# Parachute equivalent when there is no ground

In this world wandwavium machines fly around with glee.

But, between one flying island and another, there is no ground.

Beneath your flying machine the air only gets denser, and denser, until eventually there are only poisonous and caustic gasses.

If things go south in the air and you find yourself face to face with imminent death after your vehicle develops a mechanical problem or is repeatedly shot, how will you survive?

Parachutes make you pretty safe in real world situations, but in a world without ground what would be the ideal solution? Safeboats made using more unobtanium so you can fly away don't seem practical or logistically sound. Unobtanium is not cheap and certainly doesn't grow on trees.

Maybe an collapsible balloon with chemicals inside that, when mixed, inflate and float away?

The technology of the place is dieselpunkish.

• Perhaps Wile E. Coyote's Bat Man suit? Jul 6 '20 at 20:55
• Your portable balloon idea exists. They weight about 50kg cameronballoons.co.uk/products/leisure-sport/hopper Jul 6 '20 at 21:14
• Unobtanium is not cheap and certainly doesn't grow on trees.... this begs the question, why doesn't everyone use the much cheaper conventional flight mechanisms (blimps, airplanes, etc.) in the first place? Jul 6 '20 at 21:24
• you do what sailors did before the invention of the radio, you sail the ship to land or you die.
– John
Jul 6 '20 at 21:40
• @Surian anyone that got on a ship faced the same problem, it was not specific to one class. technology has drastically lessened the issue but in your world it just didn't. the real question is why whatever handwavium your ships use to fly can't be used for the equivalent of a liferaft.
– John
Jul 6 '20 at 22:27

I would suggest you read "Guns of Tanith" by Dan Abnett. His setup is similar to yours, (mountain/hivetop cities below which are caustic gasses) and his downed aircrew utilize balloons instead of parachutes to keep them drifting above the "scald" of caustic gasses below. One of the great fears of aircrew was to become "windwaste" by being blown off-course or having a damaged rescue beacon, in which case they'd just float around until they starved, shot themselves, or intentionally punctured their balloon.

The real problem any survival mechanism would have in your world is the improbability of rescue. If you parachute down to the ground in the real world you can be found or even conceivably walk out of wilderness. In your world it's drift 'till you die. Without rescue beacons for search parties to home in on anyone who survives a plane crash is Dead. You can't even search the flight path because like a not the winds would blow any survivors off-course making all but the most instantaneous of Search & Rescue missions futile.

If your version of dieselpunk doesn't have the technology for distress beacons of some sort it might be considered "kinder" to have no parachute equivalent at all. There are real-world comparatives for this. For instance in WWI pilots didn't wear seatbelts. Not because they weren't aware of the danger of falling out of their aircraft (there are several confirmed reports of pilots or gunners falling out, grabbing on to the tail/wheels, and climbing back in. Or pilots hitting turbulence, getting through it, and realizing their back-seater fell out.) but because the REAL danger was fire. An on-fire WWI plane, coated in flammable sealants and spraying flammable oil back over the pilot during flight, could go up like a match from the slightest spark, and pilots universally decided the split-seconds saved by not needing to unbuckle (or the ability to quickly and "cleanly" jump to one's death) was preferable to being trapped in a burning machine. (For more, I suggest the book Marked for Death by James Hamilton-Patterson)

You might even see a mix, where luxury transports for the ultra-rich have escape balloons packed with supplies and flares and whatnots, more for the peace of mind of the passengers than any practical use. But your average transport or combat aircraft doesn't because the crew know their odds and would rather save the weight for other things.

• Could not be me. No sir. I can't be falling out of an airplane because I had no seatbelt. No way, no how. Seat belt and a pistol. If I burn, so be it, but ... Whoops! and I'm falling? Nightmare. Oct 17 '20 at 2:20

You could use the same back-up plan that the majority of flights in real life use: nothing.

The vast majority of civilian flights in the real world have no parachutes. If a catastrophic disaster occurs in mid-air, then a loss of life will occur.

The reason that this works out just fine in real life is that, especially in airline transport, catastrophic disasters in mid-air are extremely rare. They just don't happen. By and large, wings never break off, engines never explode, the controls never seize, airliners never collide in mid-air, and pilots never make catastrophic flying mistakes.

Note that an engine failure is not a catastrophic disaster, if you're within gliding range of an airport and you know how to get there. All the aircraft need to do is fly high enough that there's an airport within gliding range. If the islands are too far apart for that to be possible, then pilots who are concerned about safety will use multi-engine aircraft.

I admit that this isn't exactly an answer to the question, but it is something that people in such a world might do.

• I really like this answer because most of my unobtanium ships will use it. But i am looking for what would the millitary use, the people who might have a falling ship. There is no parachute in civilian flights but they do exist. I want to know what are my world's parachute. Jul 6 '20 at 22:24
• @Surian, during naval battles very small number of people were saved (specially in arctics) and it is not a problem for military at all. They exist to die after all! Jul 7 '20 at 8:10
• The problem with using common sense in *.punk applications is that things are required to go wrong periodically. If things always run smoothly then it loses the "punk" aspect. Jul 7 '20 at 9:36
• There is a significant difference though: In our world planes can perform emergency landing. In your proposed solution all those instances will now be lethal. Jul 7 '20 at 9:36
• @Martijn Look up MH370 or Lion Air 610 and get back to us on lethality. Emergency landings of any kind (even on land on a runway) are expected to result in some deaths. Water landings out of sight of land are expected to result in the deaths of everyone on board, every time. There's a reason Flight 1549 is called "the miracle on the Hudson" - because it was basically a perfect storm of everything that could possibly go right, Great crew, great decision-making, a lucky landing, and most crucially a ditch location with dozens of rescue craft literally seconds away. Jul 7 '20 at 9:46

the air only gets denser, and denser

The craft (or lifeboats stored on them) are very light. They are designed with lots of air spaces. When they start to fall, all openings to the outside are sealed and the oxygen is turned on.

As the craft (or enclosed life-raft) falls, it eventually reaches a point where it floats in the dense atmosphere.

At this point the captain radios for help. If they are near an island, a rope may be lowered. If not a rescue 'helicopter' is dispatched. It can be totally sealed. It descends far enough to grapple the stricken craft (or if that's too heavy, the life-raft) and then flies them to safety.

EDIT 1

If the ships are large or holed, I suggest that the life-rafts are used and the ship itself abandoned to its fate.

The life-rafts are in effect balloons filled with an oxygen/helium mix which is breathable. The survivor is enclosed inside the balloon.

The balloon will still sink but the pressure will equalise and can be adjusted by releasing more oxygen/helium to make them float as high as possible.

During normal flight, each person has an individual balloon with a zipper. When they climb in, seal the zip, and pull the cord, the balloon inflates with them inside. A number of balloons can be tethered together to make rescue easier. Alternatively multi-person balloons may be used.

From a medical point of view, the bends may be a problem and so the passengers must be released from their balloons gradually under controlled conditions.

EDIT 2

In reply to a comment from @ksbes that the balloons would continue to sink indefinitely I offer the following demonstration, please watch right to the end to see a 'boat' floating.

https://youtu.be/xQo-v_F1P9U?t=11

• Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
– L.Dutch
Jul 8 '20 at 12:53

Helium (hydrogen?) balloons. I don't know how practical they are, but if you're starting with a chair/ejection seat, you could install helium tanks and inflate balloons to increase buoyancy. Drop the empty tanks afterwards to increase buoyancy (if needed). I'm sure there is a way to generate hydrogen, but this would be really dangerous and I think hydrogen might leak through most balloons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yhYuUPQOF-Q or try mythbusters https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NC-Km7aUjgc You'd hopefully have time to deploy the balloons before you sank to too deep a level.

• Why not both? Parachutes are quick to deploy, and give you enough time to dump the helium into a balloon. Jul 6 '20 at 21:17
• I was looking into hydrogen generation on the fly, and came to the same conclusion you did. Tanks are safer, faster, and probably weigh equivalent amounts. Jul 6 '20 at 21:18
• (plus the parachutes don't need to be big enough to allow safe landing, but only big enough to buy you time for the balloon deployment) Jul 6 '20 at 21:24
• Maybe the parachute and the baloon are the same thing. A baloon that when deflated works like a parachute. Hydrogen and helium thanks are REALLY HARD to can actually, too small, can leak everywhere. If you mix sodium carbonate and alumium it creates hydrogen, but also TONS OF HEAT, can't think of a better way to survive or to die in a ball of flames Jul 6 '20 at 22:02
• The molecular radius of helium is actually smaller than that of hydrogen - so for low diffusion hydrogen should be better Jul 6 '20 at 22:20

Greed saves the day: if the unobtainium is so precious that none can be spared for lifeboats, it's too precious to allow to be lost in the depths with the rest of the wrecked aircraft. The main propulsion "cores" of any large craft are thus designed to separate from the main structure, engines, weapons, etc, passively floating free. Fortunately for the crew, they can do so with some small payload and at a safe altitude, and the big chunk of unobtainium ensures that someone will find it worth their while to come out for them.

Deliberately sinking the cores would be a way to deprive the enemy of their salvage, but apart from being unpopular with the crews who have to go down with them, those sunken cores (and crews) can't be ransomed back after the conflict is resolved.

• "The ship is very valuable and so the crew will be rescued along with them". I think I've seen that move a couple of dozen times, and it's never ended well for the crew. Jul 7 '20 at 19:39

Parachutes are fine

The flying machines never go below island level, in fact they stay well above. Steerable parachutes get them back to safety.

If they have to go below island level, then they are fitted with powerful rocket-powered ejector-seats. These fire them upwards to a great height before the chute opens.

EDIT

Regular convection currents in the atmosphere of this world can be used as thermals to gain altitude

Convection currents can be formed as a result even of the slightest differences in heat absorption at different places. When they do, they form a semi-regular pattern. If the sun moves across the sky in this world, this effect will be as predictable as the tides on Earth.

Speaking of the Sun, An extreme example of convection currents in a gaseous body is the surface of the Sun itself.

• This works well if most combat is close to an island, e.g. bomber fleets and defending fighters. Anyone heading out to fight in the open is taking a risk, but then they ARE trying to kill each other. Jul 7 '20 at 8:09
• The world record for unpowered paraglider flight is 240 miles (in seven hours). Even if the islands are a long way apart, a well designed chute has a good chance of getting you there. Jul 7 '20 at 13:26
• @user3153372 World records for unpowered flight (hang/para) are all set either on long ridges or on long stretches of wave lift. Both of these need ground features deflecting the air. The only other source of lift is thermals, which also need ground features warming up to heat the air. Without lift, a paraglider gets about a 10:1 glide, and a regular chute gets about 3:1. Not happening, not ever. Jul 7 '20 at 21:21
• @Graham OP has essentially described some sort of gas giant with sky-islands. It would not be hard to imagine a non-ground-related reason for thermals, but they definitely would need them. Jul 8 '20 at 20:20
• @jpaugh Different design. Modern parachutes use the same ram-air principle to give a steerable aerofoil shape, but parachutes are designed to open quickly and reliably from freefall though and to take that shock of opening. Paragliders are optimised for glide slope and would likely be shredded on opening if you tried freefall with one. If they were cars, a parachute is a Toyota Land Cruiser and a paraglider is an F1 car. Some superficial similarities in principle, but neither can do what the other can. Jul 9 '20 at 8:08

Human powered flying machines.

https://www.wired.com/images_blogs/thisdayintech/2010/08/condor.jpg

Some components of these liferafts might be in daily use on the ship. For example airmen might take turns at the pedals generating electricity for lights and music, and to make sure their legs are in shape to escape on one of these should it become necessary. The wings might be in use on the ship, or be kept folded and unfold in flight.

If the ship starts to fall the flying machines break away with crewmembers aboard. Hopefully there will be updrafts.

# Pet pterodactyl

Just take one with you wherever you fly. The beast may perch inside the vessel. Incidentally, if you Google for images of "pterodactyl rider", many results as of now seem kinda dieselpunkish.

This setup has the advantage that your pterodactyl will start the flight already in a rested state, and should you become stranded on a desert island you will have a temporary source of food and leather to help you survive.

• A pet parachute has big steampunk energy. They could also act as homing pigeons and help you navigate by always looking toward home (and actually bring you home if things go bad). Jul 8 '20 at 20:39

What about pairing the parachute unit with a navigational device, not unlike a compass but for upstream currents, that receives weather info from satellites and helps the skydiver catch on and get propelled to upper atmospheric layers in order for their emergency beacon to get picked up and rescued?

It can even be automated by a relatively simple device powered by captured sunlight (plus a battery for night time) and able to indefinitely steer the parachute in the case the passenger is unconscious.

• No satelites in this universe, and i don't know if it is even possible to go up with a parachute, even with high streams of wind. Jul 6 '20 at 21:08

Parachutes.

They slow your fall, and you may even get some altitude where there's an updraft from below. Sure, you'll probably eventually fall into the caustic gas, but they'll buy you a lot of time.

Human terminal velocity is about 120mph. A parachute's velocity is about 12mph – so you're lengthening your fall by at least 10x, more if you catch an updraft.

If your 'death zone' is say 120 miles below the normal flight zone, that gives you at least 10 hours to be rescued before you die. Again – more if you catch an updraft. The breathable atmosphere could easily be more than 120 miles deep if you want to extend this time, but this should give enough time for an accident to be detected, and rescue planes to scramble for a dramatic rescue.

So people would carry parachutes, and depending on your technology level, some kind of beacons – radio would be ideal, but a strobe, flare gun, or smoke bomb would help once a rescue ship got close enough to get a visual. Parachutes would be high-vis to help the rescue planes see you clearly as they come in.

• Larger than today's normal parachutes can act as a sail to increase the likelihood of catching an updraft, so more like a large parasail than a parachute. And "high-vis" compared to the ambient environment. If the lower atmosphere is bright reds and oranges, the material may need to be black, or color changing in case of night disasters. It may instead be reflective, since a mirror is effective at water rescue signaling, rather than specific colors. The clothing may also act as a "space suit" to protect against chemicals and hold air for short periods. Jul 8 '20 at 19:35

The parachute is merely a delaying mechanism.

Tanks sufficient to provide the needed bouyancy are big and heavy--and thus mean an awful lot of lifting power.

Instead, they carry a big hot air balloon and a small nuclear reactor. It's completely unshielded, the passengers dangle on a long cable below it. Once it's been used it has to be sent in for reprocessing as it's now hot.

• On first reading, your first two sentences look like (partial) recommendations, but I think you're saying that tanks and chutes wouldn't work, right? Jul 8 '20 at 20:22
• @jpaugh I'm saying to use the chute to buy time to deploy a nuclear-powered hot air balloon. Jul 9 '20 at 18:11

What about a parachute (a balloon really) that pumps itself up from the gasses as you fall (or maybe explosively pump on the ship just before you leap) so that it is full of lighter gasses by the time you reach the thicker atmosphere so you don't continue to sink farther?

Crew compartments of such vessels are designed to act as lifeboats in an emergency. During normal operations, the handwavium used in the crew compartment is part of the lifting power of the whole vessel, so that it's not wasted.

In an emergency, all the crew must move to their designated rescue locations in the crew compartment which will shortly break away from the main vessel and become a lifeboat. A small vessel probably has just one compartment, while larger vessels may have more.

The detached compartments have just enough floating power for the occupants, and possibly very meager accommodations, propulsion and navigation (depending on the original vessel's mission profile). In that state, the its main function is to keep the occupants afloat until help arrives.

The detachment event possibly dooms the rest of the main vessel, as it loses even more lifting power. On vessels with multiple compartments, it is better if all of the compartments detach at the same time, because doing otherwise may affect the balance in an undesirable manner. Still, in a real emergency, there's no telling if someone will panic and detach prematurely.

Hulks of evacuated vessels slowly sink to the high-pressure hostile layers of the atmosphere, where they somewhat stabilize. There are specialized salvage/rescue vessels that can navigate there and get valuables out if needed, but it's hard and dangerous work. Most vessels are written off as casualties. Some people are trying to develop remotely operated salvage drones that can cut away the dead weight and let valuable handwavium float up to higher altitudes where it can be recovered a bit more easily.

Civilian vessels have a good safety margin, and are able to stay afloat even when damaged. That margin is much narrower in military vessels, as they prefer to squeeze every drop of lifting power for performance or payload capability. Therefore, most modern military vessels have the ability to voluntarily eject some of their mission payload (weapons, ammo, fuel, cargo etc.) to keep it afloat when damaged. Even armor plates can be ejected to lose weight in an emergency. Vessel commanders have successfully used the tactic for a speedy retreat when in dire circumstances. Others have literally "dropped their weapons" to signal surrender.

• Any lift dedicated to vehicle performance (and not cargo capacity) could certainly also be used as a safety margin, simply by adjusting the piloting controls. Jul 8 '20 at 20:26

If the air gets denser, a modified parachute can still work actually. You basically make the parachute very deep like a hot air balloon. Deploy it when you start to fall and it will fill with light gas, as you fall deeper and deeper that light gas stays trapped in the ballon/parachute and eventually it will make you buoyant once your average density is the same as the atmosphere

$$\frac{\text{mass of you} + \text{the chute} + \text{gas inside}}{\text{the total volume of the above}} = \text{density of atmospheric gas}$$.

You could also include a heating system to heat up the gas in the balloon to help you rise back up as long as it doesn't set off an explosion of the atmosphere! And maybe a mechanism to close off the balloon once it's full just to be extra sure the gas doesn't escape (e.g. if the balloon is hit by an object)

• I'm not sure if the atmosphere would still be breathable once it gets dense enough that breathable air becomes a lifting gas. Jul 10 '20 at 3:39

Handwavium life-rafts.

since what holds your ships aloft is handwavium, the rich may invest in handwavium life-rafts. They could lack propulsion and rely on sail for movement or even just drift on the air currents which should be pretty powerful.

Since your lift mechanism is handwavium you can are in charge of its properties and can make them what is most convenient for you.

I think having a power paragliding or paramotoring rig would be a great solution if you want to abandon ship. They take very little space when folded up,are quick to deploy and have pretty decent range.

Their flight suits can double as wing suits.

As pointed out prior, if you're up high enough, planes can glide into a safe landing. Humans can do the same, with the right equipment