Come Fly With Me

Flying Companions

FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff
4 min readJul 6



By Larry Fields, FAA (Acting) Flight Standards Service Executive Director

You may recall the tale of a Florida man, Darren Harrison, who last year made a rather unexpected transition from passenger to pilot aboard a Cessna 208. Darren was returning from a fishing trip in the Bahamas when his pilot began to feel ill, lost consciousness, and slumped over the controls. Despite a lack of flying experience, Darren sprang into action when the single-engine aircraft went into a nosedive and turned sharply over the Florida coast. He first steadied the aircraft and then radioed Fort Pierce tower at Treasure Coast International Airport to let them know the situation … and that he was not a pilot.

Photo of air traffic controllers.
Air Traffic Manager Ryan Warren (left) and controller Robert Morgan (center) show Darren Harrison (far right) printouts of the Cessna 208 flight deck they used to help him land safely after an in-flight emergency.

The air traffic controllers did an amazing job helping Darren maintain control and navigate the airplane toward Palm Beach International Airport. Assisted by a printout of the Cessna 208’s flight deck, controllers gave Darren clear and short directions on power and flap settings to get correctly configured for a landing. They talked him through the approach with Darren making a successful and safe touchdown. You can read more about this amazing feat on the FAA’s blog and The Air Up There podcast.

While situations like this are rare, they reinforce the importance for pilots and their non-flying passengers to discuss potential “what if” scenarios so they can be prepared for an abnormal or emergency event. With that in mind, we’re pleased to present an updated version of our cockpit companion-themed issue of FAA Safety Briefing magazine designed for the family members and friends who share the skies with us in the wonderful world of GA flying. We hope the articles here provide a better understanding of GA, answer some of the pressing questions on the minds of our non-flying friends, and provide some encouragement to those seeking to take a more active role during flight — or better yet — embark on their own aviation pursuits!


In the “Bring Your ‘A’ Game” feature, we cover every pilot’s well-known order of operations during flight (aviate, navigate, communicate), with emphasis on what it actually means to “aviate.” In “PilotSpeak,” we note that communication (as evidenced with Darren’s flight) is the appropriate second priority for a “pinch-hitting” pilot, and we do our best to demystify aviation jargon. In “The Art of Airplane Introductions,” we bring you along for an up-close look at an airplane during a typical preflight inspection, the perfect time and place to discuss the basic parts and components of an aircraft and how they all work together. Other articles cover the importance of weight and balance (why four seats don’t always equal four passengers) and why pilots interpret the weather and forecasts differently than a non-aviator might expect. Finally, we make pilots aware of a critical safety superhero at their disposal, the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam), and stress how getting involved — within a variety of capacities — can help you pay-it-forward in safety dividends to your fellow aviators.

There’s potential for a remarkable level of symbiosis in the flight deck when pilots and flying companions more clearly understand their roles and responsibilities. Pilots benefit by having a more well-informed passenger while gaining a better sense of their passenger’s needs and comfort levels. Passengers benefit by having clearer expectations of the trip (including what might delay or cancel the flight), a better understanding of the overall rules and procedures to expect (e.g., sterile cockpit), and learning some basic skills they can use to ensure a safe outcome should a situation or need arise.

We hope that flying companions will eagerly read this passenger-focused issue and take it to heart. We are also confident that pilots will find many useful tips and “talking points” to answer or even anticipate their flying companion’s questions.

We look forward to your feedback and any passenger-care tips you care to share with us may be published in a future issue.



FAA Safety Briefing
Cleared for Takeoff

Official FAA safety policy voice for general aviation. The magazine is part of the national FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam).