Aeronautical Randomness
Landing a perfect ten
July 30, 2014

“Whose leg is this?” the man blurted out as he arrived in the entryway of the flight deck.

The captain immediately took offense to the sudden interruption.  “Do you mind identifying yourself?” he asked.

We were sitting on the ground in Denver preparing for departure.  Normally, we welcome visitors to the cockpit with open arms.  But, don’t ever suddenly appear in a captain’s work environment demanding answers without first introducing yourself.

“I’m the passenger in 9C.  I want to know who will be flying because my friends and I are going to judge the landing in Chicago on a scale from one to ten.  We do this all the time and find it adds a little bit of fun to the flight.”

“Fun for who?” the captain replied.  I could tell he was annoyed with our guest and wanted no part of the challenge.

Our visitor kept going: “Fun for everyone.  It gives you guys a bit of a challenge and it’s something fun for us to talk about after the flight.”

The captain started verbalizing some of the thoughts that were already going through my head.  It was my leg and we were planning on landing on one of ORD’s shortest runways.  ATIS winds were reporting a slight crosswind with a little bit of gust.  We are professionals tasked with keeping things safe… not fun.

Passengers without any piloting experience tend to “judge” landings on completely different criteria.  All that matters to people in the seats is how soft the airplane kisses the ground.  I’ve watched pilots float halfway down the runway trying to milk a smooth touchdown.  While a passenger may score that a ten, I’d give it a two.  A perfect landing is a squeaker in the touchdown zone with the main wheels equidistant from the center-line.

Still fairly new on the 737, I was hoping for an average touchdown that met all the remaining criteria.

It didn’t really seem to matter what the captain tried to explain.  This guy was determined to judge the landing.

I joined the conversation.

“Sir, you say you do this all the time?” I asked.

“Yes.  Every flight.” he replied.

“Well, knowing my peers, I’m guessing everyone puts in max effort for the highest score, right?  Have you ever had a ten?”

“Oh, yeah… I’ve given out plenty of eights, nines and tens.”  He started to perk up a bit.  Clearly, unlike that grumpy-ass captain, I was willing to be a contestant in his game.

“Well, here’s the deal:  If you’ve had plenty of other pilots earn those high scores, I’d like to be different.  I’m going to try for a one.  So, how firm does it need to be to score a one?”

His demeanor instantly changed.

“You’d purposely slam it on the runway?” he asked in disbelief.

“Oh, yeah.  You just tell me how hard it needs to be… This is going to be fun.”

I looked him right in the eye as he stood silent with his mouth slightly open.  After a few seconds elapsed, I glanced over at the boss in the left seat.  He was smiling as he also awaited the reply from our dumbfounded friend.

Then,  I smiled and let him off the hook.

“Look… I’m just joking with you.  I’d never do that… But, just to reiterate what the captain said… We’re landing on a short runway in Chicago with gusty winds.  I’m going to give you a nice safe touchdown based on the criteria pilots and the FAA use for landings.  If you want to score it based on your criteria, that’s fine… but, your challenge won’t influence how I execute it one bit.”

Looking relieved, he boldly stated that he knew I was joking the whole time.

He then randomly proceeded to inform us that pilots with aerobatic experience make the best airline pilots.

“Do you have a lot of experience with that?” he asked the captain.

“Sir… I think it’s time for you to return to your seat.  We’re almost ready to push back.”

The exchange gave us something to talk about during the two and a half hour flight.  Upon arrival in Chicago’s airspace, the conversation shifted back to our required duties.

After flying a right hand pattern and bumping down final, I managed to achieve an average touchdown on the center-line in the first third of 27R.  With maximum reverse and normal braking, we turned left on the high speed taxiway near the end and began the lengthy journey towards the terminal.

At the gate, by the time we opened the flight deck door, the judge had departed.

He didn’t relay my score to anyone on the crew before he deplaned.

So, I gave it a seven.

If you like what you read on this blog, please share the posts using the social media buttons.  Like most bloggers, I will continue to write if there appears to be interest in the material I publish.



About author

Renewed Pilot

I've endured a roller coaster career in the U.S. Aviation Industry. Currently flying the 737 on my third try with the same legacy carrier, I have also flown for a regional, fractional and start-up carrier. My piloting experience includes the 737, A320, 727, Citation Excel, Citation Bravo, Saab 340 and many light singles and twin engine aircraft. I reside in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee.

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There are 28 comments

  • Mike says:

    The German judge gave you a 6.2

  • James says:

    Well said. This is consistently the most frustrating thing to try to explain to the average person.

  • Awesome story! Thank you for sharing.

  • Stephen says:

    After having just read the email intro, I said to myself, “I’d tell him I’d like to try for a “1”, so long as nobody’s ever earned one with them before…”. Of couse, Hilarious!

  • Jerry Sterner says:

    Short field, gusty wind. Get it on the first 3rd and get with the stopping program = good landing

  • Cedarglen says:

    Thanks for sharing this amusing story. (What a jackass!) Although I was not on your flight and I’ve never driven a jet, I certainly understand the need for a “Firm Planting” at times. If you can land it close to the center line, within the zone, not hurt anyone or wrinkle the airplane – and not run off the distal end, I “Ten” would be my score. Believe it or not, there IS a reason that the crew checks seat belts and ‘secures the cabin’ prior to landing. (Duh?) IMO, you and the Capt. handled this fare-paying jerk with considerable grace. For gawd’s sake people, a ‘firm’ landing is most often intentional and made with darn good reason. As Brian notes, floating halfway down the runway to drift it on, it not a good landing!
    Please keep up the posts, sir. I enjoy reading them.

  • Elizabeth Latham says:

    You may have scored yourself a seven on the landing, I am scoring you a Perfect Ten on your response to the passenger in 9C. This is so funny, I have read it five times and I am still laughing.
    Fly it forward

  • FlyMaine says:

    Its buffoons like him that make the rest of us weary to approach the cockpit to say hi. Lord only knows what kind of reception they’ve set up for us based on their actions.

  • B737LadyPilot says:

    Thanks for sharing!! One of the best stories I’ve ever heard. Bravo to you and your CA. Well done!!! Loved when folks would visit the cockpit. Sadly, you get one of these types every once in a blue moon. One of the few downsides to the profession.

    Just a great response to a very unfortunate situation for all. 🙂

  • Brad Tate says:

    What a great story. Honest truth though? I’m a pretty harsh judge of my own landings. I know, I know…in the touchdown zone, on centerline, on speed, and don’t float…especially on 27R at ORD, or SNA, or BUR. The list goes on! I landed on that runway day before yesterday, by the way.

    Hysterical story. I plan to use the “trying for a 1” thing on the next guy who wants to judge my landing:)

  • Doug Stone says:

    As one who wishes I had pursued aviation as a career I really enjoy hearing about all aspects of profesional piloting. Please keep posting.

  • C Till says:

    Still remember an Eastern DC-9-30 flying into LGA on a gusty, snow-squall day in the late 1980s. Visibility and ceiling right at minimums, bouncing around the sky from initial descent to final… an awful day to fly. Whichever pilot was flying, he nailed it on runway 4 like the weather was CAVU with calm wind. EAL went bust not long after, and I wonder what because of those pilots (and the DC-9).

    • As I mentioned, a smooth touchdown in a constrained environment is the perfect landing. On short runways, we have a very brief moment to try and get it perfect. I always feel more satisfied when I squeak it on the runway in places like Orange County and Jackson Hole.

  • Pam says:

    The flight deck is hollowed sacred space. It is, isn’t it? Please keep blogging to us.

    • That’s the way most of us see it.

      On a related note… 9/11 was enormously painful for everyone. But, the one thing that further enraged airline pilots is that those madmen took over the flight decks. That’s our space… where we make our livelihood and keep things safe. Imagining those men sitting up there using our jets as weapons still angers me to this day.

  • Cedarglen says:

    I’ve just read this post again (and enjoyed it) as well as the comments to date. Obvious to me that you boys and girls up front still have a lot of fans within the flying public. 9/11 and other events have separated us too much and, while perhaps necessary, both sides of the door have lost. I’ll never forget an AF 747-100 flight in the mid-70s during which the Captain allowed me to remain in his territory (jump seat) for about 85% of a Chicago/Montreal/Paris flight, including two approaches and landings. While unusual even then, I simply made the polite request. Today, some authority would probably jail that captain for granting a similar courtesy.
    Some other time I’ll share details of an USAR C-130 cockpit poker game, complete with table, between MSP and someplace in Texas.
    Love the blog and I wish that you posted more often. Most of us respect your skills and no not behave like Mr. 9C. Again, there is nothing wrong with a firm landing. It is an unnatural transition between flight and heavily laden, rolling rubber wheels. Land or fly: you cannot do both. Until next time…-CG

    • CG..

      Once again, thanks for the comment and the kind words.

      I appreciate you saying that you’d like to read more on this blog. It’s a compliment I don’t take lightly.

      But, there are two reasons I don’t write more posts…

      First, they take a lot of time. I commute, fly half the month and help my saint wife manage our big family when I’m at home. I can only write in my spare time. I try an write a bit on layovers, but honestly I’m just too tired to work on the blog after a long day of flying.

      Second, being an airline pilot is a lot like the movie “Groundhog Day.” There’s a definite routine to airline flying… so, the same things happen over and over again. In this blog, I try to tell unique stories that I think readers will find interesting. I don’t want to have one of those blogs that simply document things like, “Today, I woke up, at breakfast, checked in, flew four legs and went to the hotel.” If something out of the ordinary does occur, I usually have a “light bulb moment” later when I realize it would make a good blog post. But, only if I have time…

      July had two posts… so, I’m trying. Thanks for your faithful readership and quality comments!

  • Dan says:

    Great stuff!

  • LC737 says:

    Great post. Loved your response. Your Captains response should’ve been “the only person that judges landings on this aircraft IS ME!”

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