English for Air-Catastrophe Survival

Glider design, Leonardo da Vinci

Glider design, Leonardo da Vinci

I sometimes teach a lesson which asks students to imagine what they would do if they found themselves suddenly in control of a light aircraft. The options are:

  • point the nose of the plane above the horizon and cruise to the runway like the space shuttle
  • fly in a straight line directly over the front end of the runway, or
  • set the speed to sixty miles per hour, land, and brake.

The latter is clearly the correct answer (although I was told by an actual pilot, a Bulgarian military pilot no less, that this is incorrect, and that there is not enough information in the question, and so on, no doubt because he got the answer wrong).

However, I can now verify that the description of the situation and the description of the correct solution are in fact accurate. One of our students, Hendrik, flew last weekend in a light aircraft from London to Paris, as I understand it, with a friend of his at the controls. His friend has had his pilot’s licence for some time, but Hendrik has never flown a plane before. In the week leading up to his trip I fortuitously gave him the pilot-death survival exercise, which he may or may not have passed (I do not remember); he said he was pleased, and no doubt mighty-relieved, to discover that his friend, the pilot, both took off and landed at precisely sixty miles per hour, and landed with the nose pointing slightly below the horizon. His friend could have expired in agony at the controls, and all would have been fine (well, not all, exactly, but at least Hendrik’s landing was covered).

This is what I call teaching English as a life skill.