back to article Why a detachable cabin probably won’t save your life in a plane crash

Falling out of the sky may well be most passengers' worst fear when they board a plane. With this mind, a Ukrainian inventor has proposed building airliners with detachable passenger cabins that could separate from the rest of the plane and parachute safely to the ground in the event of an emergency. This may sound like a …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Really?

    I can't believe you've given this crock of shite column inches... And there are many more flaws than just the ones you could be bothered to mention.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      " And there are many more flaws than just the ones you could be bothered to mention."

      Separate pressure vessels and the weight penalties associated with them being the first thing that springs to mind, not to mention that in an engine-out situation a plane is still landable and pyros tend to be unreliable. On top of that, in order to make the tube capable of taking the loads in the video without bending you'd have to make it substantially stronger and therefore much heavier still. Would it get off the ground?

      Even light aircraft whole-body parachute recovery systems come with penalties and haven't always saved lives

      1. Dinsdale247

        Re: Really?

        The extra weight to keep the cabin from disintegrating under force alone would make this totally impractical. What happens to the rest of the plane when the cabin is released?. The entire frame and wings would buckle and very likely end up tangled in with the parachutes. Likewise, the weight to keep the separate air-frame/cabin and wings strong would wind up being totally impractical. Plane structures work because the ENTIRE air frame supports the massive amounts of force that are applied to a plane during flight. The balancing act between weight and strength has been very carefully crafted over the years and this proposal pretends like that doesn't exist.

        This is clearly manager thinking. It waves it's hand at very complex technical details that are inconvenient.

    2. Smooth Newt Silver badge

      Re: Really?

      I can't believe you've given this crock of shite column inches...

      I think you are being a little bit harsh. The article was written for people's entertainment, and I enjoyed reading it. It might be a bad idea, but it is a good article.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

        1. Credas Silver badge

          Re: Really?

          The (very few) aircraft that have had cabin ejection systems, rather than ejection seats, were designed for operation at sustained supersonic speeds and had them for that supersonic ejection case. Nobody would (or does) bother with such a heavy, expensive and relatively low performance system otherwise.

          1. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

            Re: Really?

            There is a 1950ies film where the plot revolves around testing such a system, starring Humphrey Bogard(!) as the test pilot. I think it's called "Test Pilot".

            1. rongorongo

              Re: Really?

              The film is Chain Lightning.

            2. x 7 Silver badge

              Re: Really?

              "Humphrey Bogard(!)"

              is that a gay love child between Humphrey Bogart and Dirk Bogarde?

          2. Platelet

            Re: Really?

            "The (very few) aircraft that have had cabin ejection systems, rather than ejection seats, were designed for operation at sustained supersonic speeds and had them for that supersonic ejection case. Nobody would (or does) bother with such a heavy, expensive and relatively low performance system otherwise."

            Didn't Jean-Luc Picard perform emergency saucer separation at a warp speed of 9.5?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Really?

        > The article was written for people's entertainment, and I enjoyed reading it. It might be a bad idea, but it is a good article.

        Agreed. More to the point, this is something that passengers, and even non-travellers, often ask about. It is a thorough, accurate, and informative article for that sort of public.

        FWIW, I used to test Prof. Morvan and his colleagues' ideas of how to make things fly (they work!) in my capacity as FTAATSOAA¹, and he has done a magnificent job of explaining the important points of why things are the way they are in this regard, and why.

        ¹ First To Arrive At The Scene Of An Accident. Otherwise known as a pilot.

      3. This post has been deleted by a moderator

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Really?

      When I saw the picture I thought that it was a system that allowed the pilots to jettison the cabin to reduce the weight of the aircraft in case of emergency.

      Sorry.

      1. Roq D. Kasba

        Re: Really?

        Landing a cabin of 400+ people from x0,000 feet by unsteered parachute sounds at least as terrifying as having it connected to a set of wings and a control system and a bunch of people controlling who want to stay alive every bit as much as the cabin, and are in a position to help do so.

        Landing over a city could be devastating to the cabin, buildings in the way, roads, power lines, etc. Landing in the countryside in no way guarantees a gentle happy landing near rescue services, and being stuck in a waterfall or snowy forest or in the Sinai desert just kicks the 'oh shit' football down the road a little. And, of course, planting into the sea is every bit as unsurvivable as it ever was - how many survivors have been rescued from crashes at sea, thousands of miles from assistance, without clean water, without liferafts, etc. A lifejacket will help you marginally in a swimming pool, but it's not going to do a bunch in the face of the Pacific.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: Really?

          "without liferafts, etc."

          You do know those escape slides double as life rafts in the event of a water landing. The main reason you don't hear of sea rescues after aircraft crashes are because, AFAWK, none were survivable. When an aircraft loses control at high altitude, it either regains control before long and then diverts or just continues on down at such speed you might as well be crashing into a wall at that point in terms of physical ability to survive.

          1. Roq D. Kasba

            'Without life rafts'

            Yes, I know about the slides, however they provide no shelter, protection from the elements, not even very good for holding onto on a choppy sea. Maybe OK for a couple of daylight hours assuming you distribute the survivors optimally, but it'll quickly become apparent that you have a highly contested lilo, not a quality, protected, thermally isolated life raft. I was a little pessimistic in my use of the term :)

            The characteristics of a good slide (compact, slippery, without pyrotechnics and food storage, without excess weight or layers or ropes to get caught up in are pretty unlike the characteristics of a good life raft ;-)

            1. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: 'Without life rafts'

              Perhaps, but usually when such a situation occurs, search craft start tracing the plane's flight path to look for something nice, bright, and large like the escape chute life raft. Once it's located, they can coordinate with other craft to drop supplies as needed and/or contact nearby shipping. The only reason crash searches have taken so long lately is because, like I said, the crashes were not of a survivable nature and the end result was a traceless crash: no life rafts or the like to find.

              I may be wrong, but don't most life rafts also carry EPIRB that start broadcasting when they're deployed, allowing for a quicker search (and again, weren't deployed with all the sea crashes to date)?

            2. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

              Re: 'Without life rafts'

              Depending on the weather, if your lifebelt doesn't have a spray hood, you'll die floating, from the water you'll inhale. That is, if you don't freeze to death first. The rate of heat loss of a human body swimming in 25°C water is more or less the same as that of a body in 5°C air. Good luck finding water that warm anywhere elsethan the tropics. I'll take the raft, thank you very much.

              1. Queasy Rider

                Re: 'Without life rafts'

                Add to that shark attacks. There are numerous stories from the world wars about navy men in life rafts helplessly watching in despair as their fellow sailors in the water were eliminated by encircling swarms of sharks. I remember one particularly harrowing account relating how lifeboat survivors observed hundreds of men floating in their life jackets at dusk, only to be all gone by dawn, and the only evidence of their departure was the sound of their screams in the darkness as they were picked off one by one.

                1. Vic

                  Re: 'Without life rafts'

                  the only evidence of their departure was the sound of their screams in the darkness as they were picked off one by one.

                  You're unlikely to hear much screaming from a shark attack; if they're actively hunting you, the attack will be from depth. The (2-ton) shark will hit you at about 30mph, taking a dirty great bite out of you, then leave you to bleed out. It's unlikely that you'll be able to scream...

                  Vic.

                  1. Queasy Rider

                    Re: 'Without life rafts'

                    Maybe they were small sharks, or the screams were from those in the water seeing their fellows being attacked one by one all around them. I wasn't there.

                    1. Queasy Rider

                      Re: 'Without life rafts'

                      PS. In a major sea battle multiple ships are usually sunk, leaving sometimes thousands of sailors in the water. I'm sure enough of them were screaming to keep it up most of the night.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Really?

            "...or just continues on down at such speed you might as well be crashing into a wall at that point in terms of physical ability to survive."

            You mean Airport'77 wasn't a documentary?

            1. Roq D. Kasba

              Re: Really?

              A slide may be a useful buoyancy aid near the shore, but with the sea being twice the size of the land, it has some pretty remote areas. A liner will reach maybe 25kt, so you'd best be within 100 miles of one to be much use at all. Food parcel drops are possibly out of range of helicopters and anyway, hope you have a load of paddles to hand or you'll stay floating at a distance.

              Just when you thought things on a slide raft were pretty miserable, though, with under 3 miles visibility of you can even stand up in perfect weather, and no means of signaling apart from a Christmas cracker whistle and a small, transient reading torch, you actually have to load balance accurately immediately. An overloaded raft is useless, a 44 person raft will fail at around 55 people, so where you have 400 people you have to avoid failover cascades. A challenge by still, sunny day with calm people, probably not going to get much easier if the weather is in any way cheeky.

              Personally, with the inner engineer actually looking at the resources and facts, I'd say the slide rafts might double the survival rate over the 1-4 hours term, but your overall survival chances probably go from approaching nil to approaching approaching nil. The safety equipment can help in certain limited circumstances, but I reckon a lot is for show and reassurance, in many practical cases.

              1. Mark 85 Silver badge

                Re: Really?

                If you do survive the crash and lets assume that all the life rafts deploy and everyone stays calm and rational.. there's the critters in the ocean that consider humans a tasty treat. Yes, add weather, water temperature, injuries from the landing, injuries from the exit (and they will never be as orderly as at an airport...

                Water landings with an intact aircraft are survivable. It's a rare crash though that has survivors. Even rarer that everyone survives. An airliner coming down on land has about the same or less chances of survival.

                This is a flight of fancy and is for the "peace of mind" of the passengers. It's the flight attendants telling you about your live vest in the seat cushion on a flight over land... "well.. might crash in a river or pond..." and how many people would actually grab the cushion instead of their cellphone/laptop/purse, etc.

          3. Hans 1 Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Really?

            >The main reason you don't hear of sea rescues after aircraft crashes are because, AFAWK, none were survivable.

            Please don't count me in with the dummies (use AFAIK iso AFAWK), there have been numerous successful water landings:

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_landing

            Worst thing is, there's one mentioned in the bloody article!

            1. x 7 Silver badge

              Re: Really?

              It would be fair to say there have been no distant-water survivals. As far as I'm aware the only survivors from water landings have been in coastal waters. I'd be glad to be proved wrong however.

              1. Stoneshop Silver badge

                Re: Really?

                As far as I'm aware the only survivors from water landings have been in coastal waters.

                Pan Am flight PA6

                1. x 7 Silver badge

                  Re: Really?

                  "Pan Am flight PA6"

                  thanks for that link, just proves the point there's always an exception to something.

                  Combination of an aircraft built like a tank, what must have been remarkable flying, decent weather and a ship within range. The aces don't normally all come up like that

                2. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Really?

                  "Pan Am flight PA6"

                  That's a rather exceptional example, the plane took nearly 5 hours to plan its ditch and found a coastguard vessel to follow for a while. Hence the many pictures of the actual ditching.

                  The reason you don't hear about water landings far from a coast line these days is that modern commercial airliners generally fly within gliding range of land. For the ones that can't glide after an incident, there's generally been a catastrophic failure that means they probably won't be doing a controlled ditching.

                  1. Stoneshop Silver badge
                    FAIL

                    Re: Really?

                    The reason you don't hear about water landings far from a coast line these days is that modern commercial airliners generally fly within gliding range of land.

                    If you count all flights worldwide, including ones that don't fly over open water at all or just small distances, your 'generally' may start to turn out 'not totally bollocks'. But even, e.g. Stavanger-Aberdeen is already beyond that: 500km, with the gliding distance from FL300 being maybe 150km, in perfect conditions.

          4. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Really?

            > The main reason you don't hear of sea rescues after aircraft crashes are because, AFAWK, none were survivable

            There is nothing intrinsically fatal about a ditching on the high seas. The aircraft does not know or care how far it is from land.

            If you do not hear much about sea rescues it is probably because accidents are very rare in the first place.

            > When an aircraft loses control at high altitude, it either regains control before long and then diverts or just continues on down at such speed you might as well be crashing into a wall at that point in terms of physical ability to survive.

            That is utter nonsense.

            1. Vic

              Re: Really?

              There is nothing intrinsically fatal about a ditching on the high seas

              Well, wave action means you're trying to land on an uneven surface - and the peaks keep moving about. Although sea landings are part of the PPL theory course, it's unlikely to go well...

              Vic.

        2. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Really?

          > ... just kicks the 'oh shit' football down the road a little.

          I fling an upvote in your general direction.

        3. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

          Re: Really?

          "Landing a cabin of 400+ people from x0,000 feet by unsteered parachute sounds at least as terrifying as having it connected to a set of wings and a control system and a bunch of people controlling who want to stay alive every bit as much as the cabin, and are in a position to help do so."

          Exactly. Fortunately, really twisted stuff like Germanwings Flight 9525 (4U9525/GWI18G) is extremely rare.

        4. Stoneshop Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Really?

          Landing a cabin of 400+ people from x0,000 feet by unsteered parachute sounds at least as terrifying as having it connected to a set of wings and a control system and a bunch of people controlling who want to stay alive every bit as much as the cabin, and are in a position to help do so.

          Plus the rather annoying fact that a plane at cruising altitude will have a forward speed of several hundred miles an hour, maybe a bit less if the engines are on fire. Given the utter lack of aerodynamic control surfaces once the cabin has detached from the bits that made it into an aeroplane, and with that blunt end forward, I doubt it will keep the 'this side up' attitude that passengers might prefer.

          And then it'll need to scrub speed to prevent the parachutes and/or their attachment points from failing. How much altitude has it lost at that point, how much vertical speed has it gained, and can you still deploy the parachutes and the retro-rockets before the cabin and its contents goes crunch against the countryside?

          1. Vic

            Re: Really?

            And then it'll need to scrub speed to prevent the parachutes and/or their attachment points from failing

            That one is a solved problem - you initially deploy a small drogue patachute which slows the payload and puts tension on the line ready to pull out the main chute.

            You then have a "barostat" - combination timer and pressure sensor - preventing the main chute from deploying. If the payload is too high or moving too fast, the pressure on the barostat is too low, and so the main chute stays packed away. Once the pressure reaches the appropriate value, the cable is released, and the drogue now pulls out the main chute.

            This is how the Martin Baker ejection seat works.

            Vic.

            1. Stoneshop Silver badge

              Re: Really?

              That one is a solved problem - you initially deploy a small drogue patachute which slows the payload and puts tension on the line ready to pull out the main chute.

              I know that part is, the question was rather regarding how much height will the cabin have lost until the point where the speed has reduced to about where you can deploy the main chutes with the passengers being subjected to Gs that may be acceptable to the average non-jet-pilot person.

        5. TheOtherHobbes

          Re: Really?

          >Landing over a city could be devastating to the cabin, buildings in the way, roads, power lines, etc.

          Sheesh. I think everyone can see clearly from the vids that it's a magic flying cabin that steers itself under Parachute Power[tm] to the nearest baby-soft whispering green field, where it touches down with barely a ripple in anyone's coffee, and some mildly distracted clapping and cheering from the passengers.

          It's a perfectly brilliant idea. Not stupid and pointless at all.

    4. BenR

      Re: Really?

      Also, in that second picture, the 'cabin' appears to have parachuted to a rest in the Windows XP default backdrop...

      1. Stoneshop Silver badge

        Re: Really?

        Also, in that second picture, the 'cabin' appears to have parachuted to a rest in the Windows XP default backdrop...

        Nah, it's Teletubby-land

      2. Rob Daglish

        Re: Really?

        Brings a whole new horror to surviving a plane crash, waking up to find you've landed in Teletubby land...

  2. Dick Head

    Looks as though it requires a high-wing aircraft configuration.

    How many large jets do you see like that these days?

    1. Ledswinger Silver badge

      Re: Looks as though it requires a high-wing aircraft configuration.

      How many large jets do you see like that these days?

      The inventor's Ukrainian, and you have to remember it's still 1961 over there......

      1. M7S

        Re: Looks as though it requires a high-wing aircraft configuration.

        "The inventor's Ukrainian, and you have to remember it's still 1961 over there......"

        so he's clearly not seen the 1968/9 film Doppelganger (aka Journey to the far side of the Sun) where exactly this feature is used for quicker unloading of an airliner, perhaps its only practical use (although IIRC EasyJet can now turn one around in about 25 minutes, including their version of cleaning)

        1. x 7 Silver badge

          Re: Looks as though it requires a high-wing aircraft configuration.

          " the 1968/9 film Doppelganger (aka Journey to the far side of the Sun) "

          yet again Gerry Anderson got there first.......he really should have patented the ideas he came up with

          1. MJI Silver badge

            Re: Gerry Anderson

            Also used a similar idea for his heavy load lifter aircraft.

        2. Stoneshop Silver badge

          Re: Looks as though it requires a high-wing aircraft configuration.

          although IIRC EasyJet can now turn one around in about 25 minutes, including their version of cleaning

          They should be ordering planes that have a cargo door; front or rear doesn't really matter. Put that end against what's essentially a large suction hose, connect some high pressure air to inlets the other end, and presto! Plane emptied and cleaned in the blink of an eye. Loading the new batch of cattle being done using some kind of plunger.

          I've actually wondered whether it would be feasible to have a plane where you can basically slide the entire passenger deck out of the actual plane into a gate area so you can have passengers leaving and boarding over the entire length of the plane instead of through a limited number of doors, then having to get past other people who have seats closer to the door you came in through.

          1. Charles 9 Silver badge

            Re: Looks as though it requires a high-wing aircraft configuration.

            "I've actually wondered whether it would be feasible to have a plane where you can basically slide the entire passenger deck out of the actual plane into a gate area so you can have passengers leaving and boarding over the entire length of the plane instead of through a limited number of doors, then having to get past other people who have seats closer to the door you came in through."

            Airlines are looking into the concept. However, the logistics behind such a change would be so radical compared to today that any consideration into the detachable passenger cabin is considered long-term at best. Plus there's the matter of maintaining the craft's structural integrity with such an idea.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Looks as though it requires a high-wing aircraft configuration.

          > although IIRC EasyJet can now turn one around in about 25 minutes, including their version of cleaning

          So they finally caught up with Ryanair?

          RYR has been doing 25 minute turn arounds at least since 2007, possibly earlier. Apparently you get used to it eventually, but must be murder at the beginning (it is a very short time).

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