, prepped for the flight the best I could. Just as we get to the Carolina coastline the sky starts turning a wierd Brown. Very light drop in visibility but I get a little unsettled. I turn back overland and check in with flight service and get weather for several points on the Outer Banks - which all checks out good. I think about it then decide to turn back toward Ocracoke - which means flying about 20 miles over water.
About half way across visibility has gone to complete shit. Sky all around me is brown and I can't see a clear horizon I can barely make out the water below me. I am on course according to the GPS and I keep thinking about the clear weather reports ahead. I know I'm approaching the island, but I can still barely see the water below me from 3500 feet. I know from my prep that the highest obstacle in the area is about 500 feet so I decide to descend to 1500 feet. As soon as I crossed the beach it got worse - the color of the sand below matched the brown of the sky and I started to get disoriented. It was like being wrapped in a brown cotton ball. I focused on staying on course, wings level and holding 1500 feet. Suddenly below I got a glimpse of the runway as I flew over it. I f**ked up here and decided I was not going to fly away where I couldn't see the runway. I flew a tight pattern descending keeping my eyes locked on the runway and not on the instruments. I didn't realize how disoriented I was getting till I saw I was below 500 feet, I thought I was level but was in fact in a bank. I got it straightened out and reset my brain a little, got lined up for the runway - airspeed and attitude ok. Right at touch down I realized that since I couldn't really make out details of the ground that my visual clues were all shot and didn't understand just how low to the runway I was - my normal sight picture was f**ked, basically I almost drove it right into the runway but fortunately recovered and make a reasonably smooth landing. I had been making some radio calls but couldn't see the opposite end of the runway. Finally got parked under a completely obscured sky. When I parked I found another guy chilling next to his Cirrus. Turns out the whole area was under smoke from a peat bog fire and visibility was below limits- not VFR at all but apparently flight service didn't know that. He congratulated me on my skills - not knowing that my hands were shaking.
My wife thought the whole thing was great :)
Once More with feeling...Giphy
Yes I am a pilot and CFI. Scariest moment was when on intro flight and coming back into land. Student is doing super well everything cool. We were cleared to land, number one, from 4 miles out. On short finals (less than a mile out) another plane appears over to top of us and lands on our runway. Trying to keep cool, I take the controls, ask tower what's going on, start a go around, simultaneously side stepping to get out of their wake. Turn to my student and say, so shall we try that again?
A rumble in the sky...
CFI (Certified Flight instructor) here. While teaching my student how to do a cross country, we got blindsided by two pop-up thunderstorms. There was a 20 mile wide corridor to fly down back to base, according to flight service, so we cut our trip short and headed home. Played it off cool, said "This is a great time to practice diversion and good decision making" but I was terrified.
Flew tourists and odd jobs in Phoenix for a couple years in an R44. Going in for a landing at a remote site in the middle of the desert. Just as I was about to drop into a hover, drain my speed, I noticed just above my feet a trike motor paraglider just cruising under me only a couple feet above the ground and maybe 5 feet under me. Very cool like, did a 180 and told pax I was worried about the landing spot, so I went pretty far in a different direction while watching that little idiot in my skid mirror. I quick flipped to a couple open channels to try to raise him and didn't get a reply so Im assuming he was without a radio. Still to this day Im wondering how in the hell did he get in behind and under me so fast when I was probably cruising at 80mph? How in the hell did he keep that thing solid under my rotorwash? And why in the hell would it be a good idea to fly under a helicopter when it is about to land. A couple people Ive talked to have said he probably didn't even notice me. Im just gonna go to the grave believing some people wanna live on a razors edge...
Low, low, low, low...
I'm a pilot but I don't have passengers normally. A few years ago I was flying pretty high in the clouds (36000 feet or so) around some very high mountains, (about 26,000 feet) and our GPWS (ground proximity warning system) started having an electronic seizure. "TOO LOW TERRAIN, TOO LOW GEAR, TOO LOW FLAPS, TOO LOW TERRAIN" After freaking out for a few moments, we remembered we were higher than the tallest mountains in the world let alone in the area and released the seat cushions from our butt cheeks. I then told one of the crew to pull the circuit breaker for the GPWS to turn it off.
Dad to the rescue...Giphy
Oh I got one! When I was a teenager my dad was earning his pilots license, it was the best we always got to go on lessons. We all liked his instructor and had him around for dinner often and he and my dad would make sports bets. Well instructor Chris lost and the payment was a ride with him on this twin engine just for fun. It's a clear night so we go and Chris and dad are flying, and my mom, baby sis, and I for in the back. My sister fell asleep before we even get to the runway.
We take off and immediately something is very wrong, suddenly loud bangs all over the plane like metal is hitting it and the plan pitches crazy. My mom had a headset so I reached over and grabbed one side so I could hear. Chris is freaked out but I heard my dad say calm, "we fly the plane first and panic later" then start radioing others we are circling back for emergency landing. At this point my mom grabs the headset back and I just sat still. They landed the plane perfectly. Turns out there was an outside compartment on the nose of the plane that was open so on take off it flew open and a bunch of stuff hit the plane. We got out, all of us shaken, and then my Lil sis pipes up, "daddy are we going to fly now?" we all just lost it laughing.
My dad can't fly now, but I'm saving up. Next time he comes to visit, I'm going to make sure I've had a few lessons and I'll take him flying this time. Those flying lessons were some of the best moments of my childhood.
I'm a helicopter pilot. I was doing a tourist flight and was flying low (~ 50 ft) in between rock formations to impress my passengers and give them a nice time. I've done this flight multiple times, everyone always love that low pass and I usually love it too, except this time I saw a prey bird flying higher than us right over our flight path and I was unable to diverge as I was lower than the walls around me. You have to know that most birds usually try to avoid big noisy thing flying near them, they do so by swerving left, right or down. Prey birds are also known to sometimes attack big noisy flying things by diving at them. It all went pretty fast and thankfully the bird didn't do anything stupid like throwing itself into the main rotor. We landed safely a few minutes later and my passengers went on their way without suspecting anything. I'm more careful now when I make this flight.
Miscommunication is dangerous...Giphy
The first time I flew a plane, I nearly crashed into a helicopter I went heli skiing on the day before. For some reason they only operate on their own frequency so we didn't know they were there, and they didn't know we were there. The flight instructor took over and it ended up being fine. Quite a shock though.
Secretly, we all fear having birthdays like the one in Sixteen Candles, where nobody shows up and we're forced to deal with how lonely we feel as people. But sometimes, people have things happen on their birthday that put Molly Ringwald to shame.
It stinks to have your special day go sour. Moreover, it hurts, that if whatever happened was bad enough, you will never be able to not associate your birthday with that awful thing.