Photo: Skycolors/Shutterstock

Pilots on Reddit Are Describing the Scariest Things They've Seen While Flying

News Airports + Flying
by Olivia Harden Feb 18, 2022

As a passenger, our only job once we board is to sit back and enjoy the ride without disturbing the people around us. And after flying a few times, you get used to the way a smooth flight is supposed to go. Pilots and flight attendants however, aren’t afforded the same luxury. There are all kinds of safety precautions in place, but the pilot’s job is to expect the unexpected.

A Redditor asked pilots to share the scariest things they’ve seen while flying. Buckle up folks, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Flying objects

1. My dad told me a story from a few years ago that happened while flying a 737 somewhere in Nevada I think on the way back to Toronto.

It was later in the evening, so you couldn’t see too much, but all of a sudden to the left of the plane my dad saw a really bright ball of light I guess you could say, moving really fast across the sky. My dad and his co-pilot had no clue what it was, and they could hear other pilots nearby calling it in over the radio and asking what it was. Eventually it flew pass and disappeared into the distance. A few days later my dad found out that what he saw was a missile launched by a USN submarine.

I wonder how many passengers thought they saw a UFO lol.” u/NAbbott_737

2. ”My father was a commercial pilot for over 35 years and has been flying for over 45. He has all kinds of wild stories which range from searching for debris after the challenger disaster to the mayhem he endured as a pilot during the 9/11 attacks and even towing banners at the Jersey shore.

But the craziest story I’ve asked him to retell a million times took place off the coast of NSW in Australia in the late 1970’s. His plane and crew were in a traffic pattern and were delayed landing because there was quite literally and unidentified flying object on the radar that the tower was tracking.

For a while they just circled around in this pattern waiting for other planes to land before they could enter the landing pattern and low and behold, the crew eventually got a direction of where this thing was and when they looked out their windows they could see a cigar shaped craft moving very slowly at about their same altitude. Upon seeing this, all of the crew and passengers who could see it audibly gasped and my dad says that was the most disturbing part.

Anyway, eventually it went off scope and they got the all clear to land and nothing more came of it but it was always my favorite story as a kid to hear from my pops.” – u/AlMinPhilly

3. ”Was a flight attendant for a while and we used to get in the cockpit sometimes mid-flight when one of the pilots needed a wee, pretty standard procedure. So one time sitting there and chatting with the FO (pitch dark outside) I noticed a yellow flashing light on the horizon, it was the only thing I could see outside and didn’t really think much about it and kept talking with the pilot.. after a couple of seconds I looked again and it had moved considerably.. couldn’t tell the distance but I would say it was far away from our aircraft so I started to think something weird was going on. Immediately told the pilot and we couldn’t figure out what it was and we just stared when after maybe 5 seconds later it just flew from one side of the sky to the other and then into space… that thing gave me the most omnious feeling I ever had.. I looked at the pilot, he looked back at me and we just sat there in silence thinking wtf just happened. Immediately regretted not taking my phone out to record but it has been a good story to tell on my following flights.” – u/LmOver


plane flying sunset with birds in background

Photo: Tonktiti/Shutterstock

4. “Not a pilot, but my dad is a former one. He once told me about how he almost crashed his Cessna because he hit some geese. He was actually preparing for a landing approach when he hit geese flying in a patch of fog. Windshield was completely shattered and he and his passenger were covered in blood and feathers. They landed safely, but my dad was pretty scarred from that! He didn’t quit flying because of that, but bird strikes remained a constant fear of his. Geese are large birds and they did significant damage to that little plane!” — u/robo-dragon

5. “In Bright, Victoria, Australia there was a magpie which hung out in the paraglider landing zone. Everybody got attacked but it was always at the point where you have to focus so you just ignore the bird and keep flying.” — u/michaelrohansmith

6. ”My dad used to work in the Air Force, and was responsible for the mechanical engineering of the Lockheed C-130 Hercules airplanes. Part of his job was to complete the before flight checklist, a huge list of things that need to be cleared in every plane or helicopter before flight. Another part of his job was occasionally training newbies in this position.

On the first day of training, my dad always told the new guys to always check the engines for bird nests. If the plane had been grounded for a while, seagulls and pigeons would often nest in the engines. This wasn’t necessarily a problem for the engines, but more of a huge annoyance because the cleanup could last for hours if the engines happened to be turned on while I bird was inside.

Anyway he was once giving a demonstration about power control of each engine, and the newbies, who had completed their checklists for the first time that day, had forgotten to check the engine for birds. My dad noticed this and decided to teach them a lesson by stepping back while the pilot fired up the engine. The seagull inside got completely eviscerated, covering the new guys from head to toe in seagull guts and blood. They always remembered to check the engines after that!” – u/titanic_trash

7. “I’ve been pretty lucky in my short piloting career (only around 60 hours as of right now, and am still in training). The scariest thing I’ve seen is a bald eagle about 8 ft from my left wing tip. It was only 8 ft from the wing tip because me and my instructor dove and rolled the plane as soon as possible. Those large birds are a serious hazard to small aircraft (I was in a Cessna 172s). Be careful of your animal pilots!” – u/crockerdile11

Skydivers and other pilots


Photo: Sky Antonio/Shutterstock

8. ”A skydiver about 20 yards off my wing. Was flying a 172 into an uncontrolled field that I’ve flown into 100 times before, not knowing that after a 5 year ban in skydiving there, they were allowing it on a case by case request. While flying in, calling my position, I hear ‘skydiver in the air’. My first thought was I hope they aren’t this direction and then there he was. I had this image of him going through my prop. After that thought oh god please don’t let me kill this guy then I turned to wtf just happened and how did the pilot not call this out better. He flew off completely. Come to find out the pilot was flying his friend to skydive to his local field then departed to his home airport where they came from. I never did find the guy.” – u/Theskidiever

9. ”This actually happened on my first time flying with no instructor onboard, just doing a couple laps around the traffic pattern. Took off, laps #1 and #2 went just fine, nailed a couple radio calls, got that awesome feeling of ‘Yeah, I got this’. But, lap #3 was fine until I was setting up my final approach to land, and the GTN750 (basically a fancy navigation/radio/pseudo-radar system) warned me about a Cessna 1 mile out at the same altitude. Ignored it, since I already had the plane in sight and verified with the control tower that he was landing on the runway parallel to mine.

Lo and behold, this dude zips under me by about 200-300 feet, which sounds like a good amount of room, but is actually butt-clenchingly close in a busy airspace like this. I should’ve applied full throttle and circled back around to try again, but the other plane was clear of me before the startle factor even wore off.

This was made especially dangerous by the fact that the plane I was flying was low-wing (can’t see under me) and the other plane was high-wing (he couldn’t see above him). So, neither of us could see each other and the tower yelled at the guy to get out of my way, and I landed safely.” — u/furry_anus_destroyer

10. “I had a near miss with a twin engine that was flying at the wrong altitude in the opposite direction.

Imagine oncoming traffic one lane over, it was that close. Now imagine it a speed difference of about 300 knots. The fucker hadn’t said a word on the radio, so I had no idea he was even in the area until he was behind me.” — u/eighthourlunch

11. ”Not a pilot; but my dad is. That said, we were flying out of Las Vegas and upon take off we nearly collided with another aircraft. This other guy never radioed into tower, never mentioned anything about landing; just off in his own little world as if he owned the fucking air. He was in a twin engine Beech, we were in a single prop Cessna. We were literally within 200 feet of each other; enough that we could see one another (and could probably smell the shit we were crapping out). Except their pilot. Because that guy was so fucking clueless he probably didn’t even know there was a runway there. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was trying to land on the actual Las Vegas strip.” — u/AutumnAtronach

System failures

plane with smoke trail

Photo: yanishevska/Shutterstock

12. “My fiancé was flying in military plane, working, when he looked out the window and noticed one of the turbines on the wing smoking. He radios up, trying to stay calm and goes ‘uh, guys, I think our wing is on fire’

And the pilot goes ‘damn. Again? Hold on, let me kill the engines’

My fiancé says he has never been more terrified than in that moment (especially cause if the plane goes down, his life is not the priority. The destruction of his equipment was, even if it cost him his life). They killed the engines, coasted for a minute or two, then turned them back on, and everything was good. What’s really bad is the other plane was under maintenance for an even worse issue so that was the only plane that could get into the air and it had to fly constantly for their mission so they had to keep using it until the other plane got fixed. My fiancé wasn’t part of the regular flight crew (normal guy was sick and fiancé had the training and clearance so they pulled him for it), and he said he never complained again about loading or unloading the planes after that.” – u/huskeya4

13.”Navy Helicopter Pilot here. I’ve got two that would be a tie:

Hearing a once per revolution thumping coming from the rotor head. Then on approach to land the torque gauges went dead, indicating a double engine failure. Luckily the engines were still running, unlike the gauges.

Hearing the Rotor RPM suddenly decrease for no known reason, followed up by a Master Warning indicating an engine failure. Engine re-started itself a moment later and it was all good. Still shit myself though.

Also teaching people to land on ships at night is just generally terrifying.” – u/auntyjamesauntyjames

14. “Skydive pilot here. Had a lady come in to do a tandem skydive. Me, her, and the instructor are the only ones on the aircraft. She had never been skydiving, nor ever been in a plane before.Something felt weird in the engine during the climb, but all indicators were showing normal. A few minutes later, one of the cylinders blew. While it scared me, training kicked it, but ill never forget the “Oh shit im gonna die” face she had when it happened.” –- u/austin4529

So the next time you’re on a flight, no matter how many times you fly, be sure to pay attention to the safety instructions, and thank your pilots when you land.

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