Dramatic listening: passenger-pilot landing the plane

For real-life drama fans, the air traffic control tapes of Douglas White being talked through the landing of a King Air airplane, after the professional pilot dropped dead at the controls, are riveting and, to put it mildly, admirable. An AOPA Online interview with White, including links to the recording plus the picture below, is here. The recording itself is here.


As news stories pointed out, White had a pilot's certificate but had done his limited amount of flying in an entirely different kind of airplane -- with one engine rather than the King Air's two, with different avionics and control systems, with much slower operating speeds. Plus, he had flown previously from the left seat -- the normal seat for the pilot -- rather than the right ("shotgun"), where he happened to be sitting when the pilot died.

In one sense landing any kind of airplane is the same, in that you're gradually slowing the aircraft as it comes closer to the ground. The most crucial information, which varies by model of plane, is the right speeds for the different stages of the approach. The speed at which you should initially descend. The speed below which you can safely lower the landing gear and the first "notch" of flaps. The speed at which you can fully extend the flaps. The "final approach" speed as you're bringing the airplane right down to the ground. The stalling speed, which you  must always keep the plane above so that it doesn't just fall. In the recording, this info is what White keeps asking of the controller -- about an airplane whose basic up/down fast/slow right/left controls he understands but whose speeds he doesn't know.

The calm of all involved is incredible. All the more so after the emotional relief/breakdown you briefly hear from the pilot after he and his family are safely on the ground.