Episode 94: Air Plane Hour

Air Date: December 12, 2007

An untrained civilian can be instructed how to successfully land a plane over the radio.


Based off of multiple airplane movies, this myth posed a challenge to the Mythbusters because they could not afford to test it using real aircraft. Instead, they used a NASA simulator. For their first test, both Adam and Jamie decided to see if they could land a plane unaided. However, since both Mythbusters had no flight experience and had no idea what most of the instruments and controls did, they both were forced to crash land their planes. In their second runs, a licensed pilot give them instructions via radio. With this help, both Adam and Jamie were able to land their planes safely. However, even though the test was a success, the pilot pointed out that most modern planes are so advanced that their autopilot systems can literally land the plane by themselves, negating the need for a civilian pilot. This information, coupled with the lack of any recorded incidents, led the Mythbusters to declare the myth plausible.

The next three myths were based on the film Point Break.

A person can free fall for over ninety seconds from a height of 4,000 feet (1,200 m).


The Build Team dropped a dummy from a plane at a height of 4,000 feet (1,200 m) and measured the amount of time it took for it to hit the ground. They timed the total free fall time at just 31 seconds, which would make the ninety second free fall scene in the movie impossible.

Two people can have a conversation with each other while in free fall.


To test this myth, Grant sky dived out of a plane. A skydiving instructor was to approach Grant while he was free falling and then attempt to say a certain phrase to Grant. During the free fall, the instructor yelled the phrase multiple times, but Grant could not hear him because the sound of the air rushing past drowned out his voice. The Build Team concluded that it was impossible to have a conversation in free fall.

By streamlining their body, a person can catch up to another person freefalling at terminal velocity in the skydiving position with a fifteen second head-start from 15,000 feet (4,600 m).


The Build Team first performed several small scale tests using wind tunnels, and demonstrated that objects with a greater surface area do in fact have a slower terminal velocity than objects with equal mass but smaller surface area. For the full scale test, Tory jumped out of a plane and assumed the skydiving position. Nick, a professional skydiver, gave Tory a fifteen second head-start and jumped out of the plane after him and assumed a streamlined posture. Twenty seconds after leaving the plane, Nick closed the distance between himself and Tory and passed Tory just as he was deploying his parachute. With such definitive results, the Build Team declared the myth confirmed.

A person can stop a sulfuric acid leak with chocolate and hot water.


Grant and Kari both demonstrated that the myth was possible, citing that the chemicals and sugars in the chocolate neutralized the acid.

(This myth was a promotion for the upcoming MacGyver special.)


  1. PAUL R. COOPER says:

    Paper folding mythbusting stretched too far. The “you” in you cannot fold a piece of paper more than 7 times” does not imply several pieces covering an aircraft hanger floor ironed with road rollers. By any practical standard, you did not bust the myth. Love your show.

  2. Timmsy says:

    I think you missed one myth with the point break jump. I don’t think anyone could hang on when the chute is opened.

  3. KZ says:

    In a recent movie, a civilian landed a plane without help, but he was able to land it due to the amount of video games he’d played about flying a plane…

  4. bukster says:

    In the scene from Point Break, Keanu Reeves jumps after Patrick Swayze and physically catches him in mid air. The mythbusters have called the myth that you can catch up to another person by streamlining your body confirmed. However, the skydiver didn’t touch them, he just rocketed past them. It shows you can catch up to another person, but is it possible to slow yourself down to a similar velocity and actually grab the other person like in the movie?
    Perhaps it is possible to overtake somebody, but to actually catch up to them, slow down to match speeds and make physical contact with them would require more time than the jump allowed. Tory was just about to open his parachute when the other diver shot past him. So there was no time to grab Tory and the other guy was going far too fast to do so anyway.

  5. caleb says:

    The film you based this myth on was air plane. I’ve seen this film and the passenger who flew the plane WAS an experienced pilot.

  6. megan and sada says:

    how much chocolate and water will it take?

  7. Tiexandrea says:

    @ caleb – i think there was even one movie i remember, whose title i never saw, where the person who was talked into landing the plane was a teenage girl. but lol, she wasn’t actually talked into landing the plane, i think she was simply talked into activating auto pilot.

    i think this episode was very informative to say the least. this episode taught us that, if the very very very very unlikely chance comes that you have to get talked into landing the plane:

    – stay calm
    – ask for someone that knows the exact model of the plane you’re flying
    – ask for directions on how to activate landing autopilot
    – if for some reason that’s not possible, get a run through on how to stabilize the plane
    – while holding the plane stable, get a runthrough of every button location and every screen that’s essential to landing the plane.
    – one question needs one answer
    – no unnecessary words
    – need-to-know info only
    – ultimately, the final moments of the landing is still on your hands, so be ready for it

  8. C.J. Gallagher says:

    In the interest of full disclosure, I have nearly 1000 skydives. (Only 2 malfunctions due to equipment, 1 injury malfunction due to stupidity). That said, in the movie, Keanu Reeves not only catches up after 15 seconds, but docks. This technicality is important because to pull it off, the approaching skydiver must perform a flare to make a dock without killing himself, the other skydiver or most likely, both. A flare to dock in freefall is an energy management maneuver that would have burned time and altitude in its performance. Reeves’s streamline body position would have to convert to the flat stable position prior to dock with enough time and altitude to slow, and steer to closure with the other skydiver. All skydivers have to learn this skill and it is not easy. In the movie, Keanu Reeves as portrayed has never skydived. To develop this skill takes many skydives. To be good at it can take more than 100 jumps. An exceptional student skydiver may get the hang of it after 50 jumps if gifted. In this Mythbuster episode, the approching skydiver could only buzz past. I would like to see this done with a dock, wave off, track and opening by 2,000 ft. as is standard proceedure. By the way, normal exit altitude is 13,500 ft. In this episode, the exit was 15,000 ft. I think this can be done but in the interest of safety, it should be planned, filmed and excueted by skilled skydivers only. My highest jump is 18,000 ft. I think it would take at least that to pull this off safely.

  9. Bertie the Bunyip says:

    The aircraft sim use in the myth was an Airbus A320. I fact, it’s not actually possible to fly this airplane manually since it’s controlled by computers. the side stick, joystick controller is little more than an autopilot controller and some of the more complex handling duties involved in hand flying an airplane are looked after by the computers, vastly simplifying ‘manual’ flying.
    With the autoflight systems on virtually any modern airliner with autoland capability engaged. Almost anyone who can calmly follow directions can get one on the ground unscathed. hand flying something like a Boeing 737 or similar would be signifcantly more difficult than an A320 being ‘manually’ flown. However, a light aircraft pilot would stand a substantially better chance of doing so than someone with zero time, especially with the aid of someone on the ground helping out.

    • Kirk says:

      I wonder what the result would have been with no help if they had played some MS Flight sim. I remember they had trouble finding critical insterments such as altitude and airspeed and when they did find them they had trouble finding the flaps and the landing gear. Someone who has played Microsoft flight sim would know where those things are already.

      I’m not saying MS flight sim can make you into an ace pilot, but it would give you a basic idea of where the controls are and how to operate them which might make it possible for a person to land the plane without radio help.

  10. Poopscicle says:

    Has anyone not, just once, thought “Hey, these two people, who JUST happen to have 30 years of expirience, actually KNOW what they’re doing.”
    I seriously doubt anyone else has had 30 years of expirience plus.
    Thusly, these are mostly opinions, as this is.

  11. unknown says:

    I saw a vid on youtube where a passenger/civilian landed a plane after pilot died of heart attack.

    • Stuart McGuinness says:

      This is absolutely true. It happened in England, and the pilot was the father of his passenger’s girlfriend. The guy knew enough to key the radio and Air Traffic Control cleared his frequency and talked with him. An instructor pilot was nearby and flew alongside the novice, teaching him level flight, turning, descending. He flew alongside the guy right to the deck giving moment by moment instructions. After a safe landing the hero just flew home without stopping for any praise or acknowledgment whatsoever.

  12. John Smith says:

    Timmsy is correct. Deceleration to 18 miles per hour from whatever speed of freefall is in well under a second results in 4G being pulled. Someone who weighed 150 pounds at 1G would weigh 600 pounds in this instance.

  13. Elroy says:

    the free fall was not busted at 40000 ft because buster was free falling very erratic you need to do it with a live person, busters arms and legs were moving erraticlly

    • N00bKefka says:

      Perhaps you would like to do a live demonstration for us?

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