Planes in Film - What scenario is more plausible?

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by skipone, Dec 8, 2020.

  1. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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    Often we watch films or read books where we see an exciting, action-packed scenario and we say, that wouldn't happen.

    So, If you were watching a film or reading a novel where a bush plane runs into an issue and has to do an emergency landing because the engine craps out on them, which out of these three would be the most plausible?

    A. Dual magneto failure
    B. Oil pressure drops to zero
    C. Water in the fuel tanks
     
  2. RussR

    RussR Pattern Altitude

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    Ah hah, so you are writing a book or movie!

    B and C are equally plausible. A, less so.

    If it's a bush plane, it probably spends a lot of time outside in bad weather, so water in the fuel tanks would be a reasonable possibility. However, a reasonable pilot in that situation would be sumping the fuel, checking for water religiously. Maybe your pilot is in a rush or something and decides to (unwisely) skip the preflight checks.

    Loss of oil pressure is a mechanical failure of the engine, potentially there's not much the pilot could do to find that problem before it happened. So no real buildup to this scenario is required in your story (although you could have one if you wanted). But, sometimes things just break.

    Loss of both magnetos is possible, especially if it's one of those dual-magneto setups that share components, but nowhere near as likely as the other two. Additionally, you'd have to explain "magnetos" to the reader/viewer and that might take some effort. Even the most aviation-inexperienced reader can understand that water in fuel is bad, or that an engine that's losing oil isn't going to run very long.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  3. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    The simple truth is most flight is actually really boring to watch. We sit in an airplane that works really well flying straight and level until we get there. Most YouTube flight videos are similarly boring. So the movies have to make up stuff to make it exciting and dramatic.

    Next you're going to ask how it is that the Hulk can in seconds increase his mass 5x.
     
  4. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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    I was just getting to that question. Damn. ;)
     
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  5. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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    Thank you. Very insightful.
     
  6. Domenick

    Domenick Pre-takeoff checklist

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    None of the above.
    Poor fuel management. Read any issue of the Nall Safety Report.
     
  7. Rgbeard

    Rgbeard Pattern Altitude

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    I vote B.

    a sudden issue such as a ruptured oil line hose could ruin one’s day. This could be engine-specific so a quick discussion with an A&P might be in line once the plane is chosen.
     
  8. Rgbeard

    Rgbeard Pattern Altitude

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    Further expanding my answer:

    a) damn unlikely
    C) if it happens it’s more often at the beginning of a flight

    when an engine runs out of oil it doesn’t immediately die.

    check out:
     
  9. Salty

    Salty Final Approach

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    More likely to have a hose go like mentioned above, throwing a rod, oil pump failure.
     
  10. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    D) swallowing a valve.
     
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  11. chemgeek

    chemgeek Pattern Altitude

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    A would be exceedingly rare.

    B can result from some sort of catastrophic engine failure and is the kind of thing that might (albeit rarely) happen during cruise flight.

    C is most likely to occur during takeoff. It would likely be unusual to have water in the fuel tanks that didn't manifest itself shortly after that tank is selected. The only way this might happen during cruise flight is if the plane has multiple tanks, and the water-contaminated tank was not selected for takeoff, but was selected later in the flight. But the plausibility of this happening is lowered by the fact that pilots routinely check for water contamination in all tanks prior to every flight. There are some aircraft where water can get trapped in folds of a rubber fuel bladder, but accidents arising from this type of thing is quite rare.

    I'd go with B: a failing oil pump, broken oil hose, leaky sump screen, or the like is the most plausible rare accident scenario.
     
  12. Zeldman

    Zeldman Touchdown! Greaser!

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    I have spent a little time in the bush in Alaska.

    A. I have had a single mag failure on a single engine a couple times, but never a dual failure.

    B. Only time I had an engine oil pressure drop to zero was in a twin in New Mexico. Shut that engine down and returned for landing.

    C. I once had a little water in the tanks, enough to cause the engine to run really rough. I tried switching tanks but had the same problem. I don't know if it helped but I banked (leaned) the airplane to one side and ran off the lower tank hoping that the water would settle to the lowest end while the fuel was being drawn from the upper end. Something went right because after couple minutes the engine smoothed out I made it back to base. A lifetime long 25 minutes flight time. This was after fueling from a cache of fuel drums at a off airport landing site.

    So I would say D is the correct answer: valve breaks and eats up the engine causing complete engine failure. Unless the hero is going to have to do a quick ''bush fix'' and use the plane again.
     
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  13. NordicDave

    NordicDave Pattern Altitude PoA Supporter

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    With the unrealistic CGI in aviation movie scenes employed now a days, the failures are dramatic and many times unbelievable for actual pilots.

    I miss the older films with actual planes like Battle of Brittan or John Wayne's Island in the Sky where there was a solid foundation for issues (Other than being shot down as that's obvious). Island in Sky was mechanical fuel starvation, weather, navigation issues. All three are very common causes.

    Also just finished watching several episodes of 12 O'Clock High with sputtering engines, oil problems, and maintenance induced failures. Probably not dramatic enough for the general public any more.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  14. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    [​IMG]
     
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  15. Jim Carpenter

    Jim Carpenter Pre-takeoff checklist

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    for the suggested bush plane:
    D. Scud-running CFIT (one problem though, the actors are not likely to survive, making this usable only at the end of the film.)
     
  16. Bill

    Bill Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Dude needs to lay off the bacon double cheeseburgers! Just sayin...
     
  17. WDD

    WDD Cleared for Takeoff

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    Do you want your pilot to be a lout character who causes a bad day? Go with 1) water in the tank, or 2) he runs out of gas.

    If you want to pilot character to be an "innocent bystander",
    - Minimum drama - go with the engine looses oil pressure, and engine is dying soon and needs to land on a river bank
    - More drama - go with engine going "clunk", loosing a valve, and engine dies quicker, need to land quicker

    Take a look at this

    There was an even better one that I can't find. Guy was piloting a plane, engine died, he landed on a gravel bank, his passengers (two little girls in the back) got out, thought it was a great adventure, they made camp, built a fire, and a few hours latter the helicopter came.

    The engine doesn't smoke or catch fire. Propeller still spins. You glide, you don't start spiraling down to the earth. Please don't have the heroric bush pilot climb outside and bang the engine with a wrench. Please have the pilot go through the engine out procedures (level wings, push nose down for max glide speed, look for place to land, then carb heat on, fuel tank check, mix rich, check mags, etc.).

    And since this is Alaska, he/she will have an emergency kit with a tent, sleeping bag, matches/fire starting kit, rations, and a gun (bears and what not). And a hand held spot locator beacon.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  18. WDD

    WDD Cleared for Takeoff

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    Unless the pilot was Chuck Norris. He stares at the engine and it re starts.
     
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  19. MrAnderson

    MrAnderson Pre-Flight

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    I pick engine fire in flight for a little extra drama.
     
  20. Bill

    Bill Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    Man, I envy mid-west fliers with all the great places to put down. Around here, it's hills and trees, not so much fun.
     
  21. Tantalum

    Tantalum Final Approach

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    Not very plausible. Not impossible, but you have to have bad luck. Maybe you had both mags overhauled at the same time from a crappy vendor and there was a defect effecting both. Anyway, not likely.

    I've known two people who had to do a forced landing because of this, so this sounds most plausible. Also lets you build up drama as the gauge slowly moves from middle of green, to bottom of green, to yellow, etc

    A competent pilot does a prefight. If I read that they had a failure because of water I'd get upset that a skilled bush pilot can't be bothered to sump the tanks and drop the book in the trash
     
  22. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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  23. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner Final Approach

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    Keeping in mind, of course, that the engine will continue to run for a period of time after a total loss of oil pressure, so “etc.” can build up quite a bit of drama.

    of course, you could go with @Salty ’s thrown rod and add some comedy...
     
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  24. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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    I will look into that one
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  25. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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    Would that lead to overheating and then a fire?
     
  26. RussR

    RussR Pattern Altitude

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    Not generally, just the engine stops at some point.

    I guess it all depends how much effort or explanation you want to go into. If the whole idea is just to create some emergency that causes a forced landing, but the story isn't really about the cause of the problem, then just "losing oil pressure and making a landing before more bad things happen" is easy and requires less explanation. If, instead, that part of the story is going to be more about how the pilot deals with the problem, or what happened in the past that caused the problem, or how it's fixed and the plane is flown out, etc., then it does require more in-depth explanation and research to make plausible.

    But if all you want is the plane to land in the forest, then the story is really about escaping from bears, or survival, or hiking to a nearby town, etc., then you can just make it "lost oil pressure which led to engine stoppage" and that's almost all you need to say.
     
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  27. MrAnderson

    MrAnderson Pre-Flight

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    I’m thinking a fuel leak.
     
  28. jsstevens

    jsstevens Final Approach PoA Supporter

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    Not likely. Most airplane engines are "air cooled" which also means the oil does a great deal of the cooling so when it's gone, the engine gets hot but not enough to catch fire. Inflight fire is usually either fuel leaking and catching fire or electrical fire.
     
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  29. Dana

    Dana Pattern Altitude

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    When the oil hose let go on my plane I never lost oil pressure... but the oil was dumping on the hot exhaust, causing so much smoke that people were calling 911 even before I touched down. I probably could have made it to an airport, but the hot oil could have caught fire, too, so I wanted to be down RIGHT NOW. I survived the forced landing on the swampy field uninjured, but the airplane didn't.

    Years ago I had a forced landing in a farm field due to contaminated fuel, after draining the sump I continued on my way.

    I've had magneto failures too, but they never caused a forced landing except once in an ultralight.
     
  30. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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    Yeah i took a look at this video which was really good.

    It took until around 17 mins before he said he would have probably shut it down and brought the plane down.

    The engine died at 17:12.

    So i guess it would all depend what you are flying over and whether or not you could get to somewhere safe before it died.
     
  31. Tantalum

    Tantalum Final Approach

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    RussR and Jsstevens answered it already
     
  32. skipone

    skipone Filing Flight Plan

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    That's interesting. The video above showed a guy testing out losing oil pressure, there was no smoke the engine just died. But you got smoke becauses your oil was dumping on the hot exhaust and would have led to a fire and maybe had you stayed up longer you might have seen the oil pressure getting lower.

    The focus would on the ground after, however, there would need be the urgency to get it down and engine failure and an explanation at the end as to what caused it and how it wasn't noticed or was overlooked before taking off.



    But caused by what? Oil line.

    How does that occur?

    Excellent info. This would be an innocent bystander. The part about the engine clunk, losing a valve, engine stops sounds interesting. I saw the video. Nice find. I gather that is something that could be worked into the story as the engine was tampered with. Would that be any valve or a specific one, or just the valve stopped working?
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2020
  33. David Megginson

    David Megginson Cleared for Takeoff

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    An unlikely event makes at least as good a story as a likely event, so long as

    a) it's at least possible, and
    b) what happens afterwards is fully plausible

    For a good example of that, see Ernie Gann's novel The High and the Mighty, where what happens to trigger the emergency is extremely unlikely (though possible), and the technical details following it are, obviously, bang-on accurate. Even the movie with John Wayne gets most of the details right (it doesn't hurt that Gann was involved with the production).
     
  34. Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe

    Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe Touchdown! Greaser! PoA Supporter

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    THis?


    August 5, 1989 I had an engine failure in my Cessna 170B (N170JA) just as I was entering Mystic Pass, in the Alaska Range. My front seat passenger (author Randy Alcorn) was taking video -- and he continued to film until just above the ground when I yelled "it's gonna be rough." He wisely decided to stop filming and hang on but, unfortunately, we didn't get the landing on video. It wasn't anything spectacular, just a "hard landing." As for what happened to the airplane, before leaving on the chopper I walked off 900 usable feet of gravel bar. A friend who was also an excellent bush pilot and an A&P mechanic (died 2016) flew in a borrowed engine in his Cessna 206U, landing next to my airplane. Using a spruce-legged tripod made from local trees, he swapped out engines right there on the gravel bar. Only took him four hours. We flew my airplane to the A&P's hangar where he put together a "new" engine for me. I sold the airplane in 1992 and it's now near Talkeetna, AK.
     
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  35. texasclouds

    texasclouds Cleared for Takeoff

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    Cut control cables by greedy business partner of course.
     
  36. Hang 4

    Hang 4 Cleared for Takeoff

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  37. WDD

    WDD Cleared for Takeoff

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    Thanks! Yes, this is the video I was thinking of.
     
  38. WDD

    WDD Cleared for Takeoff

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    Wait, you want the engine to stop because it was tampered with?
     
  39. Domenick

    Domenick Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I hate unlikely "convenient" accidents in fiction.

    In my own writing I've used sabotage (a loosened oil line fitting) to bring down a Cessna 206, and bullets to bring down a King Air. The B-24 was brought down by mother nature.
     
  40. WDD

    WDD Cleared for Takeoff

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    If you want to sabotage a plane, how clever do you want it? CIA/KGB type of high tech work?

    A valve goes bad because it wears - you can't tinker with a valve with any reasonable expectation that it would fail at the predetermined time in the future (when plane is in the air, away from the airport).

    I guess you could put a small hole in an oil line, or oil line fitting like Domenick mentioned above. Oil pressure would seem to be OK in run up, and if the flight was long enough it would loose enough oil to cause problems in mid flight. That would be deliberate attempted murder - not incompetence.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2020