DEN is shutdown today, snowdrifts over my car’s hood, can’t see across the street.
I am sitting here wondering what goes through a professional pilot’s mind, what one day might go through my own, hearing “Minimums… Minimums” with nothing but white out in front of me. Will I have what it takes?
Any of the mentors have a story to tell of their most harrowing landings? (And the mettle it took to pull them off)
Definitely a day I am glad to be on the ground looking up,
Harrowing landing? No. I’ve had good landings I’ve had OK landings I’ve had bad landings. Even my best landings I wouldn’t describe them as harrowing. There’s so much more to being a pilot than being able to fly the plane.
Sure, a pilot is expected to know how to land within the aircraft’s limitations. But open any aviation textbook and read about any of the three letter acronyms (ADM, SRM, CRM, TEM, etc), I would argue that those are far more valuable than a pilot’s ability to land an airplane. Don’t get me wrong, landing in airplane safely is important but that’s only one small part of what we do.
The only measuring stick we have that helps us determine if we have “the right stuff” are checkrides. After that it’s our responsibility to make sure that we maintain our currency and proficiency from there on out. Therefore, generally speaking if you can pass your check ride then I think it’s safe to say that you have “the right stuff.”
The only way that you’ll know is if you try.
I realize you don’t have any experience in this area and to this day when I take off into the clouds, fly for 6hrs and land where I’m supposed to, without ever seeing anything it still seems like magic. But when it comes to weather, hearing “minimums” and not seeing anything is anything but harrowing. That’s actually super easy because it requires no decision and no exceptional skills. When you reach the mins and see nothing you simply go missed… That’s it. Pilots generally don’t get in trouble when they go-around, its when they don’t and try and push an approach when they end up on the 6 o’clock news.
As for “mettle” that’s also really a misconception many people have about what we do. Airline pilots aren’t paid to be test pilots or to demonstrate their superior pilot skills. In fact for the most part if you ever find yourself using your superior pilot skills with 300 pax sitting behind you, chances are you did something 3-4 steps prior you maybe shouldn’t have. Getting your pax safely to their destination shouldn’t be a matter of mastery or luck, it should be the norm. There are of course times when a pilot does need to dig deep (ie, Sully, Haynes, etc) but those by far are the exception. Landing in DEN when it’s snowing is actually a normal day at the office.
I thunk when most people think of airline pilots they think of John Wayne in the “High and the Mighty”, risking it all to accomplish the mission. This is simply not the case. We are very careful in what we do and make decisions several steps ahead to prevent harrowing situations.
I will tell you that I have certainly had landings that I had to work harder for than others, (gusty winds come to mind) but nothing harrowing. When you hear minimums and do not see anything, you go around and execute plan B, which you have already been thinking about for some time.
Pilots are trained to be risk adverse and to always be thinking of their various options.
Even landing in snow entails getting braking action reports, landed on a chemically treated runway, and running performance data to know how much runway it will take to stop.
To further the point, as you mentioned, DEN is shut down today, so approaching to land there is not even an option right now.
Thanks gents for your reassuring responses, and your continued patience on this forum with folks like me who can’t even fathom turning left in to the cockpit when walking on to a plane.
Sounds like the “Right Stuff” exists, but it isn’t super natural cockpit talent of lore! This is reassuring.
Beautiful blue skies here today, hope the same for you guys.
Anytime, please keep asking your questions as you think of them.
Personally I really enjoy flying an approach to minimums. The level of focus and concentration involved and when you pop out of the clouds and the airport is “magically” right there in front of you its an awesome feeling.
I’m late to the conversation but here’s a little fun twist to the topic.
Not going to lie, I have ended debriefs on unsatisfactory checks (landings) for students by introducing them to this video