Care for a decompression?

It was late and the low fuel light lit on my creative tank. Still having hours of editing ahead of me, I decided to make a pit stop in front of the TV for a mindless fill-up.(usually, that’s a minimum of one Scooby-Doo re-run)

But my Tivo was full and shedded the saved episodes of my go-to cartoon.

So I surfed.

I ran down the guide and clicked on “Air Force One”.(forgive me) Of course the movie had started(does anyone ever catch them at the beginning?)and if you have seen the film, it was at the part where a stealth bomber attaches itself to the bottom of the President’s 747.(Now if the shuttle can ride “piggy back”, then why can’t the bomber stick itself to the airplane’s belly? It’s Hollywood after all)

Well, the team tasked with saving the day, climbs through a slinky-like tube and sneaks into a maintenance bay.(fair enough) Then, things get crazy. The stealth becomes unsteady and its slinky retracts and tears a hole in the airplane.

I waited-waited for the guys in the bay(with no oxygen on by the way)to pass-out. Oh sure, one guy got sucked out into atmosphere, but the rest of them just kept right on talking, business as usual. The plane must have been losing pressure(with a hole the size of a gallon drum in its tummy)so I again, I waited. Nada. I hit pause on the Tivo and stared at the screen.

Back when I was flying professionally, we went to training to practice this very scenario.(okay, so there wasn’t a stealth bomber or 747 and I don’t recall any of the pilots looking like Harrison Ford) But it was an explosive decompression all the same.(now the FAA formally calls these types of scenarios uncontrolled decompressions, but I figure if a chunk is suddenly missing from your plane, it was probably out of your control)

The actual definition of the above crisis, uncontrolled or otherwise, is an unplanned depressurization of a vessel that is occupied by people.(if it’s explosive, it just happens much faster)

Here’s the thing. Our bodies are amazing, but like most machines, they have limits. In this case, we have little sacs in our lungs that carry oxygen through our bodies. (Teckie Alert-the sacs are called alveolar) On the ground, they carry the perfect balance of oxygen to our system. But as we go up in altitude, the pressure decreases and so does the sac’s ability to carry the same volume of oxygen.(It’s hard enough to get by with a full dose, imagine how your brain works on partial power)

So most airplanes are designed with a pressurization system that keeps the cabin at about 5000 feet.(even though the plane maybe flying as high as 45,000 feet-cool concept, if you really think about it.)

Ah-ha! You’re probably thinking and beginning to understand my beef with the hole in Air Force One. If the atmosphere in the plane was 5000 feet and then the slinky debacle allowed outside air in at an altitude of 35,000 feet, what do you think happened to the sac’s ability to carry oxygen?

You got it, zippo.

In a matter of seconds, those guys should have been faced down on the floor.(notice I didn’t say their head’s exploded or they would of been okay if they just held their breath.)

Back in the real world, the National Transportation Safety Board(NTSB)reports that 40-50 decompression events occur worldwide every year.

Hold your horses, before you get excited, here’s the good news: most of the time decompression problems are very manageable for aircrews and very rarely are there injuries resulting from these types of incidents.(I’ll bet you’re relived that pilot’s go and practice these scenarios in a simulator every six months)

The automatic shut-off clicked in my head, my tank was full-time to get back to work.

I looked at the special forces unit frozen on my TV. An explosive decompression in a movie, I guess they just got lucky. But as they say in my neck of the woods, never kick a cow pie on a hot day.

P.S. If anyone is interested in safely testing there body’s reaction to high altitude conditions, there are altitude chambers that are open to civilians.

Please visit: for more information.

(I did my initial chamber training at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL and I have to say, it is one of the more interesting things I’ve done)

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