5 Buttons You Hope Your Pilot Never Has to Push

Airplane pilot cockpit controls buttons
Photo: Getty Images

An estimated 25% of all Americans suffer from aviophobia, otherwise known as a fear of flying. And while we know air travel is abundantly safe, there are a few buttons you never, ever, want to see your pilot touch while airborne.

The Daily Mail recently rounded up responses from several airline captains who service long-haul flights on all the buttons, knobs, levers, and pulleys they never want to touch, because if they do, it means something seriously catastrophic is going down.

Engine Fire Handle

As one pilot noted, pulling the engine fire handle, which is located above the captain’s seat in the cockpit, means there is a fire in one of the engines. The switch will shut off the flow of fuel to the engines, thereby denying the fire its source.

“Of all the scenarios I can envision, perhaps none are more potentially terrifying than that of a below-deck cargo fire,” Pilot Patrick Smith told the Daily Mail. “This is especially so now that lithium batteries have become so commonplace in consumer products. High-energy lithium power packs, like those found in cellular phones and laptop computers, are susceptible to a phenomenon called thermal runaway — a chemical chain-reaction causing them to rapidly and uncontrollably overheat and burst into flames.”

Smith said the danger isn’t about a small fire in the passenger cabin, but father a larger fire in the baggage compartment that can quickly grow out of control.

But, it’s still important to remember that while you’d rather not experience an engine fire it’s really not as bad as it seems.

“As while scary-sounding, is by no means a one-way ticket to disaster,” Tom Farrier, U.S. Air Force Command Pilot, wrote on Quora. “In fact, an aircraft is not even considered to have suffered ‘substantial damage’ for accident-reporting purposes if fire-related damage is limited to the engine itself.”

Ditching button

We bet Captain Sully Sullenberger is familiar with this one. Flipping the ditching button, according to Popular Mechanics, means the pilot is “ditching” the plane for an emergency landing in the water.

As Quora user Matt Joyce explained, this switch will close any open-air inlets to help the plane stay afloat for a little longer. However, this switch will not prevent the plane from eventually sinking, so it’s still key to listen to crew members and evacuate the aircraft as soon as possible.

Popular Mechanics further explained that in a water landing the crew will warn passengers to brace for impact. Next, the pilot will shut down the engines and will keep the tail a downward position to keep the plane level, which is a maneuver writer Allen St. John says pilots regularly practice in training.

Transponder Code to 7500

Inputting code 7500 into a plane’s transponder indicates it’s currently being hijacked. The code will make ground control aware of the situation. Other codes, according to the Daily Mail, include 7700, which is used for general emergencies, and 7600, which is used for loss of radio communication.

As ABC News reported, if the 7500 code has been activated the plane must be diverted to a safe location and inspected, even if the code was entered in error.

“Even a conversation with the crew won't resolve the suspicion that the plane has been hijacked, since one of two things are still possible,” ABC reported. “An intimidated crew might be required at gunpoint or under some other kind of personal duress to verbally confirm all is OK, or in a worst-case scenario, the plane might be in the hands of a renegade crew or pilot who knows precisely what to say to indicate everything is fine.”

Passenger Oxygen Switch

Just as the name implies, flipping this switch means oxygen masks will be deployed for passengers in the cabin.

“Should you ever be confronted by this spectacle, try to avoid shrieking or falling into cardiac arrest. Instead, strap your mask on and try to relax. The plane will be at a safe altitude shortly, and there are several minutes of backup oxygen for everybody,” Patrick Smith wrote in his book, Cockpit Confidential.

He added that pilots will place their own masks on in the cockpit and rapidly descend to 10,000 feet, where it is safe to breathe without the use of a mask.

“Should a pressure loss occur over mountains or other high terrain, pilots will follow predetermined depressurization routes, sometimes called ‘escape routes,’ that allow for a more gradual descent, in stages,” he added.

Emergency gear extension handle

If a pilot needs to pull the Emergency Gear extension handle, it means something has gone horribly wrong with the plane’s landing gear, according to the Daily Mail.

Pulling the handle should release any locks in the landing gears, forcing it by gravity into a down position. But hopefully you never have to find out.

Again, it’s important to remember you have a greater chance of dying by a ladder, lightening, or even your own household furniture than you do in a plane crash, so really, don’t worry.

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