Friday, June 28, 2013

71. Flight Beyond All Hope. Part 3. Dude's Originals.

“So the captain grits his teeth and wrestles the bird to a grinding halt, with brakes screeching and tires burning, with the flaps fully deployed.  Then he says to his co-pilot, “This must be the shortest ****ing runway we’ve ever landed in!” The co-pilot looks over his shoulder out of the side window and says, “And the ****ing widest!” 



Captain Kevin Landers let out a loud guffaw and in fact, a too loud one,  that made the first Officer,  25 year old Alvin Rogers look at him suspiciously.

“I just wondered if you’ve heard that one before,” he said timidly.

“ 'Course I have, but I didn’t wanna  disappoint you.”


Forty three year old Captain Kevin Landers was known in the circles to be an amiable person with easy going attitude and larger than life sense of humor.

“Heard this one?” Landers asked putting his meal tray on the cockpit floor. “A plane has taken off JFK and climbing. Then the captain comes on the intercom, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. Welcome aboard the non-stop flight from JFK to L. A. International. The weather report says it is going to be fine ahead.  So, we can look forward to a smooth flight all the way. Just sit back and enjoy the ride… OH MY GOD!

And silence. Pin drop silence. After several minutes, the passengers hear captain's voice again.

“Ladies and gentlemen.  I apologize if I scared you witless. What happened was,  while I was talking, the flight attendant accidently spilled some hot coffee on my lap. You should see the front of my pants!” Then a dude in the business class yells, “That is nothing. You should see the back of mine!””

Alvin rocked with laughter and spilled his coffee on the front of his pants.

෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴

The Boeing 777 cruised on auto pilot through the night skies at 37,000ft.  The flight so far has been uneventful as it should be for a fine night like this, with fine weather for flying.

෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴

The Boeing 777 was homing in on Miami International Airport, Florida.

Flight attendant Annie Davis was teasing the new crew member Michelle Cooper about her crush on the handsome First Officer Alvin Rogers.  Michelle, a 23 year old voluptuous blond, who was eating a burger standing by the galley sink, blushed.

෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴

Two hours later,  the PA system crackled and on came the announcement, that they would be landing in Miami International Airport, in a while. The Boeing 777 started losing altitude, as it was closing in on its destination.
Some passengers were filling out the embarkation forms flight attendants had distributed, a while ago. Those without ballpoint pens were waiting to borrow from the neighbors who had enough sense to have one on them.

A young mom changed a diaper of her infant, while her husband watched in awe.

The aircraft banked left in a wide curve, to enter the landing pattern. 

෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴

Photo from Wikimedia
The Boeing 777 was on the final approach on the glide slope with the onboard computers tuned and locked on the ILS frequency of the runway 12/30.  The aircraft was now 5 miles out from the runway and 2000ft up in the air. The captain Kevin Landers lowered the first notch of the flaps. It was time to deploy the landing gears. The skilled hands of the pilots went through the motions.

First officer Alvin Rogers watched the indicators on the bank of instruments turn white crosshatched as the wheel bay flaps opened and landing gear bogies were in transit. There was a hum and a thud that felt inside the aircraft as the wheels were down and locked and the indicators turned into green.

With the airspeed now reduced to just above the stall speed. The engine note audibly changed due to the deployed flaps and the armed speed brakes.

The big jet came in screaming out of the skies, toward the lit up runway 12/30. The engines slightly accelerating to compensate the drag caused by the lowered landing gears and flaps. The runway threshold whizzed past, as the Captain Kevin Landers pulled back the control column to execute the flair, causing the nose to lift off increasing the angle of attack. The Boeing 777 swooped down   like a giant eagle, with its wings spread and claws outstretched to grab the prey.

The main landing gear sets just skimmed the runway and then sparks flew as the rubber met the tarmac at the touchdown, emitting  a cloud of smoke and the  wheels at once started to
Photo from Wikimedia.
spin like crazy, accelerating from 0 to 250kmph in a fraction of a second . The thud was felt in the fuselage as the main landing gear suspension hissed and took over the total weight of the aircraft. 

In a few seconds, the nose wheels touched down adding more rubber to the runway. Captain Landers slid the elevator control neutral and used the rudder pedals to steer the aircraft down the middle of the runway. The fully deployed flaps and spoilers, the reverse thrust of the engine and speed brakes, combined made a howl and roar and scream at the same time which reached a crescendo.

As the ground handling crew watched, the Boeing 777 thundered down the runway making the windows rattle in the surrounding buildings. The giant bird slowed up at the end of the runway and made a ninety degree turn into the taxiway.  The passengers went through their usual routine of getting ready to deplane with usual chatter. 

෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴

Several hours later, Nick Ortega stood in the floodlights on the concrete ramp and ticked off the check list on the clipboard inspecting each item of the aircraft.  He walked under the wing and inspected the wheel bogie and ticked a few boxes.  He grimaced at the noise when one after another jets landed with a tremendous roar and whizzed past.  He licked the tip of the pencil and casually glanced up the wheel strut when he heard a soft clang of metal hitting metal.

His eyes narrowed and a puzzled expression creased his face when he saw the car seat belt dangling from the tubular steel leg, swinging in the wind, its steel buckle clanging on the steel strut.

“What the …!”

He swung the beam of the powerful flashlight upwards on the wheel bay.  Nothing!  For good measure, he stepped onto the axle of the landing gear and shone the flashlight into the wheel bay. It was empty. He licked the tip of the pencil once more while he tried to form the sentence he had to scribble in the Comments box. ‘Car seatbelt hanging from the strut’ sounded just stupid.

He brought his walkie-talkie to mouth, pushed the talk button and started talking into it rapidly.

෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴  ~ ෴ * * ෴

Two weeks later, henryblogwalker
sat with a cup of coffee and opened
the inbox of Yahoo Mail.

23 unread messages! Well when you are a blogger you are never short of incoming mail, he thought.

But the Third mail jumped at him.

Carlos!                        Hey Dude                            8.55 AM

"Don’t know what the hell dude has done about that mad scheme of his," he muttered to himself.

He clicked on the name and waited impatiently for the email to load, with his fingers drumming an impatient tune on the edge of the laptop keyboard.




Sunday, June 16, 2013

70. Flight Beyond All Hope. Part 2. Dude's Originals.

Carlos arrived at the rear port side landing gear precisely at the same moment the crew got the control tower clearance for takeoff.  The huge wheels began to roll. He felt the blast of the big jet engines hanging from the giant wings just a few feet away to his left. He ran between two rear wheels and grabbed a protrusion on the wheel strut and scrambled up. 


The wheels started to roll faster, gathering speed, only centimeters away from his dangling feet. A few seconds later, they finally found the foothold they were desperately searching for.  He hauled himself up grabbing the hydraulic pipes that ran down the strut. He felt the pipe bend under his weight. He shifted his weight on to the now diagonal metal bar and grabbed for the top of the wheel strut flap, which was now hanging open, and climbed into the wheel bay.

First of all Carlos, there is no guarantee that you won’t be  crushed to death being pinned by the hydraulically operated retracting landing gear in that cramped place which is designed to accommodate only the landing gear.

Carlos watched the tarmac rushing under him at alarming speed. The black rubber burn marks on the runway together with the rushing row of runway lights and markings made blurred patterns at high speed. The undercarriage banged, creaked, shuddered and groaned below him. The roar of the jet engines sounded incredibly loud in the confines of the wheel bay. Suddenly the creaking, shuddering and groaning ceased as the giant wheels lifted off the runway with hiss of hydraulics as the suspension was freed from weight of the aircraft.  He watched white pedestrian crossing like markings at the threshold of the runway dropping below. The Scenery which was zooming out rapidly filled the view. The runway, the airport buildings, perimeter fence the tree tops the highway, the fields, …. What a view!

Dude, they say, depending on the type of aircraft and the landing gear set selected and also the build of the stowaway, sufficient space would be available for a tight squeeze. For example, on an old DC-8 the right landing gear compartment would have enough space to accommodate a stowaway. But if he was unfortunate enough to select the left landing gear compartment, he would be in for surprise when the landing gear retracts, because hydraulic fluid reservoirs and other fittings take up most of the free space.  It would then be too late to abort mission as the giant retracting landing gear would trap him and crush him before he realizes that there isn’t enough space for him, landing gear and wheel strut and everything.  Anyway the compartment doors would close beneath with finality and the aircraft would be climbing higher.

This is an animation of how it roughly works. This diagram shows a single wheel to simplify the mechanics. The 777 has multiple wheels . Image from Wikipedia.

And then, he heard the hiss of the hydraulics and the hum of a giant motor which surprisingly muffled the roar of the jet engines. The wheel bay cover opened downwards to make way for the wheels that started retracting. The wheel strut bent inwards, with the diagonal arms telescoping in. The giant wheels rushed toward him menacingly, blocking the breathtaking view and threatening to crush anything in its way to pulp, if he didn’t watch out.

The huge wheels which were still spinning, narrowly missed Carlos’ head because he pushed himself sideways using the onrushing landing gear strut for leverage. The wheel bay suddenly became even more cramped and darker giving Carlos a feeling of claustrophobia. As soon as the landing gear came to a rest in its womb, the wheel bay flaps started to close on them shutting out the fading lights from the outside world and completing the nightmare.

If you managed to survive that, dude, then,the temperature dropping by each foot the airplane climbs, will work against you.

To make the matters worse, as the aircraft will gradually climb to cruise altitude, at about 18,000 ft, as the oxygen level thins out the hypoxia will slowly start setting in. As a result, you will feel fatigue, nausea and a splitting headache. Then  you’ll be struggling to breathe, and in the worst case scenario, end up in a coma or even death. It would be a colorful death ‘cos, you’ll turn blue most probably, ha ha. Well, it’s not a joke, though I tried to make it sound like one. Okay, it's a bad joke.

I know you did science stream at school. So, you know what I mean.

Suddenly Carlos felt that the rubber tire was burning his face. He hadn’t realized that an aircraft tire can get so hot during the takeoff run.  He moved his face as far away as the cramped enclosure allowed him.

Above 20,000ft, you will also be at the risk of being exposed to nitrogen gas embolism and Decompression Sickness anyway. That is why the cabin of the aircraft is pressurized.

At 22,000ft, you will feel lightheaded and weak and will be shuddering and struggling to keep conscious as eyesight and hearing will be impaired as your blood oxygen level will drop further.

Above 33,000ft (10,065m), the lungs require artificial pressure to function normally. Do I sound like a goddamn manual or a textbook?

  Those stowaways whose bodies are not mangled by the retracting landing gear or killed by these extreme conditions will almost certainly be unconscious by the time the compartment doors re-open a few thousand feet above ground, causing them to plunge to their deaths.

Carlos wriggled his feet because he felt they were trapped. Luckily, he could free them when he tried to pull them out one foot at a time. He moved around to find the most comfortable and natural, possible posture and in a few minutes settled down for one, turning a bit. 

Carlos groped for the seat belt and found its buckle. He held the buckle with his left hand while his right was groping for a possible anchorage to pass the belt around. Finding two levers, one huge and the other smaller next to each other, he chose the latter and proceeded to work on the buckle to take as much slack on the belt to pass it around himself and the lever.   With a sigh of relief, he finally clicked the buckle home. “Now, at least, I wouldn’t fall off the wheel bay into a lake or a forest, as henryblogwalker had said,” he thought.

I don’t mean to sound very pessimistic, but these are the facts I found as a result of my search just to make you realize what you have in mind is just stupid.

As the ambient temperature drops as so will the PP O2 (Partial Pressure of Oxygen) causing a blackout. Buildup of acid in body fluids due to these extreme conditions is not rare, which can cause coma or death.

So being alive at the cruising altitude of say 39,000ft is a miracle against all these odds.

So don’t be a moron, Just give up.

The noise from the giant jet engines sounded incredibly louder in the confines of the landing gear bay. He checked if his earplugs were still in place. Of course, they were.  The rubber wheels were still radiating enough heat to make him sweat in all the layers of clothing. And the steel levers were still hot perhaps from the hot hydraulic fluids in them. He felt like a loaf of bread in an oven.

Carlos swallowed hard several times to ease the stabbing pain he felt in his ears. The jet seemed to be climbing steeply and steadily into its cruising altitude. The whine of the jet engines gave him a headache. It was beginning to get colder.

At the same time, hypothermia is likely to be brought on, with temperatures dropping as low as -63˚C. The Hypothermia will get in the way of normal metabolism as your core temperature is dropped causing mental confusion, even if you are still conscious. And you will start to shiver uncontrollably which would be made worse if you are not wearing proper warm clothing.

It was growing colder and colder. Carlos started to wriggle his feet and slap his cheeks with his gloved hands. On top of that, he was feeling light headed. Henryblogwalker was right. His breath was becoming shallower and shallower.  He suddenly remembered his friend Juan who was suffering from chronic asthma. He used to breathe like this sometimes until he had a puff from his inhaler. 

The heat from the tire was comforting now, though it was diminishing fast. He found a new source of heat from the steel tubular arm next to him, which was still warm from the hot hydraulic fluid inside them.

Frostbite will be one of your worst enemies at these high altitudes.  Some stowaways were found frozen.

Dude, when I was surfing the net, I saw Cuban refugee Victor Alvarez Molina who arrived in Montreal Canada, hiding in the wheel well of a DC10, miraculously survived the 4 hour journey in -40˚C, thanks to a faulty pipe in the wheel compartment which leaked warm air for him to survive, in addition to providing  him a handle grip to hang on for dear life when the landing gear lowered beneath him for landing. 

It was a lucky break, nothing else. You can’t expect the same miracle twice. So don’t do it, dude. Anyway, if you try this ignoring all I said, God bless you, you stupid idiot!

Take care,


Carlos was floating between wakefulness and unconsciousness. The breathing was so hard that his chest was aching as if he had a ton of bricks on it.  He felt as if he was being strangled. He struggled for breath. Surprisingly the roar of the jets seemed to be muted from time to time. He thought it was funny that there were thousands of gallons of sloshing jet fuel inside the wing, just next to him only a few feet away from the roaring furnace fire of the giant jet engines hanging from the same wing. Only a few feet away… Only… a...  few…

Carlos lay unconscious in the wheel bay. The air temperature and oxygen levels  around dropped  further.

The Boeing 777 leveled out at 37,000 feet and settled to cruise at a steady speed of 0.84 Mach. 

The flight attendants served dinner to the flight deck crew and the passengers.  The plane shuddered a little as the plane flew through some mild turbulence. Flight attendants were wearing their professional reassuring smiles.

The Boeing 777 cruised through the silent night skies without incident, its body glowing silver in the moonlight.

Will Carlos make it?
You will find out in the final episode. Please Click Here.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

69. Flight Beyond All Hope. Part 1. Dude's Originals.

Dude, Please Don't Try It.

From: henryblogwalker

Dear Carlos,

Dude, I’m writing this to ask you not to do what you are about to do. Maybe we‘ve never met. Maybe we are just Facebook friends. Yeah, I got to know you through the first comment you made to one of my posts in my blog HeyDude.  What was that post? Yeah, “Forgive Me Dude, If You Can”. Actually, I had to delete your comment. Something I never do. That’s how it all started.
Still, I am your buddy. Please listen to me. DON’T DO IT. What you are trying to do is stupid.

Carlos checked his gear for the last time with his checklist. The thermos, the harness he rigged up with the old car seat belt, ear plugs, winter gloves,…

I once read in an old Reader’s Digest, under ‘Drama In real Life,’ about a boy who hid in the landing gear bay of a jet, with a friend and tried to fly out of the country. Was his name Miguel? I remember it had some Spanish ring to it, like yours.  The landing gear bay or the undercarriage compartment or wheel well or whatever you call it is neither heated nor pressurized. To make the matters worse, there is no oxygen supply. How they survived, beats me!

Another jet roared overhead climbing steeply into the gathering dusk and banking left. That is the Lufthansa flight to Munich. Carlos knew the flight schedule by heart, now.  He has been careful. Not only had he memorized flight schedules, he had studied the target area thoroughly for the past six months.

Then he heard the crunch of gravel under heavy military boots, as he was expecting.  The two guards with the AK47s were passing the spot he was hiding patrolling the airport perimeter. He lay flat on his belly, behind the bush.

I checked this on the internet because you said your mind was set on this weird idea of getting into the US as a wheel bay stowaway. What I found was amazing. This daredevil stunt is performed every now and then by various people, under the popular cover names, like, asylum seekers, refugees and fortune hunters in the west. The FAA counted 13 wheel well arrivals in the United States in year 2000 and three survives. The next year none of the six attempted the feat survived it.

Another departing Boeing 777 thundered down the runway with the powerful Rolls Royce engines roaring and whistling at the same time.  The jet lifted into the air emitting blue flames in the exhaust of the giant engines. Carlos watched with mixed feelings as the landing gear beginning to fold up into the wheel bay immediately after the aircraft was airborne.  The compartment door closed over them smoothly. Carlos felt butterflies in his stomach.

Dude, like I said, when I checked on the net, the records went all the way back to 1947. Since then, 96 people have tried hiding in the wheel wells of 85 flights and 73 of them didn’t make it. Only 23 survived the ordeal. And, the youngest was only nine years old.  Just one person survived the cruising altitude of 39,000ft. The survival rate of a wheel well passenger is merely 20.3, dude. This may not be accurate as the ones who could have fallen off the aircraft into water or remote areas and were not even recovered, could be not included in the survey.

Carlos peeped for any sign of the security guard and seeing that the coast was clear, sprinted along the hedge towards the end of the runway. He was careful to dart from bush to bush. His heavily padded winter boots with thick rubber soles made no noise on the grass.

The higher the altitude and longer the flight time, fewer the odds of survival in a unpressurized unheated wheel well of an aircraft.

As the temperature could drop as low as -45˚C, most of the stowaways who are not equipped for this, could get frozen to death.

On top of that, they suffer from asphyxiation as higher the altitudes the oxygen level is too low to survive and low pressure makes it difficult for the lungs to work normally.

Due to oxygen deprivation and freezing temperatures, the wheel well passengers are most likely to blackout. And, on arrival in preparation for landing, when the wheels bay covers open and landing gear is  deployed approximately at 1500 feet,  the unconscious passengers face the danger of tumbling off the wheel well and plunging towards the earth, to their inevitable death. Those who were lucky enough to be conscious at that crucial moment and managed to hold onto something inside the wheel bay with their frostbitten hands, had a chance of survival.

Do I sound like a teacher?

Carlos was out of breath when he finally arrived at the vantage point. He selected a leafy bush, crouched behind it, and slid his backpack off his shoulders. He was already sweating in the two jeans he was wearing one over the other and the two long sleeved sweatshirts. He decided to wear the thick leather jacket and the jeans at the last possible moment with the woolen padded leather gloves. Henryblogwalker’s email gave him that idea. And, the safety belt made out of the old car seat belt, he salvaged from the scrap yard should be worn over the jacket.

It’s not easy for a prospective wheel bay stowaway to slip through the airfield perimeter fence with all that tight security and get near aircraft unnoticed. But the airport security and specially the airside area movement control is not the same everywhere. So they get into position and wait to make a run for it immediately before the takeoff. I don’t know about yours, Carlos. Still, it is a mad scheme to try.

Carlos glanced at his cheap digital wristwatch. It should be here now. He watched the activity at the distant airport with his eyes narrowed a little to filter the glare from the airport terminal buildings and airport vehicles.  Is that the tow tractor pushing his airplane out of the ramp?  He strained his eyes to make sure that the plane actually started to taxi towards the runway under its own power.

It’s no wonder so many of them pay the air fare of traveling in the unheated, unpressurized, landing gear compartment with no oxygen supply,  with their lives.

The Boeing 777 taxied slowly towards the end of the runway where he was hiding. He opened the backpack and took the articles out. First he slipped on the leather jeans over the two denim jeans he was already wearing and zipped up the fly with some difficulty before he put on heavily padded leather jacket.  Then he put on the leather winter gloves. Finally, he passed the seat belt harness around his waist and snapped on the buckle. By the time he finished he was sweating. He  picked up the orange colored soft rubber ear plugs and rolled them  into thin wicks before inserting them deep into his ears.

The rumble of the Boeing 777’s powerful engines changed the note as it slowed up. It came to a halt at the holding position, only few meters away from where Carlos was hiding, waiting for the clearance from the control tower. It was now or never.

The stowaways usually hide nearby the end of the runway where the aircraft would taxi to, make a 180 degree turn and wait or the clearance from the control tower for takeoff. Or depending on the layout of the airport, wait in a storm drain near the holding position at the end of the taxiway   where  the aircraft would sit waiting for the clearance to takeoff before entering the runway. The stowaway would run and mount the landing gear and haul himself into the wheel compartment.

Carlos looked around. The coast was clear. As he was behind the tail of the aircraft, he could not see the heads of the pilots through the cockpit windows. He could not see any faces peeping at him through any one of the fuselage portholes. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. It’s as simple as that. Something his dad had taught him. He sprang to his feet and raced towards the giant undercarriage. 

Part 2 is NOW just a CLICK  away. 

70. Flight Beyond All Hope. Part 2. Dude's Originals.

This is the blog post I took the longest to compose. If you just check the last countdown post I published as a prologue to this, you would understand what I mean. It was published on February 28th.  I started writing this even before that. Obviously, it took so much research as I wanted to be as accurate with facts as possible.

I also would like to thank my children  Hirusha and Hiruni, my wife Deepa and the fellow bloggers Senna and Chams who kept reminding me of this post ever since the countdown post was published.