Scientists crashed a Boeing 727 on purpose for science in a real-world experiment

This happened 10 years ago, but it never gets old.
Ameya Paleja

A Boeing 727 that spent much of its lifetime ferrying passengers across the world was deliberately crashed into a Mexican desert by a filing crew as part of a big science experiment. This was the first deliberate crash of an aircraft following NASA's and Federal Aviation Authority (FAA)'s Controlled Impact Demonstration conducted in 1984.

The Boeing 727 crash was conducted by a filming crew consisting of members of the Discovery Channel, Channel 4 in the U.K., and pro-Sieben in Germany. The aircraft registered as XB-MNP was owned by the Discovery Channel after it spent over 35 years in service of various airlines and was made part of the historic crash.

According to SimpleFlying.com, the documentary crew wanted to conduct this experiment in the U.S. but was denied permission due to the risks involved. The experiment was conducted in 2012, so remote flying technology was still relatively new, and the U.S. authorities didn't permit it, considering the risks involved.

The deliberate crash

The U.S. refusal gave Mexico the opportunity to become part of the historical experiment that would help a team of international experts study the crashworthiness of the aircraft's frame and cabin as well as the impact of aircraft crashing on the human body.

Mexican authorities approved it after requiring pilots to fly the aircraft for the most part of the experiment as it flew over populated areas. On the morning of April 27th, 2012, the Boeing 727 took off with a crew of two pilots and an engineer, as well as the cabin filled with scientific equipment, crash test dummies, and loads of cameras to record the entire event.

The pilots flew the aircraft toward the uninhabited part of the Sonoran Desert of Baja California and the crew parachuted out of the aircraft one by one. Navy veteran and American Airlines pilot Chip Shanle, then remotely controlled the aircraft flying in a chase plane as the Boeing 727 crashed into the ground at 140 miles (225 km) an hour.

Most Popular

What did we learn from the crash?

As seen in the first video, the aircraft did not explode even as it broke into several pieces upon impact. It might seem impossible to come out alive from such a crash; however, the data from the experiment showed otherwise.

Passengers at the front of the aircraft and the pilots were at the highest risk of death in this experiment, but as we moved toward the back of the aircraft, the risks began to reduce.

The study found that passengers closer to the wings of the aircraft would face injuries but no life-threatening ones but the ones near the tail would walkway from the impact with few injuries.

The experiment also found added evidence for maintaining the brace position in such a scenario. Dummies placed in the brace position fared better than those sitting upright who faced head and spinal cord injuries.

The crash might be a decade old, but it is the most recent deliberate crash done for science. It involved more than four years of planning and 300 people on the location to get it done right.