Flying Through a Thunderstorm

Not recommended….

Air Force planes had found a long line of debris in the ocean off of Brazil’s north east coast, confirming prior sightings of wreckage and the destruction of Air France Flight 447. No survivors have been found. The plane, with 228 people on board, disappeared nearly four hours after having left Rio de Janeiro airport on Sunday night. The jetliner had been flying through heavy storms and turbulence.

A tragedy that will lead to questions about advanced on board weather detection and new safety limits. It made me wonder since I’d just flown in an A330 a few days ago.

Lt. Col. Bill Rankin learned as well how dangerous storms can be: He was flying an F-8 jet over a thunderstorm when the engine stalled, forcing him to eject and parachute into the cloud. (From the book: The Man Who Rode the Thunder)

The temperature was −50°C and he  ejected at 6:00 pm. He managed to use his emergency oxygen supply. Five minutes after he left the plane, his parachute still hadn’t opened. Finally,  in the upper regions of the thunderstorm, with zero visibility, the parachute opened. After ten minutes, when he normally would have already landed, Rankin was still in the air, being carried by updrafts and getting hit with hailstones. Violent spinning caused him to vomit. Next there was lightning, which he described as blue blades several feet thick, and thunder, which he could feel as well as hear. Heavy rain forced him to hold his breath to keep from drowning. One lightning bolt lit up the parachute, making Rankin believe he had died. After conditions subsided, he descended into a forest. His watch read 6:40 pm.  He suffered from frostbite welts, bruises, and severe decompression but survived.

“There is no reason to fly through a thunderstorm in peacetime.”
 – Sign over Squadron Ops desk at Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ, 1970.


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