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Jo, Zette & Jocko: The Stratoship test flight

Harrock n roll
Moderator
#1 · Posted: 21 Mar 2014 00:39
Just a general enquiry, to see if anyone has any particular knowledge on this...

In the Jo, Zette & Jocko story Mr Pump's Legacy, on page 35-36, they test flight the Stratoship and at – or possibly above – a height of 16,450 metres the window blows out. The pilots clutch their throats crying "No more oxygen... we're done for!" and "I can't breathe!". Then the plane goes into a dive, but veers up before it hits the ground and lands safely.

Mr Legrand later explains that they blacked out but came to when the plane was at a lower altitude, which took seconds. The quick thinking pilot put the plane down fast to get back to safe oxygen levels. As a non expert in these matters, I still thought the whole thing extremely unlikely - particularly the blacking out and waking up part. But later, it got me thinking; is it actually possible to go from an altitude where you ran out of oxygen, to a lower one and be able to recover?

The plane was flying at 1,000km/h, so at that speed it would have taken seconds to reach a lower altitude, aside from the fact they would have had to recover pretty fast to gain control of the plane. Googling reveals that – although it varies for the individual – a person can survive for about a minute without oxygen, without incurring brain damage.

I also found googling that the eminent Professor Piccard (the real life Professor Calculus) had broken an aeronautical record reaching 16,5000 metres in a balloon. This was in 1932, just before Hergé started the book, so a likely influence.

So, does anyone know if it's even theoretically possible, or care to hazard a guess?
Balthazar
Moderator
#2 · Posted: 22 Mar 2014 01:14
Harrock n roll:
As a non expert in these matters, I still thought the whole thing extremely unlikely - particularly the blacking out and waking up part.

This doesn't quite answer your question, but I believe that fighter pilots performing extreme manoevures in fast planes, even back in the 1930s, sometimes experienced temporary blackouts due to the g-forces draining blood away from the brain, blackouts from which they did often recover in time to regain control of the plane. This is mentioned in this Wikipedia article on the g-suits that modern pilots wear to counteract this problem.

Although this is a different cause of oxygen deprivation to the brain than flying too high, it's maybe a similar effect, and one that suggests that once the brain starts getting its oxygen back, a pilot indeed can start functioning again pretty quickly.
Ranko
Member
#3 · Posted: 22 Mar 2014 18:15 · Edited by: Ranko
There's probably more to it than just oxygen deprivation at that altitude though. At 16,450 metres (52,000 feet for us old school members!) a window blowing out would be the cause of explosive decompression (or at least rapid decompression). The surrounding air escapes quicker than it would normally take to expel the lungs. (Breathing out) Therefore lung damage is highly possible. Don't forget also with the pressure difference there is also the risk of getting the bends.
jock123
Moderator
#4 · Posted: 22 Mar 2014 23:35
Balthazar:
I believe that fighter pilots performing extreme manoevures in fast planes, even back in the 1930s, sometimes experienced temporary blackouts due to the g-forces draining blood away from the brain, blackouts from which they did often recover in time to regain control of the plane.

Not directly related to the topic, but possibly pertinent, it has been suggested that one of the reasons that Douglas Bader was a successful fighter pilot during the Second World War after he lost his legs was that, with a fully functioning heart, but no lower extremities, the blood supply to his brain was proportionately increased, giving him the ability to withstand greater G-force without blacking out.

And welcome back, Ranko! :-)
Ranko
Member
#5 · Posted: 23 Mar 2014 17:38
Thanks Jock. :-)

Harrock, I suppose the quick answer is technically yes. The brain can withstand between 3-6 minutes without oxygen. (6 minutes is really pushing it though) So dependent on the speed of descent to a more oxygen rich altitude I'm sure you would regain consciousness without damage occurring. However, I'd imagine you'd be rather disorientated so the chances of recovering the aircraft maybe somewhat slim.
Harrock n roll
Moderator
#6 · Posted: 4 Apr 2014 20:53
Thanks for the replies, and good point about the decompression, Ranko.

I was looking at the altitude and speed records for aircraft at the time. I'm not sure if the altitude is the same in the original 1938-39 Coeurs Vaillant version of the story, but the Stratoship would have been setting - or pretty much equaling - the altitude record for the time. In 1936 the record was set by the Bristol Type 138 at 49,967 ft (15,230 metres). The pilot, Squadron-Leader Francis Ronald Swain, wore a pressure suit that looked very much like a 1930s version of a spacesuit. During the record-breaking flight the suit and cockpit began to frost over, so he descended but felt it difficult to breathe so broke the glass of his helmet fearing this the cause.

See this Pathé news clip about the flight featuring an interview with Squadron-Leader Swain!

Does anyone agree it's possible that Hergé was aware of this flight and - with his keenness for accuracy and research - not too much a stretch that it was an influence on that particular episode in Mr Pump's Legacy?

Most people have heard of the 'Space Race' of the fifties and sixties, but less known is the 'Air Race' of the twenties and thirties where nations and companies competed for the prestige of breaking flight records. Records were constantly being broken, the altitude record being set twice in 1936, once in 1937, twice in 1938, etc.

The speed record of 1,000km/h reached during the Stratoship test flight wasn't ever achieved in a propeller aircraft, at least not a piston driven one. Also, Mr Pump's challenge was for someone to fly from New York to Paris (or vice versa) at an average speed of 1,000km/h, so it would have had to have flown faster. It seems it still holds that particular record.
Ranko
Member
#7 · Posted: 5 Apr 2014 11:51 · Edited by: Ranko
Great clip, Harrock. Squadron-Leader Swain seems rather calm about the whole incident!
I agree that Hergè was possibly aware of the flight. Those endeavours and indeed the air races you mention certainly captured people's imaginations then.

I found something this morning that may be of some interest. The 'Gee Bee Model R Sportster'. Whilst not exactly like the Stratoship it bears a few similarities. This was a special purpose racing aircraft from 1932. Although its top speed was a mere 294 Mph.
Possibly another influence?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gee_Bee_Model_R
jock123
Moderator
#8 · Posted: 5 Apr 2014 12:34
If you want to see Gee-Bee's in action, have a look at the film of The Rocketeer - they are the 'planes (or facsimiles thereof) which are flown by the Flying Circus, and which Cliff Secord races.

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