I am writing a science fiction novel and my characters are about to board a private jet - they will be leaving Virginia and flying to CERN in Switzerland. Some factions are not happy with what they are attempting to accomplish and the plane is sabotaged. Here is the important part - one of my characters is an alien with limited telekinesis ability. If something is "stuck" then he will be able to save the plane by moving it, with his mind (not the plane itself - that is beyond his ability).

So my question is: What is a plausible mechanical failure that could be induced in advance by someone on the ground who was trying to prevent them from getting to CERN, that could be discovered by the pilot/crew during flight and that my alien can correct in time to save everyone using his telekinesis ability?

In the book's plot, the alien would have to be able to see it in order to move it...I know nothing about aviation so I don't know how to make this scene at least somewhat plausible -any suggestions would be deeply appreciated!

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    $\begingroup$ I can't give a complete answer but I can come up with some helpful criticism: 1) most pilots do a complete pre-check of the airplane before taking off. This includes moving all the control surfaces, checking fuel, running up the engine, etc. 2) Most of the really important things on an airplane can't be seen, violating one of your constraints. 3) Redundancy on airplanes makes it almost impossible to take out one thing and cause a failure during cruise (takeoff would be a little easier to sabotage). It's much easier to force an emergency landing than to crash an airplane. $\endgroup$ – Cody P Sep 20 '16 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ While the context is certainly more in Worldbuilding's territory, the specific question here does seem to me to be on-topic for Aviation. Just because it would also be on-topic for Worldbuilding, doesn't mean it's necessarily off-topic here. As such, I'm voting to leave open. For the specific part of the question that is asked here, it seems to me that Aviation would be more qualified to answer it than Worldbuilding, since it appears to be about technical plausibility. $\endgroup$ – reirab Sep 20 '16 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ Basing the idea on: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Airways_Flight_5390 If someone deliberately installed the wrong size screws in the windshield, they could be missed in pre-flight checks. You could expect the windshield to fail at altitude, either crashing the plane or ending in an emergency landing at the closest field. The screws are visible from the cockpit, so your telekenisis could work. They're pretty small. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Sep 20 '16 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ I'd recommend you look at actual flight crashes to determine possible scenarios. The one @ablenky linked is good, or you could try something with uncommanded control surface deflection due to a hydraulic system failure. Anti-icing system sabotage (ice on wings has contributed to plane crashes) is also a possibility if the saboteurs know that icing conditions are likely on the route. $\endgroup$ – Cody P Sep 20 '16 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ Another interesting crash is: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Continental_Express_Flight_2574 Screws very high up on the tail were removed, but not replaced during maintenance. However, those aren't visible from inside the plane. $\endgroup$ – abelenky Sep 20 '16 at 16:14

Based on what happend with BA 5390:

If a saboteur installed the wrong size screws on the windscreen, I think the pilot could easily miss that during the pre-flight inspection. The screws would hold during takeoff and the climb, but would begin to work their way loose at cruising altitude.

The plan would be that the windscreen would come out midway in the flight, and either crash the plane, or force them to descend rapidly and make an emergency landing (which would be very difficult over the middle of the Atlantic!)

Your telekinetic alien can see the screws from the cockpit, and hold them in place for the rest of the flight, averting tragedy.

In the comments, I listed two other accidents that involved relatively minor maintenance errors resulting in crashes, but they don't meet your other criteria, such as the ability to directly see the problem from inside the plane.

  • $\begingroup$ thanks for the idea! An interesting scenario...I'm putting it on my short list of possible scenarios to brainstorm. $\endgroup$ – ngolden Sep 20 '16 at 20:09

If the alien has to see it to fix it, that rules out anything not visible from the windows (i.e., tail, landing gear, etc.)

If the alien is a passenger, the only moving parts that come to mind are the ailerons.

Have your saboteurs cause a complete failure of the aileron controls (In a Gulfstream 3 I think it's cables with a hydraulic boost, but I could be wrong). A semi-cut cable won't be caught on a preflight (who takes apart a wing?), but could break over the ocean.

Your alien could save the day by directly manipulating one of the ailerons to keep the plane level.

I don't know the forces involved - I hope your alien is really strong.

  • $\begingroup$ @ Dan Pichelman - thanks for the very informative response! $\endgroup$ – ngolden Sep 20 '16 at 20:43

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