Eli5 What do pilots do when landing?


Whenever I see a video of a place landing, the pilot has one hand on the steering thing which is moving back and forth like crazy. Are planes basically landing themselves? How do the pilots adjust for wind etc?

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When flying manually, a pilot will pitch and roll the aircraft with one hand (via the yoke/stick), yaw it with the feet (via rudder pedals), and alter the thrust with the other hand (via thrust levers/throttle quadrant). This doesn’t change on approach or landing.

Adjusting for wind is done by either offsetting the nose of the aircraft into wind by an amount sufficient to prevent sideways movement off the centreline of the runway, or by rolling the aircraft into wind slightly (and usually a mixture of the two).

Many airliners have auto-land capability, or can at least get down very low before manual input is required, but pilots still regularly fly manual approaches to keep skills sharp.

They are making small and frequent adjustments to compensate for wind and maintain their airspeed. At slower airspeeds, more control input is required to get the desired result, so it looks like they’re being much more violent with the yoke than they really are.

The other hand is usually kept on the throttle through the entire landing. This is to make adjustments to maintain the proper rate of descent, and also be ready in the event a go-around is required.

Lastly, rudder input is done through foot pedals, which usually can’t be seen in videos.

The pilot needs to make such large movements because that’s what it takes to keep the airplane lined up with the runway at slower (landing) airspeeds. Not only are they putting the airplane in the middle of the runway, they also have to make sure the plane isn’t at any incorrect angle during the entire landing.

Slower you are, less effect the air has on your control surfaces. For example at 450 knots barely moving rudder will give begin to turn you. At 150 knots in order to get the same amount of force applied to the surface you have to make a much larger movement to ‘grab’ more air. So movements have to be more exaggerated slower you go. Play the airplane game with your hand out a window while riding in a car. 20mph vs 65mph gives you an idea of this.

>Yes, a passenger plane can land by itself using the autopilot, through a system that is often referred to as ‘autoland’. The pilots can program the autopilot to carry out the landing automatically whilst the pilots monitor the aircraft’s systems. However, there are limitations as to when the autoland system can be used.
>Automatic landings probably account for less than 1% of all landings on commercial flights. Many pilots actually think it’s much easier to land the aircraft manually, as monitoring the auto-pilot in the autoland stage of flight is itself very demanding with a very high level of vigilance required at all stages.