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One of the features of the WWII B-29 bomber was that it was pressurized. The aircraft had pressurized areas in the front and the back of the aircraft. Connecting the two was a pressurized tunnel over the bomb bay, shown below.

enter image description here

This tunnel was a popular resting place for crew during long missions because they could stretch out in it. (Despite what some early pictures show, the B-29s used in the war did not have bunk beds.)

However, many crewmen thought that resting in the tunnel was also a bit risky because, if the plane suddenly lost pressure in either the front or rear compartment, they could have been shot out of the tunnel at considerable speed.

Was this a valid concern?

For purposes of this example, assume that the tunnel was 2 feet in diameter and 35 feet long, that they were flying at 25,000 feet (pressurized to 6,000 feet) and that the crewman weighed 150 pounds and was blocking about 1/2 of the cross-section of the tunnel.

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If lying down, probably air would just whoosh past you for a second or two until equalized and it might slide you along a bit. There isn't a lot of volume in the two pressure chambers and a decompression would have to be instantaneous and massive (like a waist gunner blister blowing out), and the whoosh of air would be quite brief.

However, it'd be worse if you were on your hands and knees. You'd get carried along and knocked down for sure for at least a short distance, and if you were near the end on your hands and knees, you might come spilling out with enough velocity to get banged up a bit. So I would be wary of a decompression while climbing in and out and crawling along on all fours, but once laying flat I don't see that sort of thing happening.

enter image description here

Now, if you had a 75 inch waistline from eating too many mission debrief doughnuts (and somehow still were fit to be a crewman) so you were a tight fit, you probably would come shooting out the end, since you are basically a human air rifle pellet with nearly 3000 lbs (6.6 psi) trying to get past you.

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  • $\begingroup$ So the guy in the picture might have been taken for a bit of a ride? $\endgroup$ Jun 11 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ He'd be knocked over and might slide a long a bit, but the cabin volume isn't that big for a very long whoosh of air and there's enough space around him for it to escape. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jun 11 at 20:37
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It sounds possible. There was an accident where a navigator was sucked up and out of the astrodome on a Constellation while taking a star sight with a sextant after the dome shattered. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_accidents_and_incidents_involving_the_Lockheed_Constellation and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astrodome_(aeronautics).

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  • $\begingroup$ That sounds horrible! For awhile, the B-29s had a problem with the rear side-domes cracking or blowing out. This was concerning enough that some gunners wore straps connected to the airplane. One gunner was actually blown entirely out of the aircraft and was saved by his strap. This must have been fixed because I am not aware of anyone who died from this problem. And I don't recall talking to any gunners who wore a strap in 1945.. $\endgroup$ Jun 11 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ There is a photo of that guy hanging out the waist blister hole. The opening is quite large and you are leaning right into it when using the sighting tiller, so it wouldn't take much to blow you out. The Connie navigator would've been a tighter fit in the astrodome hole, so that would be comparable to my joke about the guy with the 75 inch waist in the B-29's tunnel. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Jun 11 at 20:36

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