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Author Topic: Can a person survive in an unpressurized aircraft wing?  (Read 2219 times)

Offline CliffordK

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This week, a teenage boy survived the 5 hour flight from California to Hawaii, in the wheel well of a plane. How amazing is his survival?

Read a transcript of the interview by clicking here
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Offline CliffordK

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Re: Can a person survive in an unpressurized aircraft wing?
« Reply #1 on: 01/05/2014 11:58:56 »
My question is what the pressure inside the wing is. 

It would seem like if the wing was open on the bottom, but sealed on top, then one would get high pressure inside of the wing.  This might keep the landing gear from becoming sealed in, but could be hard on the rivets.

If, on the other hand, the wing was open on top, and sealed on the bottom, then it should have very low pressure inside (which might be good for rivets, but unless the landing gear was in a separate sealed compartment, there would be a risk that the landing gear would get sealed in, and it would be difficult to break the seal. 

One also has the venturi effect, but I think one may still get high pressure below the wing. 

Also, are the tires and fuel tanks heated?  Gelled fuel, of course, would be bad, and extreme temperature shifts may be hard on the tires. 

Anyway, the air pressures and temperatures that the stowaway is exposed to may vary depending on the aircraft design, and the pressures for wing mounted landing gear may not be as critically dangerous as one may otherwise expect.

I still might choose to buy a ticket.
 

Offline alancalverd

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Re: Can a person survive in an unpressurized aircraft wing?
« Reply #2 on: 01/05/2014 23:58:22 »
We generally consider the effective functioning period from sudden depressurisation to 30,000 ft as being around 60 - 90 seconds, which is why the nice lady tells you to put your oxygen mask on before helping others. But whilst you would suffer loss of consciousness and effective bodily control after a few minutes, you might not actually die, and if you were cold enough, your brain might even recover when reoxygenated. There is however a fine line between hypothermia and frostbite, so you might wish you had died after spending a few hours at -50C.

That said, there are plenty of people who have climbed Everest (29,000 ft) without supplementary oxygen: not merely surviving but able to do strenuous exercise and think rationally. So it's entirely possible to acclimatise to low oxygen concentrations (Viagra is said to be protective) and to survive slow depressurisation, whilst keeping warm.

Now looking at Clifford's response, consider that the wing loading of a Boeing 747 is about 3 lb/square foot. So in order to fly it must generate around 0.2 "standard atmospheres" of pressure differential across the wing. Add this to the 0.2 atmospheres of static pressure at 30,000 ft and you have about 0.4 atm total pressure under the wing. This is entirely breathable by a fit, resting teenager: it's equivalent to about 12,000 ft altitude, and quite a few people live at that height anyway.       

So the answer is yes, if you are fit and lucky, and choose a heavy aircraft. Apparently ".....in the event of a sudden  loss of cabin pressure...." your best bet is to be outside the plane! The corpses that occasionaly fall out of wheel wells at Heathrow tend to have come from India and are more likely to have died from hypothermia on a 12 hour flight than from hypoxia. 
« Last Edit: 02/05/2014 07:50:15 by alancalverd »
 

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Re: Can a person survive in an unpressurized aircraft wing?
« Reply #2 on: 01/05/2014 23:58:22 »

 

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