Flying can be fun, but it also makes a lot of people extremely anxious. Turns out, that's for a pretty good reason...
Here are 17 pilots sharing the craziest things that have happened to them up in the air.
Many thanks to all the Redditors who responded. Check out more answers from the source at the end of this article!
1. I'd need a new pair of pants...
Landing in Jersey (UK). Jersey is a very short runway, the shortest runway we land on by far, with one end of the runway leading over a cliff and into the sea. 737's can just about land on it but we are quite limited to certain weights and winds. It is always interesting. We usually use max brakes and max thrust reverse. With headwind it is no big deal really but it's never 100% comfortable.
On one particular day we had the maximum tailwind we were allowed to accept (means a longer landing distance due to increased groundspeed) at the maximum weight - right on the limits. The captain floated the landing for only half a second but still managed to touchdown just inside the landing markers. I have never been so sure that we would not stop in time, I thought we would end up in the sea. We just made it. The passengers in Jersey are used to braking hard so they were none the wiser. It might sound dodgy but our performance calculations are very precise and it worked out ok. This is Jersey - bit short for a 737.
2. Everything in Oz is trying to kill you.
I fly 737's for a major airline. Scariest by far was doing the circling approach to land in Austria. We do a lot of training for this particular air strip, basically it's in the middle of a very tight valley with mountains rising up to 13,000 feet. It is very demanding and we actually require 3 pilots (rather than 2) to go as there is so much to take in.
This is a nice day. Imagine this with snowstorms, clouds, gale force winds and not being able to see the mountains. The valley is too tight to do normal turns so we have special procedures to perform tighter turns in an emergency or go around.
3. "The screens went blank..."
I was flying into Pristina in Kosovo. The airfield there has very basic navigation facilities. We got a massive shortcut from air traffic control which meant we were very very high - higher than we were supposed to be. To resolve this we pretty much dive the aircraft at high speed with a high rate of descent, a pretty normal manoeuvre but man we really needed to get down.
Pristina also has some very high mountains, right beside the final approach. As we were hurtling towards final approach, in thick cloud, at low altitude (lower than the mountains) trying to catch up with the situation our navigation screens failed and went blank.
For about 20 seconds we had no idea where we were (except very close to a huge mountain at high speed) and the air traffic controller pipes up: "are your navigation systems ok, you are 2 miles away from where you should be?" - This was another mess yourself moment. We ended up going around (aborting the approach), getting to a safe altitude and landing on the other runway. Passengers none the wiser.
4. So... you can't SEE???
My uncle who was a pilot had to do a landing at night with cloud cover. The thing about night landings and with cloud cover is that you rely pretty much entirely on your instruments (airspeed/heading/altitude ect). When pilots fly this way it is known as IFR (Instrument Flight Reference).
The problem is that his instrumentation and his co-pilots instrumentation was reading different airspeeds and altitudes. He quickly checked with tower and figured out his co pilots instrumentation was at fault and guided the plane down using his own.
The problem? Someone messed up with pilot tube maintenance.
5. "You have no clue what is going on for the first few months..."
That, as a brand new pilot on the line flying jets, you have no clue what is going on for the first few months. Training is good but can't prepare you for the speed at which things happen. You make so many mistakes and miss so many cues that you're more of a liability than a help. There are lots of new pilots on the line, especially in low cost carriers who take on 'cadets' straight from training (rather than experienced turbo-prop guys for example).
6. Thank you for that!
Flight test engineer here. A big company's aircraft are built to be naturally stable. So if the plane is pitching up to the point that it will stall, it will naturally right itself to the correct angle of attack. We attempt to break our aircraft so you don't have to.
7. You're the best arooOOOuunnd!!
I was taking my flying test for a dual engine plane. My test proctor had a reputation for being quiet the entire time, and being the hardest one to please, hurray!
Test starts, and I'm in the air, I start following the test guidelines that were set out, and not 5 minutes into the test, I run into a huge wave of sea fog. No visibility, all vertigo. I pull out my check list and set it down in front of me and keep checking the gauges and equipment over and over again. I make it out of the fog and, thankfully, I am not upside down, though emerging from the fog gave me another problem.
Left engine failure.
Again, check list comes out. I make a call to traffic control, and let them know what's up and that I need an emergency landing. While getting in position to land, this single engine Cessna gets in front of me. I make calls to him saying I need priority landing, I have left engine failure, and this is not a drill, I NEED to land. No response. I make the same call over and over again, stopping short of saying "HEY! GET OUT OF MY WAY! OR I WILL RUN YOU OVER!". Again, no response.
So, I do what I have to do. I pull as close to the Cessna as I possibly can, landing right behind him, knowing full well one mistake and the jerk in front of me, the proctor and I could very well die in a fiery plane explosion. Fun.
Also, note that the proctor is just sitting there, not moving, and completely calm, while I am freaking out. The planes land safely, and the proctor, without saying a word, gets out of the plane and heads for the terminal. I get out a little after him, shaking and nearly on the verge of breaking down, sick to my stomach from the adrenaline and stress.
My teacher emerges and basically says "what happened"? I tell him the story as best as I could at the time, and he just walks away. "I failed this test so hard..." Those words, just running over and over in my mind.
I make it back to the terminal, and see the guy who was piloting the Cessna that was in front of me walks in. I take a seat, and waiting for the proctor to tell me I failed. I feel a tap on my shoulder, and my teacher points and says "look at this...".
I look up and see the test proctor walk up to the Cessna pilot, hear him basically scream to see his license to pilot, take it from him, rip it in half, and walk away, and heading towards me. He walks up, and says "I would like to speak to your student, if I may". My teacher nods and says ok. Proctor looks me dead in the eyes and says "You are the best pilot I have ever had the pleasure of testing. And I will fly with you ANY day." and walks away.
8. "I lost all electrical power in the plane..."
I have not advanced in my pilot training to the point of flying passenger jets yet, but my biggest "scare" came during a solo flight in a single engine cessna.
As I was flying over a suburb of Montreal, I lost all electrical power in the plane - that means no radio, no flaps, no gps etc. Luckily for me, I knew exactly where I was. I ended up calling the place I rented the plane at on my cell phone (while flying, glad there weren't any cops around) and they made all the radio calls for me while I landed.
9. That IS odd...
When I was getting my pilots license, the airport I was training at had one of the oddest collisions I had ever heard of. Unfortunately I was not training that day to see it. On final approach (the final straight away where planes come straight in to land), two small planes at different altitudes collided mid air preparing to land on the same runway. The plane at the higher altitude actually landed perfectly on top of the lower plane.
The instructor in the lower plane was able to safely and successfully land his plane WITH the other plane sitting on top of it. That has got to be a one in a million chance of that happening successfully.
10. Landmarks are gone...
I'm a private pilot, so I have no stories involving passengers. The most scared I've been however was when I took off for my solo cross country flight during training. About 10 minutes after I took-off and started out I already lost my landmarks and was freaking out that I was going to get myself lost. I just ended up tuning in a local aviation radio and used it to get me to my next landmark that I found with no problems.
By the way, since you are going on a trans-atlantic flight your aircraft is more than likely under an ETOPS certification. This means your aircraft has been checked, inspected and approved for long duration flights with no alternate airports close by. As far as traveling goes, you honestly can't get much safer.
11. No spoilers!
A flight from Trondheim to Oslo (or maybe the other way, don't remember) a couple of years ago. The Boeing 737 had a problem with its ailerons, which are the rudders that bank the airplane. One of the most critical parts of the plane; they are critical for all maneuvering. I think the ailerons literally did not work, or had severely reduced functionality. But the 737 is wired such that if you give very large control inputs to the ailerons, the spoilers come out to aid with banking faster. (Spoilers are the airbrakes that come up of the wings after landing; they dramatically reduce the lift of the wing so the airplane won't jump back up once it is on the ground).
You could selectively use the spoiler on the left or the right wing to bank, but you risk crashing if you have to do large corrections at low speeds (takeoff and landing), because the spoiler could reduce the left of the wing so much that it can't carry the weight of the plane any longer.
So in order to meet the schedule, the pilot decided to fly the leg with no ailerons, flying only using the spoilers. He was promptly fired after the plane landed.
12. Good lord...
On a low-cost European airline which shall remain nameless (I heard this from an inside guy and don't want to give this information), regulations allow for the pilots to take a nap, individually, during a flight. However, on this flight, both pilots happened to take a nap at the same time.
The autopilot was already engaged, so the plane just kept flying in a straight line with no one piloting it. The pilots woke up to a loud roar, and immediately turned up the volume on the headset, where the German Air Force were transmitting on the emergency frequency. The flight had been intercepted by two fighter jets, since ATC couldn't get in touch and hence assumed that the plane had been hijacked. The pilots were reprimanded, and a post on the company intranet reminded pilots to be careful about when they decided to take a nap.
13. Harrowing... to say the least!
My dad is a pilot, and owns a Piper Saratoga 7-seater. We have exactly 7 people in our family, and as the kids (me included) grew up and weighed more, taking off for family trips became more and more precarious.
In the later years, we'd have to edge up and squeeze together in weird places so our weight would distribute in the right way, and even then we'd chew up every foot of runway in order to get off the ground. But none of this phased me - a child's blind trust that Daddy was a perfect god-like pilot.
One time, we were flying south and went through some weird weather, and ice began to build up. My mom and dad were in the cockpit, and me and my 4 sisters were in the back. I woke up right as we landed, and I was told we were in Kentucky. We got a hotel room that night and I remember my dad getting a 12-pack of Coors light and looking shaken. When I got older, the story came out: the ice built up on the wings and eventually covered the window and made it so my dad couldn't see. It also was weighing the plane down so that we were losing altitude, and for some reason, it wasn't melting even as we sank. We had to do an emergency landing, and there was an airport nearby, except now my dad couldn't SEE the runway to land the plane. He had to circle around the pattern several times, missing the runway once, then twice, losing altitude each time. His third and final try, he managed to look through his little side window thingy that opens up, and somehow landed.
If he hadn't made it that third time, we would have died. My mom told me that she didn't wake us because she wanted us to die in our sleep, not in fear.
14. That was a close one...
While practicing my night landings at Kitchener, an airplane overtook me.
An airplane overtook me. Freeway-style.
I'm on my final approach minding my own goddamn business when this other Cessna, barely a few feet away, slowly flies past me on my left side. I get a huge deer-in-headlights moment and forget where I am. I don't even think of reacting.
Then the tower calls up...
"Delta-Echo-Romeo-Papa, do you see anything special around you?"
"Ummm.... negative tower, Echo-Romeo-Papa."
"FHGFHAGJFHAGFHJGARGEU-- PULL UP PULL UP GO AROUND."
Dude never noticed I was even there. O_O Had he been ten feet further to the right, he'd have blindingly given me the smash of the century.
15. I wouldn't be laughing...
Flying for an airline (regional airline, 50 seat Embraer): I was flying in the Northeast US during a particularly severe NorEaster. The millibars were stacked so tight you'd think you were looking at the rings of an old sequoia. The flight was short, about 50 minutes or so, but the ride was miserable. Solid IFR conditions from about 500 feet to FL300. We never got out of the weather.
Heavy rain, wind so bad you could hear it buffeting the fuselage while at cruise. The turbulence was severe chop or worse from 15,000 feet to the surface. The autopilot was unable to keep up and failed somewhere over New York. Upon landing in the New York area, the tower controller asked me "how was the ride?" I just laughed. The turbulence was so bad by eyeballs couldn't focus on the instruments. Everyone on board had puked.
16. "I picked a bad winter to fly in Florida...."
I was flying a cargo plane (twin engine piston, single pilot): I picked a bad winter to fly in Florida. It was El Something or La Something. It was the first time I had picked up icing in a small plane. I started picking up moderate rime ice somewhere over Orlando and kept asking ATC for a lower altitude. They finally let me down to their minimum vectoring altitude but it was no help. I remember thinking to myself, I wonder if I should just crash this thing. At least it would be a controlled crash vs. an iced up stall. I ended up making it but I don't know how. Also while flying cargo I got stuck in a downdraft while on a loc approach that I was unable to overcome with full power and about 15 degrees nose up. I recovered at about 400 ft AGL.
17. Don't hate!
I was instructing (single engine Cessnas): I hate skydivers. Not as people, mind you, but as aviators. They don't seem to follow the rules. I was practicing holding over a NDB in north Florida that happens to be on the field of a very popular skydiving airport. We were on an IFR flight plan and there were some clouds over the airport. In fact, we were punching in and out of them during the hold. ATC advised us about skydivers in the area and we kept a lookout.
The plane I was flying had a skylight, two oblong windows above our heads - and thank goodness. As we were about to cross the fix, we popped out of the clouds and I saw two black figures drop right in front of our nose. Like someone above us was dropping sacks of potatoes. I immediately looked up through the skylight window to see a parachute canopy unfurling and a very scared skydiver being jerked back as his canopy inflated. I would guess he missed hitting our tail by about 10 feet. Note to skydivers: Don't jump through clouds - or even near clouds. It's a disaster waiting to happen.