In the story I am currently working on the plot revolves around this temple that is meant to be lost to time but one day discovered (I’ve made a post about the design of the temple itself before).

However now in my story I’m toying with having the main character, a sort of knock-off Indiana Jones explorer, find this temple approximately 100 years after The Fall of Humanity, and after finding this temple fly off in a plane that was hidden in a hangar built into the temple. But in wanting to keep this story plausible I have a few questions about the plane and possible infrastructure needed.

  1. What infrastructure would be needed to protect the plane for storage and support a possible take-off?
  2. What type of plane would be best suited to be “hidden away”? I was thinking because nuclear war is what widely led to Humanity’s near extinction, maybe an older plane like WW1 or Pre-WW2 with all mechanical parts might be better as the electronics wouldn’t be damaged, but I’m unsure how long a plane like that could go without maintenance
  • $\begingroup$ i think you'd actually be better off with a modern jet plane as opposed to an internal combustion craft they generally tend to be more reliable. that being said it would also need to be kept under argon atmosphere (not that i have any idea why you would keep a plane under argon unless it was possibly a museum piece). fuel would also need to be kept separate. also if this is 100 years after TFOH how does knock-off indie know how to fly a plane? $\endgroup$ – Ummdustry Jun 3 '18 at 15:18
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    $\begingroup$ You will find this answer useful: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/44995/21704 and this question: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/81560/… $\endgroup$ – Anketam Jun 3 '18 at 16:37
  • $\begingroup$ Traveling, unable to provide proper/detailed answer, short outline here: Yes, is possible; magneto ignition systems in modern small planes are EMP-hard via inheritance of 1950s designs; engine needs oil change with perfectly preserved oil; ditto preserved fuel. All cables insulation, motor wire winding enamel, piston seals and plastics are likely compromised. Uhm, actually, this might not work so well, except for.... a Sailplane! No motor, only moving parts are push rods and linkages, proper resin/composite selection should result in long-lasting fiberglass/carbon fiber airframe. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jun 3 '18 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ As usual, when a flying question comes around, I must drop everything to provide a proper answer, and I am now crafting a response to the query. Request for clarification: How far must the character fly away from the temple? Where is the temple located, and specifically, is this in a mountain setting or in a topologically boring locale? $\endgroup$ – Steve Jun 3 '18 at 17:21
  • $\begingroup$ Pick any plane you want, Henry, just so long as there's a guy there who changes the tires that you can 'borrow' it from. Also, fly: yes. Land: no. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Jun 3 '18 at 18:20

I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but let's say it's nowhere near the coast and rust does not play an issue, then if the engine had oil or fuel in those would turn to sludge. Battery would be long dead, it would need maintenance. Dust would clog up every other moving part too.

If your character can do basic maintenance, maybe. But the storage conditions will have to be pristine! Then also old engines require different fuel and oil...

(I know this as we have 7 cars stored for 50years in pristine condition in an aircraft hangar, and they will never run without LOTS of coaxing)

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    $\begingroup$ I have no cars stored in the desert, but that's pretty much what I was going to answer $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Jun 3 '18 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty much my answer. Dependent upon model aircraft take anywhere from several to hundreds of hours of maintenance per hour of flight time. Military planes are the worst because they are designed to rely upon an extensive logistics chain and be under constant maintenance whenever not in the air. Aircraft have a nasty habit of breaking simply by being left alone. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Jun 3 '18 at 15:23
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    $\begingroup$ @TCAT117 "Dependent upon model aircraft take anywhere from several to hundreds of hours of maintenance per hour of flight time." Sorry; I'm not buying that one as stated. Excluding parts manufacturing but including e.g. daily preflights, I'm flying one which needs maybe a few hours every 50 flight hours plus 10-30 minutes for each calendar day the airplane is flown (the latter for the preflight checks). I suspect this is typical of many light aircraft. Parity might be what you'd see if you count manhours maintenance for large airliners, but those are far from the only airplanes around. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jun 3 '18 at 17:39
  • $\begingroup$ +1 to this answer. I know that the Collins Foundation has to fly their planes fairly regularly. I believe it was this plane that the pilot came down too hard a decade or so back and broke the tail support wheel. It was my uncle (who lived next door to the Collinses at the time) that was contracted to replace the part. $\endgroup$ – Draco18s no longer trusts SE Jun 3 '18 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ Are you factoring in the hours from periodic air-frame and engine overhauls into your hours and cost per hour of flying? Because yes, a new plane will be lower maintenance than an older one. We're talking about a 100 year old plane here. I don't know of any vintage WW2 aircraft that have anywhere near the low maintenance you are speaking of. My opinion of aircraft also might be fairly skewed since I've only ever been exposed to military aircraft and thought such maintenance was endemic to most aircraft. By the way, just out of curiosity, what do you fly? $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Jun 3 '18 at 17:55

A barely-possible way to make this work:

  • Build the temple of top of a hill.

  • Build a glider out of strong durable material; the resins that bind a lot of high tech composites are not a hundred-year material, but the right metal might work. (See comments from people who know more about materials than me.)

  • The glider is stored in a launch bed powered by a rustproof spring mechanism (titanium might work).

  • Aim the glider at a salt flat, large shallow lake, or other novice-friendly landing target. Hope it's still clear 100 years later.

  • Deploy a parachute to prevent a crash landing.

I'll leave it to you to find a way to get the explorer to climb into the cockpit, fasten their seat belt/harness, trigger the launch mechanism, and deploy the parachute at a good moment.

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    $\begingroup$ When you're talking about durability over those time scales organic resins, like the ones used to stiffen carbon fibre and fibre glass are not great, they tend to get very brittle. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jun 3 '18 at 18:23
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    $\begingroup$ If you're aiming at a salt flat, that implies you're in a desert. The lack of humidity in a desert means you're better off using steel for the spring and aluminum for the aircraft -- you'll get a surface patina of rust on the launching mechanism that won't interfere with its operation, while the aluminum will develop a protective coating of aluminum oxide and will look nearly as shiny as the day it was made. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 3 '18 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash I suspect the brittleness of the CFRP/GFRP is due to atmosphere chemistry? Or is it intrinsic to the resin? $\endgroup$ – Steve Jun 3 '18 at 20:07

This is absolutely doable, but with some slight bending of the rules. All that is really required, as far as your prompt goes, is that the character discovers and flys a personal flying machine away from the temple for an indeterminate distance.

Solution 1

Let's start with the most basic approach by giving our hero a hang glider or paraglider. Both of these use few moving parts (mostly pulleys and tensioning elements), and use no fluids or fuel.

The only limit to flight-worthness is the breakdown rate of the various airframe elements: Nylon, Kevlar (and other amarids), foam in the harness/seat, and potentially the epoxy/plastic composing the CFRP/GFRP spars of a hang glider are at risk. I suspect that if these are stored away from the atmosphere (say in an Argon-filled container), they will be perfectly preserved.

This gets our hero flying with a glide ratio of ~ 10:1 (if not just falling with style).

Storage Requirements: 2m^3 Argon-filled vault.
Maintenance Required: None

Solution 1.5

Ok, let's add the requirement that our hero must fly in sustained level flight with the vehicle under its own power. We've already solved the issues with the airframe surviving the time frame required, let's add power:

Hang gliders and paragliders become self-powered by basically adding a 2-stroke engine and maybe a set of tricycle wheels. The new list of dependencies is everything that is needed by the engine: Oil, fuel, lubricants, spare parts such as bearings and O-rings.

If present, an electronic ignition system may present a challenge, as any driving electronics would have to address the following:

  1. Tin Whiskering, where soldered parts develop structures that short to other legs on ICs.
  2. Silicon Dopant migration/diffusion.
  3. EEPROM or Flash data retention.
  4. Capacitors derating due to breakdown of dielectric material.

Glow plug or magneto ignition methods probably are the safest bet in light of the above list.

If our hero can follow instructions to produce reasonable substitutes for the various perishable fluids listed above, the motor may well be able to operate. This results in our hero flying perhaps 300 kilometers at 15 m/s (180 miles at 30 knots).

Storage Requirements: 4m^3 Argon-filled vault.
Maintenance Required: All fluids for the motor.

Solution 2

So you want our hero to fly in a more substantial aircraft for a much further distance? Let's try a self-launching* jet-powered sailplane! I present to you the JS1:

JS1 Revelation

This thing is made out of carbon fiber (CFRP), along with various other elements like rubber handles, polycarbonate canopy, adhesives holding possibly-perishable upholstery in place, and so on. It all can be disassembled and placed in a transport trailer like this:

Typical Sailplane Trailer

So, if the aircraft is stored in the trailer, and said trailer is placed in a inert-gas vault (again, Argon), there is a good bet it will be functional in a few hundred years. Note that the jet nacelle extension/retraction/ignition system is battery powered, so the battery will have to be duplicated or compensated for when discovered by our hero.

As with solution 1.5 above, the fuel used in the jet needs to be produced by our hero from local sources. Jet engines can be fairly hardy, able to burn various types of fuel, I'll leave it to others more familiar with the chemistry to explain what to produce and how. On that note: Can kerosene last many hundreds of years?

The result of this solution: Easily 1000 km in a single flight at 40 m/s (600 miles at 80 knots).

Storage Requirements: 40m^3 Argon-filled vault.
Maintenance Required: Substantial.

Other Solutions

A possibility simpler way to preform the mission is to use an electric aircraft. As an electrical engineer, I would love for this to be the prime solution, but it is so much more difficult than the combustion methods above, and because of this fact: Modern lithium batteries, and most any batteries really, tend to self-discharge and self-degrade. To last hundreds of years is a hard problem, and to have our hero make his own is laughable.

Solar power is another option, which could be combined with the battery option above or as the sole power source. However, this method would be on a higher level of difficultly than the jet-powered sailplane explained above; much difficulty to be had with solar cells having the silicon junctions diffuse over hundred of years, ditto for MPPT circuitry, etc.

In summery: If it wasn't for the fact that batteries degrade, capacitor dielectrics fail and silicon dopants bleed, electric would be wonderful, as the only moving parts would be the electric motor shaft and bearings.


I've ignored EMP issues here as I'm assuming the temple is far from the devastation and all suspectable artifacts are stored in Faraday Cages. Further, most modern control electronics are fairly hardy, if properly designed and following correct wiring harness practices.

*The JS1 isn't actually intended to self-launch, but no reason why the story can't have a jet-powered aircraft that can.

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It is hard to imagine a plane being in good shape without maintenance for a century.

Maintain it.

robots from castle in the sky http://www.cornel1801.com/animated/castle-in-the-sky-1986/10-city-of-advanced-technology.html

Humans are dead, but the robots work on. In the ancient hangar, the robot maintenance crew keeps the plane in working order - and each other as well in so far as they are able.

From a writing standpoint, encountering an entity - even a voiceless entity like these robots from Castle in the Sky - gives the narrative a jolt of energy. Your robot might communicate in a fashion, or this might be broken, or it could be silent.

I envision the pilot taking off in the plane, and as he looks down he sees the robot standing on the runway with its bag of tools, watching him go. He considers a minute then banks. Next scene: pilot taking off in the plane, robot in the back seat.

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Broadly an older mechanical model would be better able to withstand the EMP associated with nuclear war but preserving any vehicle that complex for a century plus of storage would be challenging to say the least. The temple would need to be in a geologically and climatically stable geographic area or it would be a sorry sight to start with, it would need to be natural stone, no mortar, yet tight enough fitted to keep out the elements, a welded stainless steel vault would help also. The complicating factors are going to be fuel and lubricants, both are generally either going to evaporate or set over much less than 100 years; there are engines that use air rather than oil for lubrication and cooling but not in production aircraft. Storing fuel for a century would be a, let's understate it, "serious problem". The only plane that you might be able to lift after that long in a doomsday vault is going to be something with a custom engine that runs either on something that can be produced on site from stored material or something that's a lot easier to store than any liquid fuel I can think of.

All of which leaves aside the fact that while the vehicle might be made serviceable if the character has the know-how and resources his ability to fly it would stretch my suspension of disbelief beyond breaking point. Who taught him to fly four generations after the last plane fell from the sky?

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  • $\begingroup$ Just about all small modern piston-engine aircraft use redundant ignition devises called magnetos. These auto-generate the spark that keeps the engine going once it is running, to the point that the engine keeps going even when the entire aircraft electrical system is dead (funny story, my friend and I got to experience this reality when our C177 suffered a complete electrical system failure while flying in the busiest airspace on the planet, but I digress). Thus, an "older mechanical model" isn't necessary more EMP-hard than the modern Cessna sitting on the ramp at your local airport. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jun 3 '18 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Steve But it should be better than a civilian jet aircraft of the same era. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jun 3 '18 at 17:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Steve, magnetos are big, heavy, durable chunks of metal. An EMP powerful enough to take out a magneto rather than just make it spark a few times is going to have other exciting effects, such as blowing things up due to induced currents in trapped water, or magnetically levitating materials you wouldn't normally think of as magnetic. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 3 '18 at 18:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark That sounds like fun, in a strictly "let me stand over here while you poke it" kind of way. $\endgroup$ – Ash Jun 3 '18 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark I think Steve meant that magnetos make small modern aircraft pretty solidly EMP-resistant, and that Ash's assertion that older mechanical models are more EMP-resistant is not necessarily true. And you're pointing out that an EMP strong enough to destroy a magneto would also destroy pretty much anything else... which I guess supports that? $\endgroup$ – Someone Else 37 Jun 3 '18 at 19:33

A plane that was deliberately built to last?

  • Gasoline goes bad after some time. How about hydrogen fuel, with the tanks replenished by electrolysis using a well and energy from a geothermal plant or hydroelectrics?
  • That could go into a jet turbine or internal combustion engine.
  • Come up with some lubricants that last a long time. Synthetics?
  • Not too much in the way of electrics/electronics.
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  • $\begingroup$ I like the hydrogen fuel idea, it is elegant and way more likely than having the hero make kerosene or gasoline. $\endgroup$ – Steve Jun 3 '18 at 20:21

Revisiting your temple question and adding an answer there to elaborate on the technical requirements of the temple and noting in this question that the temple is "lost to time", time is simply dilated inside and up to the external surface of the temple: you can now take any plane you want as there is only 1 day/x*(356 days) of entropy...

I would take the Cessna 172 as it's the easiest plane to learn to fly in and it's been around since the 1950s so gives you some flexibility there as well...

enter image description here

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Your hero isn't going to find a usable aircraft in the temple (as many of the other answers have made clear in great detail). However, the temple should have something far better than an airplane inside, it has a library.

And not just your typical library with Harry Potter books, racks of current periodicals and newspapers and so on, but a technical library, with books like "The Way Things Work", and "The Knowledge", as well as various technical handbooks, repair manuals and so on. Down the corridor is an extensive workshop with a wide variety of hand tools and various parts like screws, nuts and bolts, hinges and so on.

Short answer, your hero builds a simple glider like airplane, and possibly a catapult launch system (which can be as simple as a ramp with a big pulley on the end, and the rope and hook mechanism is attached to a large weight which can drop freely from the roof of the temple).

You can't use this to escape from people who are actively chasing you into the temple, but with enough time you can indeed make an airplane, like the Colditz Cock

enter image description here

Only known picture of the Colditz Cock

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You could possibly have a plane that uses solid fuel rockets instead of a normal engine. Would only allow for a single flight, but that could be enough for your story.

for narrative purposes it could have been designed as some kind of escape pod.

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