High altitude incident

Here we have another story from the “not invented” books. We were ferrying a Skycrane from the Pacific Northwest to Texas. The pilot I was flying with was also a fixed wing guy who believed in going high and let the winds take us along. I am normally not a big fan of going really high up in a helicopter because if something breaks, you have a longer commute back down to the nearest field, but he was the senior captain and we had to cross some pretty high mountains as well, so I agreed to it.

We were roughly at 10,000 ft, when we suddenly heard a loud bang in the helicopter cabin behind and below us. (In a Skycrane the flight crew sits pretty high up in the cockpit and it takes some climbing to get up there). Our hearts stopped for a moment. A loud bang definitely gets your attention but since we were higher up as I liked to be it REALLY got my attention. We were looking all around to see what could have caused the noise and scanned the instruments for any indication of something going sideways. Then the crew chief riding in the back asked “Do you guys smell Cheetos as well?”

We had the exact situation happening to us that Chuck is experiencing in this strip even including a slight Cheetos dust. Turns out one of our “snacks for the road” blew up. Let me tell you, the smell of Cheetos at 10,000 ft is a relief as compared to, let’s say, hydraulic fluid!

I later told the story at the bar and one of our fuel truck drivers, who used to drive for a food company, told me that trucks with chips, yogurt, etc. actually have to drive certain routes to avoid the super high altitude passes over the Rockies so this sort of thing doesn’t happen. I had no idea. This is something you definitely don’t learn in flight school …

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11 comments on “High altitude incident
  1. Delta Echo says:

    It’s not easy. Being Chuck E. Cheesy.

  2. Tampa says:

    Is the pressure difference from 8000 to 10000 really that big? I have brought bags of chips with me on flights before and cabin altitude is usually 8000, nothing ever came near to exploding.

  3. Yawnitz says:

    I remember learning my lesson with a bottle of sunscreen. Thankfully, it didn’t explode. It did all come out at once when I opened it. I got to learn my lesson while only making a mess on myself. I was only half as embarrassed as someone who had to wear cheetos powder.

  4. markm says:

    Is the Pillsbury ready-to-bake biscuit (or roll) dough sold where Stefan lives? This is refrigerated pre-made dough, formed into a disk for each biscuit and stacked in a cardboard tube with a spiral seam. You peel off the outer paper layer to expose that seam, then split it in the middle and twist it to pop the seam fully open. Mild internal pressure assists opening. You separate the disks of dough and put them on a baking sheet to bake.

    Or that’s how it works at the altitude of most cities. The first time my mother got a tube of this in Flagstaff, Arizona (altitude 7,000 feet or 2100 meters), the package spontaneously opened as soon as she peeled off the outer paper, and dough exploded all over the kitchen. There was quite a cleanup job, and no biscuits with supper that day. She went back to mixing flour, etc., and learned to adjust the recipes for the altitude.

    This was 1958. Since then, they may have found a way to reduce this pressure without compromising the ability of the dough to rise.

  5. Magnoire La Chouette says:

    Yeah, those Pop ‘n’ Fresh biscuits are scary. I live near New Orleans which is below sea level, so I have trouble getting those things to open!
    There was one time several years ago when my Mama and I were grocery shopping and we had a couple of canisters of those biscuits in our cart. The supermarket lost it’s air conditioning so it was pretty hot in the store. By the time we got to checkout, the canisters were popping open!
    I have a problem with pens popping when I fly on commercial aircraft.

  6. Johsua says:

    I saw a student learn this lesson with a bottle of water at ~5 thousand feet. Thankfully the water stayed away from the electronics.

    Perhaps the best (or worst) story I’ve heard was Steveo1kinevo’s story about a family with a new born who thought it was a good idea to bring sealed breast milk on the flight… (https://youtu.be/A2ZETLoqb_Y?t=10m30s)

    @Tampa I believe you will find airline food has been specially packaged.

  7. Quill says:

    I’m not sure I’ve had anything blow up with altitude, but I’ve certainly had things like water bottles spit on me, as well as the opposite effect when coming back down with a bottle that was opened at altitude. I like to use metal water bottles, and often they’ll be sort of sucked shut, sometimes the gasket sucked into place making them hard to open. Most of my experiences with this were not from a plane but from a car, as I live in a mountainous area and drive as high as 10,000 feet or higher on a not-uncommon basis, probably more often than I fly that high. Living at high altitude, higher than planes sometimes fly, can be amusing at times. The FAA has requirements for oxygen use we all know, but they also “recommend” use of oxygen any time flying above 10,000 feet during day, and above 5,000 feet at night – thus I should be using oxygen to drive at night. I don’t think anyone takes those suggestions seriously though. Of course, I don’t usually consider 5,000 feet to be “high altitude” in my mind, and usually forget to follow such directions when baking.

  8. denton says:

    I wonder how long it took Chuck to get to 10,000 feet in his Skyhawk?

  9. Dave says:

    The key difference between your “driving” at that altitude regularly is that you live there, so your body has had time to acclimate. Flying at that altitude is much more commonly done by people who don’t live that high, so it’s a physiological aberration for them. Flying at 6k at night probably wouldn’t create a need for you to use oxygen, whereas for me–who lives at less than 1200–it would be much more important.

  10. Josh Jordan says:

    That’s so meπŸ˜… I flew in a t-6 Texan from 1944 and only went 2400 ft.

  11. Jad says:

    As a skydiver, I’m used to bring inflatable stuff (matress, buoy, boat, pool toys, …) to jump with and have fun with my buddies. The pilot always ensure that it’s half inflate when we board in as we jump from FL140.
    I had to explain that to a beginner skydiver and he had trouble to understand where would be the trouble πŸ™‚

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