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Midair Repair

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"Who on board is smart enough to fix the propeller, but stupid enough to go out there?"

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 options.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Air Gear, tuner (read: Wrench Wench) Kururu Sumeragi rebuilds main character Ikki's titular Cool Rollerblades. Rather than being with him when starting the fall, she jumps off a building to tackle him as he falls, and proceeds to dismantle and rebuild the mass of tiny parts.
    Kururu: How many seconds until impact?!
    Ikki: Uh... Three seconds... I'd guess?
    Kururu: Three seconds?! (thinking during two-page spread of her spilling tools from her backpack) In that case... I've got more than enough time!
    (And Kururu very quickly rebuilds Ikki's skates.)
  • Castle in the Sky: One of the odd jobs Pazu is asked to do while he and Sheeta are in the Tiger Moth is provide maintenance to the dirigible's rudder. Which he does, while the ship is aloft and he's dangling from a rope. It's as acrophobia-inducing as it sounds.
  • In an episode of Code Geass R2, not only was Kallen's Humongous Mecha repaired as it was falling into the ocean, it was upgraded. By shooting the necessary parts at it from a submarine. In Missiles.
  • Read or Die has two examples - once in the original OVA, where Yomiko's paper airplane takes a nosedive off of a skyscraper because she forgot the tail, and once in the TV series, where a crashing jumbo jet is saved by wrapping it in paper and turning it into a giant bird.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Not precisely a repair, but in The Secret Return of Alex Mack, Terawatt grabs onto an intercontinental nuclear missile as it's lifting off, and has to take it apart mid-flight.

    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.
  • Iron Man gets to repair the Helicarrier in The Avengers (2012) film by jury-rigging and restarting one of its four damaged lift engines, which becomes quite important after a second engine is taken out by attackers, and also quite dangerous since he has to bring it up to speed from inside it, by pushing the turbine blades to the required speed. Captain America tries to help but well...
    Captain America: It appears to run on some kind of electricity.
  • The Flight of the Phoenix (2004): As part of the remake's overall Actionized Sequel modification, the sequence where the Phoenix finally is made to fly includes Elliot having to climb the plane's fuselage to fix the controls as it is picking up speed in order for the plane to achieve takeoff (and having to dodge gunfire from the angry nomads chasing the group as well).
  • In line with the real life example below, Flyboys has a scene featuring a German bomber crewman walking out on the wing to conduct some maintenance on one of the bomber's engines. Not that it helps much in the end, as the bomber is shot down not moments later.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Island at the Top of the World: After the Hyperion breaks a propeller, Captain Brieux clambers out on to the metal truss holding the engine in order to replace it, as the airship is floating over the open ocean.
  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: After the helicopter is damaged by gunfire and unable to ascend, Spencer climbs on to the roof to reconnect the control arm to the rotor.
  • 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 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 Millennium 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 "astromech" droids such as R2 units. The page image is from The Phantom Menace, featuring R2-D2 (with several others, which were all destroyed) fixing Padme Amidala's escape ship midflight while she's trying to run the Naboo blockade.
    • R2-D2 is seen making repairs to Luke Skywalker's X-wing fighter during the trench run in Star Wars: A New Hope.
    • BB-8 nearly goes crazy trying to jury-rig the gunnery circuits on Poe Dameron's X-wing while Poe is attacking the First Order dreadnought at the beginning of Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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."
    "You mean—"
    "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."
  • The Great Balloon Race: After their envelope is hit by buckshot while flying over Cyprus, Charles is forced to climb up on to it and sew up the holes while the balloon is flying over the Mediterranean.
  • In the World War II novel Hornet Flight, the hero has to refuel his plane in mid-air.
  • Mother of Learning: The engines on the Pearl of Aranhal are damaged during takeoff, and another airship is pursuing, so Zorian sends a magical copy of himself to start repairs. It helps that the simulacrum is in no real danger; if it falls and 'dies', Zorian can just make another.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who: 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.
  • The Expanse. In "Doors and Corners", Amos has to unstrap himself from his chair and go repair a broken thruster fuel line during a space battle. Even his magnetic boots aren't enough to stop him being thrown about during an emergency high-G maneuver.
  • Happens in an episode of Father Ted where Ted patches up the fuel line of the plane he and Dougal are flying on. It's a legitimately badass moment when he steels himself to go out there and fix the problem. But after fixing it, he freezes up in fear and won't get back in the plane for love or money. In the end they end up cutting that part of the plane off, and sticking it into his house with Father Ted still clinging on.
  • In a first season episode of MacGyver (1985), 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).
  • 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...
  • The 1985 Australian mini-series A Thousand Skies depicts the incident mentioned below in Real Life where the Southern Cross had to have its oil changed in mid-air.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Flying Circus, a player's pilot can attempt to work on a damaged engine in-flight through the Patch Fix move. This often requires the Wingwalk move, which makes Attribute rolls +Daring instead of the move's usual Attribute. Whereas with the Blackthumb feature, a Threat's Ace pilot can repair their plane's broken part, even if it involves wingwalking to reach it.

    Video Games 
  • 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 core game mechanic in Bomber Crew is choosing which of your various brave, foolhardy crew will have to climb out onto the wing of your damaged bomber to repair a damaged engine or rush to extinguish a fire in the ammunition locker before you're all blown up. On top of that, there is a very real risk of your crewman saving the plane but dying from exposure, enemy gunfire, exploding equipment/ammo, or simply being swept off the wing and into the night.
  • The Kedar Repair Bot upgrade grants all your ships this capability in the IOS game Galaxy on Fire. Without it, all ships have Regenerating Shields, Static Health.
  • 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).
  • In Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier, if one of your plane's armor bars is depleted, Daxter will go out and perform repairs, restoring some armor. This uses up a repair patch, of which you have a limited supply per mission. Additionally, your plane can still take damage while it's being repaired, potentially enough to destroy it.
  • 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!
  • In PlanetSide 2, aircraft will start to plummet and catch on fire when their health is critical. A utility module, the fire suppression system, allows one to restore the vehicle from critical health and regain engine power. Many enterprising pilots have taken advantage of players inheriting the vehicles momentum when bailing by sending the aircraft in a flat spin, bailing out, and repairing it from outside while falling alongside it in a ballistic trajectory, before climbing back in and flying away.
  • Space Rangers: Repair bots (or "droids", if you will) restore 5-60 (depending on the model) points of the ship's integrity each turn, even in thick of battle. Needless to say, they are almost mandatory for any kind of space combat.
    • Title screen of one of the versions of the second game depicts two droids that endlessly repair a ranger spaceship in decidedly Star Wars-like manner. Until they accidentally take off the ship's wing, that is.
    • Normal droids, unfortunately, don't work in arcade-based hyperspace battles... but there's a rare artifact that does, and fixes the ship in real-time.

  • There's a hilarious example of this in Girl Genius, when Gilgamesh and Agatha are first testing Gilgamesh's flying machine (or rather, as Agatha sourly points out, "It's a falling machine. I'm so impressed.") by starting from Baron Wulfenbach's airship. As they both slip into Spark-mode, their growing excitement about repairing and upgrading the ship in mid-flight almost fatally distracts them from the approaching doom.
    Gilgamesh: There's a WHOLE BUNCH of stuff we can get rid of! HELP ME UNBOLT THE ENGINE!
    Agatha: ...Ummm... Of course, we are still falling.
    Gilgamesh: What? Oh, that. This wire was loose.
    • Tarvek is forced to do the same thing when Gil decides to save him by tossing him out of Castle Wulfenbach on the same "falling machine"... while tied up to a Spark fighting with a mad Jäger on board. He finally makes the machine fly inches from the ground.

    Western Animation 
  • Donald Duck: In the shorts "The Flying Jalopy" and "The Plastics Inventor", Donald flies Alleged Planes that he has to put back together as they try to fall apart around him mid-air, although the specific circumstances change (in "Flying Jalopy" a Honest John's Dealership sold it to him as an Insurance Fraud scheme and Donald even ends up having to fight the Vile Vulture salesman when he tries to finish the job, while in "The Plastics Inventor" Donald followed the instructions of a radio program to make the plane and the instructor just happened to not mention that the plastic would dissolve when wet until Donald was in the middle of a storm).
  • DuckTales (1987): As quoted above, the eponymous dirigible in "The Uncrashable Hindentanic" develops an in-flight mechanical fault. Scrooge's question leads to a Gilligan Cut of Launchpad agreeing to go out there and fix the propeller.
  • 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.
  • PAW Patrol: Rocky can do this using his tools while using his Jetpack.

    Real Life 
  • 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.
    • Many rigid airships actually incorporated this into their design; there was no remote throttle control in that era, so each engine had to have an operator manipulating the engine directly in order to control the speed. This meant that the engine cars had to be accessible in-flight, usually via a ladder or walkway leading up into the hull; many military zeppelins also mounted defensive machine guns inside their engine cars, since it's as good a place to put them as any.
    • Additionally, 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 buried 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 truly exceptional rather than uncommon.
      • During WWI, Germany had an entire class of large aircraft defined by this ability. Riesenflugzeug ("giant aircraft", or the easier-to-pronounce R-Planes) were a series of large bombers with the requirement of being able to access the engines in flight. With engines of the day having intervals between breakdowns averaging in HOURS, it was deemed a worthwhile specification. Quite a few were built, by a wide variety of manufactures, but most fell into two broad categories: engines buried in the fuselage, running propellers via a series of clutches, bevel gearboxes and extension shafts, or in traditional nacelles large enough to house a dedicated mechanic. The external nacelles proved to be the superior design (on account of the fewer moving parts and many fewer points of failure), but even at the best of times they were unwieldy, complicated aircraft that were hard to fly, and apart from pushing the boundaries of aircraft design, didn't contribute much to the overall war effort.
      • 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.
    • Three years before Jackson, a Sergeant James Allen Ward did the exact same thing in his Wellington bomber: when the starboard engine caught fire, he tied a rope to himself, and punched holes in the Wellington's fabric wings for handholds, and managed to climb out to the engine and smother the fire with a blanket—and then he climbed back in and flew the plane home.


Video Example(s):



Buck performs mouth-to-mouth on a pterosaur knocked unconscious by a mid-air collision and just barely revives it in time.

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Main / MidairRepair

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