January 2000 Issue

Pressure Drop

Payne Stewart’s flight teaches some hard lessons about high-altitude flight

A spectacular four-hour flight that was tracked on television to the bitter end culminated in a near vertical dive to a farmer’s field near Mina, S.D., in late October. Aboard the Lear 35A were four passengers – including golf great Payne Stewart – and two pilots. Even while the plane was cruising at altitude, it was apparent that the light jet had depressurized, from as yet unknown reasons.

The jet was flying from Orlando, Fla., to Dallas on an IFR flight plan when ATC lost communication with the airplane as it climbed on autopilot through FL370 toward an assigned FL390. It busted the assigned altitude and reached altitudes in the low to mid-forties.

The aircraft did not turn toward t...

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