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Stranger Things 4 Episode 5 Plane Crash Is Actually A Clever Homage

Contains spoilers for "Stranger Things 4: Volume 1," Episode 5, "The Nina Project"

"Stranger Things" Season 4, Episode 5, "The Nina Project," sees Eleven's (Millie Bobby Brown) tense reunion with Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) at a new top-secret research facility in the Nevada desert. While her Hawkins-based friends and the smaller group she left behind in California face their own perils, it's Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) and Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman) who are in the gravest danger after being double-crossed by a smuggler named Yuri (Nicola Djuricko) during an attempt to buy Jim Hopper's (David Harbour) freedom from a Siberian prison work camp.

Yuri drugs the pair, ties them up, and loads them on his plane with plans to hand them over to the KGB. Joyce and Murray free themselves, and Murray uses the fighting skills he has honed against suburban Illinois' most dangerous teenagers to knock Yuri out, despite Joyce's earlier admonishment to keep the pilot conscious. A panicked Murray starts flipping random cockpit switches, and the engine blows a cloud of dark smoke, sputters, and dies.

According to the engineering website The McNally Institute (and further corroborated via reporting done by Popular Mechanics), airplanes of any size will fly safely for many miles after losing engine power. "No matter how many engines fail on a passenger aircraft, it will still glide perfectly well," a 2021 post reads. "They do not sink straight down like a stone, but rather continue to glide horizontally while descending." But in violation of the laws of physics, Yuri's plane immediately begins an abrupt nosedive. What you might not realize is that like so many other elements of "Stranger Things 4," the unrealistic performance of an airplane in crisis is a perfect homage to 1980s movie culture.

Many 1980s movies feature compromised planes dropping out of the sky

"Stranger Things" is steadfast in its reverence for 1980s culture with its fourth season. The plane crash in Episode 5, "The Nina Project," is a fitting tribute to the improbable physics that plague many aircraft in movies from the era. The 1980 comedy classic "Airplane" shows a jumbo jet taking a similar nosedive immediately after emergency stand-in captain Ted Stryker (Robert Hays) turns off the plane's autopilot. In the 1985 drama "The Aviator," a biplane plummets to the ground immediately after a fuel line breaks (via YouTube).

Real-world physics is also of no concern to the creators of the 1989 sci-fi drama "Millenium." A mid-air collision between two passenger airliners sends one into a momentary freefall that is interrupted only by a bomb on board that blows it to bits, while the other presumably goes safely on its way (via YouTube). Technically falling outside the decade (but solidly within the boundaries of 1980s culture) is the 1979 unintentional comedy "The Concorde ... Airport '79," where the supersonic jetliner instantly falls into a steep nosedive when pilot Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) shuts down the engines to evade a heat-seeking missile. 

Despite being so solidly grounded in 1980s nostalgia, "Stranger Things 4" is fantasy. In embracing the existence of Vecna, an Upside Down, and a Mind Flayer, viewers will definitely suspend enough disbelief to accept some improbable aerobatics from an aircraft in distress.