If you thought snakes on a plane could only be in the movies, think again.
Qantas has released images of a sneaky device called ‘wheel whackers’ – used effectively to scare away deadly rattlesnakes and scorpions from curling up inside parked aircraft.
Since the start of the pandemic, thousands of planes from airlines around the world have been grounded in arid desert spaces in California and even Australia, given the conditions are ideal for plane storage.
But with the heat in California comes a few unwanted critters seeking shelter – such as the deadly rattlesnake that calls the US state home.
In a statement, Qantas revealed that engineers taking care of some of the airline’s superjumbos, which are sitting in California’s Mojave Desert, had been tasked with using the wheel whacker devices to protect the planes.
The airline said the engineers tasked with maintaining its fleet of A380 superjumbos stored in California had to come up with the effective system to protect the planes and also themselves from the area’s venomous rattlesnakes.
In addition to snakes, poisonous scorpions are also concerning during the summer season in the desert.
Qantas manager for engineering in Los Angeles Tim Heywood said having a team of engineers driving the two hours from LA to Victorville for regular inspections is a vital part of keeping the aircraft in top condition during their downtime. Encounters of the slithering and rattling kind are all part of the job.
“The area is well known for its feisty ‘rattlers’ who love to curl up around the warm rubber tyres and in the aircraft wheels and brakes,” Mr Heywood said in a statement.
“Every aircraft has its own designated “wheel whacker” (a repurposed broom handle) as part of the engineering kit, complete with each aircraft’s registration written on it.
“The first thing we do before we unwrap and start any ground inspections of the landing gear in particular is to walk around the aircraft stomping our feet and tapping the wheels with a wheel whacker to wake up and scare off the snakes. That’s about making sure no harm comes to our engineers or the snakes.
“Only then do we carefully approach each wheel and unwrap them before performing our pressure checks and visual inspections.
Mr Heywood said that the airline’s engineers have “encountered a few rattlesnakes and also some scorpions” on site, but thankfully, the wheel whacker has so far done its job.
“It’s a unique part of looking after these aircraft while they’re in storage and it’s another sign of how strange the past year has been,” he said.
“These A380s would rarely spend more than a day on the ground when they were in service.”
The aircraft, while in ‘hibernation’, require regular monitoring which happen on a weekly, fortnightly and monthly basis.
The inspections carried out by the engineers include draining fuel tanks of water caused by condensation, rotating the wheels to avoid flat spots, checking the tyre pressures, inspecting the fuselage and wings for animal nests and making sure that they are still tightly wrapped up.
“Aircraft like these are highly technical and you can’t just land it at the storage facility, park it and walk away,” Mr Heywood said.
At the height of the pandemic, more than two-thirds of the world’s commercial aircraft were grounded and sent to storage facilities around the world.
Now, as the world opens up, more airlines are beginning to ‘wake up’ their international fleet including Qantas, which hopes to return to overseas travel by December 2021.