"Who on board is smart enough to fix the propeller, but stupid enough to climb out there to do it?"
— Scrooge McDuck
, "The Uncrashable Hindentanic"
Our heroes are in an aircraft, falling. Perhaps they've been shot down, or maybe their vehicle didn't work in the first place. No need to worry, though. Someone (usually the Gadgeteer Genius
or Mad Scientist
of the cast) will get everything back into working order. In mid-air. Before hitting the ground.
This can be as simple as flipping some switches (Anakin pulled this one off with his podracer) or climbing out and cranking the engine until it restarts. Of course, there's also the option of rebuilding the engine in midair
Depending on how fast you're falling when you finally pull out of the dive, you might be acting under the assumption that it's Not the Fall That Kills You
Strangely, this can be Truth in Television
- the pilots and crew of early cargo planes learned that certain maintenance operations could be conducted without landing if you had Suicidal Overconfidence
in your grip and no fear of heights. Long-distance bombers in WWII damaged during bombing runs also had a choice between attempting this trope, or one of two other
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Anime & Manga
- Played with in Ultimate X-Men where Jean rather sarcastically mentions to Beast that he doesn't have to do mid-air repairs when the plane is functioning fine.
- In JSA Secret Files #1, Speed Saunders does a mid-air patch job on his hot air balloon after it springs a leak while aloft.
Film - Animated
Film - Live Action
- In The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, the title character jump-starts his ship while it's falling toward the ground.
- When their airplane had run out of fuel in The Gods Must Be Crazy II, the pilot got a bottle of wine they had with them and poured it into the fuel tank.
- In Riders Of The Storm (one of Dennis Hopper's lesser known works), one character has to crawl out onto the wing of a B-29-cum-pirate radio station to fix one of the engines inflight.
- Star Wars: The Millenium Falcon is the Trope Namer for What a Piece of Junk for a reason, especially in the Expanded Universe.
- The trope name is basically the job description for R2 units.
- Parodied in Hot Shots! when Topper's dad tried to make repairs to his fighter as it was crashing. This included everything from stapling sheet metal onto the nose to holding the wing on by hooking his feet to the fuselage.
- In Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Orville takes Patricia up in his flying machine, and even lets her control it. But one of the wing spars breaks, so he walks out on the wing and fixes it by wrapping his belt around it, losing his pants in the process. All turns out well.
- Iron Man gets to repair the Hellicarrier in The Avengers film: restarting a damaged turbine, which becomes increasingly important once another (of the four) is taken out, and increasingly dangerous as he as to bring it up to speed inside it.
- In Octopussy, Bond is clinging to the outside of an airplane. Kamal Kahn sends Gobinda out to kill Bond before he disables both engines and kills them all.
- In the World War II novel Hornet Flight, the hero has to refuel his plane in mid-air.
- In Farmer in the Sky, by Robert A. Heinlein, Bill Lermer's father explains why they have an engineer along in space, when the engine is a radioactive torch that can't be shut off in flight.
"There are certain adjustments which could conceivably have to be made in extreme emergency. In which case it would be Mr. Ortega's proud privilege to climb into a space suit, go outside and back aft, and make them."
"I mean that the assistant chief engineer would succeed to the position of chief a few minutes later. Chief engineers are very carefully chosen, Bill, and not just for their technical knowledge."
- In the Doctor Who New Adventures novel The Dying Days, the Doctor — five minutes above London, downward bound and accelerating — builds a parachute out of a helium tank and the contents of his pockets.
Live Action TV
- Happens in an episode of Father Ted where Ted patches up the fuel line of the plane he and Dougal are flying on.
- Stargate SG-1 had some mid-space repairs (as it turns out, Tok'ra ships are one of the most unreliable kinds of technology ever invented), often involving a Race Against the Clock.
- In the Tok'ra's defense, however, they're not building the ships. They're stealing them from the Goa'uld, and as a result can't pick and choose, and can't find lots of spare parts.
- This problem isn't limited to the Tok'ra, however. The human-built ships aren't much better. For example, on the official maiden voyage of the first human spaceship, the Prometheus, the hyperdrive overloaded and had to be ejected before destroying the ship (although again, in fairness, that particular hyperdrive had a very experimental power source). And the list goes on...
- Because the TARDIS is the Cool Ship version of The Alleged Car, the Doctor has had to do this a couple of times. For example, in "The Edge of Destruction", the Doctor has to fix the TARDIS before it hits the Big Bang and is destroyed, and in "The Eleventh Hour", the Doctor, having almost destroyed the interior of the TARDIS with his violent regeneration, must use his Sonic Screwdriver to repair the ship enough to actually land, just before it hits Big Ben, while he's hanging out the door.
- In a first season episode of MacGyver, Mac uses a map to patch his hot air balloon when it springs a leak after being shot.
- In the later episode "Rock the Cradle", Mac has to unjam the landing gear on a plane as Jack Dalton is bringing it in for a landing. He succeeds, but falls out the plane (he is wearing a parachute).
- LEGO Star Wars: Revenge Of The Brick has a lot of this. Considering it's LEGO. Anakin even manages to make an entire biplane, then a starfighter, while floating in space!
- Blazing Angels incorporates a teammate who can "heal" your craft during missions. The game tries to Hand Wave it by having your character perform the actual repair, while being talked through it by your teammate.
- A large part of the gameplay in Guns of Icarus, which features Steampunk airships fighting each others in the sky, revolves around repairing various guns and sub-systems and putting out fires (during battles).
- Kim Possible did it when her brothers, tagging along for some contrived reason, unbolted a hydraulic line in the cabin of a cargo plane. It was an easy fix, but one that would have been impossible for a number of reasons in a real aircraft.
- In Real Life, NASA does occasionally send up astronauts to repair stuff, which is kind of in midair by default and falling at an atrocious speed. Just not in danger of hitting the ground.
- The crew of Apollo 13 effected a successful repair of their craft and safely returned to Earth after one of their Oxygen tanks exploded (as seen in the film).
- In Real Life, Zeppelin crews would routinely have to do this after too many engine failures. The good news is that airships are far more forgiving of engine failures than airplanes are.
- Additionaly, many older multi-engine airplanes (mostly made during/before the 1950s) were actually designed so a mechanic could access the engines mid-flight through a cramped tunnel burried in the wing. Even earlier airplanes (First World War vintage) considered it a matter of routine for the mechanic to do a wing-walk to maintain the notably finicky engines while the plane was underway. These days engines are so reliable that a breakdown is considered truely exceptional rather than uncommon.
- Not that today's airplane engineers like to take any chances on that account: recognizing the impossibility of midair repairs on today's engines, it is required by FAA law that today's multi-engine planes have enough engine power to remain in control in the event of catastrophic loss of an engine. Maybe not enough control to get where you were planning on going, but at least enough to make your way to the nearest major airport.
- Related to this requirement is a requirement for airliners that intend to fly transoceanic routes: Essentially, they have to be airworthy with an engine out (which is why many older airliners had four engines). The requirement allowing twin engined airliners to fly such routes is called ETOPS, Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards. Also known as Engine Turns Or Passengers Swim
- The B-36 Peacemaker was so large that it had a passageway in its wings, which meant that, theoretically, brave crewmen could walk, upright, to the engines and fix them in flight. Perhaps thankfully, this was never tested
- In 1935 a trio of airmen flew a Fokker Trimotor named "Southern Cross" from Australia to New Zealand to demonstrate the practicality of carrying airmail across the Tasman Sea. Several hours into the flight (500+ miles), the center engine's exhaust manifold broke apart, one of the pieces entering the starboard engine and disabling it. The overladen aircraft began descending. The crew turned back home and started throwing out every loose item of equipment save for the cargo. Then the port engine began losing oil. Desperate, one of the airmen suggested crawling out on a wing strut with a leather satchel to recover the fuel in the useless starboard engine and then crawling out on the other wing strut to put it in the other one. Fighting the slipstream, he performed the feat not once but THREE times in the ten hours it took to reach land!
- Accomplished by the crew of a British Airways flight that hit a cloud of volcanic ash, killing all four engines in midair. Repeated attempts to restart the engines did, finally, work at the last minute as the plane fell out of and beyond the ash cloud. This incident also produced one of the best Real Life examples of Casual Danger Dialogue ever to exist, from the recording of the pilot calmly noting that all four engines were out.
- Sergeant Norman Jackson, an engineer aboard an Avro Lancaster bomber, was already wounded when he crawled out of the cockpit and over to the wing to put out an engine fire, knowing full well he could not get back in afterwards and would have to jump. His parachute opened on the way out and he kept on going. He lost the extinguisher and kept on going. Finally, he fell off, and narrowly survived the fall in a damaged parachute. He was awarded the Victoria Cross because, while he didn't succeed in saving the aircraft, it wasn't for lack of trying.