CARLSBAD (CBS 8) - Imagine flying as a passenger in a small plane enjoying a beautiful day over San Diego, when all of a sudden your pilot collapses, leaving you in charge of the flight.
You have no piloting experience. What do you do? There's a real life simulator teaching passengers how to land in an emergency.
Helene is a classic example of a non-pilot who flies with her spouse on a regular basis. Frightened by the unknown, she struggled to sit in the cockpit at times, and in the worst-case scenario, if something ever happened to her husband in flight she would be forced into an emergency landing without any training.
"He's quite the accomplished pilot. I didn't know how to fly and was petrified so that's why I'm taking this course," she said.
"It's very rewarding to take somebody from that level and have them actually land a plane. Even though it's a simulated environment, it's very realistic," ProFlight Director of Training Tom Stackpole said.
This pinch hitter companion course in Carlsbad gives non-pilots the added benefit of using a full-motion simulator with air traffic controllers who help in creating a realistic scenario.
It's a valuable program no matter where you go for training. Take for example an 80-year-old woman forced to land a twin engine airplane when her husband suffered a fatal heart attack mid-air.
The odds were against her, except for one key factor -- basic flight training some 30 years ago when she learned how to take off and land. Although accidents due to pilot incapacitation make up a small percentage of general aviation accidents, scenarios like this are reality.
"You have to land the plane, you don't have a choice. How else are you going to land?" Helene said.
"She did it multiple times, perfectly, so she's a success story," Stackpole said.
After completing this pinch hitter program, you know you'll have the skills to safely land an airplane when your life depends on it.
Some of the footage used in this video report was shot using a GoPro camera.