This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, July 2005.Stuff happens. Despite our best, most conscientious plans, once we get airborne things can change. Weather forecasts turn to lies, passengers change destinations and a well-maintained aircraft can break. It can get lonely up there. When the landing gear fails to extend, do we calmly and professionally run the manual-extension checklist and fly the airplane to a safe, otherwise-uneventful landing that doesn't make the evening news? When one of our two engines fails, do we secure the dead engine and safely divert to the nearest suitable runway? When our single engine fails, do we manage our kinetic energy to arrive over a farmer's field at the key point necessary to ensure a safe off-airport landing at touchdown speed? How we handle the changes in plans is the measure of our skill, experience and professionalism. Excitement should be avoided -- often, the greatest compliment to a pilot can be for passengers to be bored into getting some sleep for most of the flight. Even among the combinations of confusion, fear and anxiety an in-flight emergency or sudden change in plans can bring to the cockpit, we still have to fly the airplane. We still have to execute a safe landing, remembering to put down the landing gear or to switch on the fuel pump. We may still have to brief, prepare for and fly an unfamiliar instrument approach to an airport we hadn't planned to visit. Leaving out one or more of these critical elements to handling an in-flight emergency, dealing with a sick family member or diverting for weather can turn a simple challenge into a catastrophe. It shouldn't be that way.
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