Airplane Engine Pops

Q: Recently while high over the Atlantic in a 747 when we heard a very loud bang, followed by a palpable vibration through the cabin. The captain informed us we’d suffered an “engine pop.” A what?

Engine pop. Ugh. Pilots, in their attempts to put people at ease, can often oversimplify things to the point where people giggle at them. What he was talking about was a “compressor stall,” a phenomenon where the airflow through a turbine (jet) engine is temporarily disrupted for one of a few possible reasons. It’s not a big deal. It can damage an engine, but usually it doesn’t.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.