Here's Why You Shouldn't Panic When A Pilot's Arm Comes Off In Flight

Flybe Dash 8Wikimedia CommonsThis is Bombardier Dash 8, in service with Flybe, the airline that the pilot was flying for.

In February, a pilot for the U. K. budget airline Flybe was attempting a landing in Ireland when his prosthetic arm detached from the yoke of his Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft and he had to engage in some quick maneuvers to avoid a problem.

The incident just came to light this week.

You might naturally ask yourself, “Why would a pilot with a prosthetic arm be flying a commercial passenger plane in the first place?” The answer is that it isn’t prohibited by aviation authorities, although pilots with disabilities have to go through additional evaluations when being licensed.

It’s been reported that the Flybe pilot’s arm “fell off,” but according to the BBC, that’s not really what happened. In fact, the pilot’s arm became detached from a clamp on the aircraft’s yoke (it’s like a steering wheel) and the pilot had to use his other hand — which at the time was controlling the throttles — to steady the plane.

The BBC conducted a radio interview with a disabled pilot, Steven Robinson, who also flies with only one good arm. He pointed out that it’s uncommon, but not unheard of, for pilots with prosthetic arms to be in the air (prosthetic legs are seen more often). He stressed that pilots with disabilities can be just as skilled and effective as pilots without.

The BBC noted that Flybe considers itself an “equal opportunity” employer that wouldn’t discriminate against disabled pilots. And actually, the pilot evaluated the connection between the yoke clamp and his prosthetic arm as part of the checklist. (The airline has now implemented additional checks, the BBC reported.)

For what’s it’s worth, Robinson described why the Flybe pilot ended up making a rough landing (no one on the flight was injured).

Prior to landing, pilots have to “flare” the aircraft: the raise the nose and reduce power so that the nose wheels don’t impact first. When the Flybe pilots are detached from the yoke clamp, he wasn’t able to reduce power and so the landing was heavy. He didn’t have a lot of time to make the decision, and that’s why he didn’t simply turn the plane over to his co-pilot.

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