Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Test dummy on the airplane post-crash. Courtesy Discovery Channel
Discovery Channel satisfies its ‘Curiosity’ about slamming a 727 into ground
Television » Discovery Channel satisfies its “Curiosity” about slamming a 727 into ground.
First Published Oct 04 2012 01:45 pm • Last Updated Oct 31 2012 02:09 pm

It might sound a little unfair, but the Discovery Channel special "Curiosity: Plane Crash" is the jetliner equivalent of NASCAR.

You spend the majority of the two-hour program waiting for the crash. And when it happens, you go, "Oh, cool!"

At a glance

“Curiosity: Plane Crash”

The two-hour documentary premieres Sunday at 10 p.m. on the Discovery Channel.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

The folks at Discovery wanted to crash a passenger jet, and then they went looking to see if there was any scientific value in doing so.

Thomas Barth, a survivability factors expert and engineer who works with the National Transportation Safety Board, said he was told, " ‘We’re going to crash an airplane. Is there anything valuable we can get out of it? To really make it valuable, we need to have good science on it.’

"And we’re, like, ‘Absolutely! There’s all kinds of stuff we can do.’ "

There’s definitely a wow factor to the program. The producers of "Curiosity" bought a Boeing 727 for $400,000 and outfitted it with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of scientific equipment to collect data.

They also outfitted it with a remote-control system so the crew could parachute off and pilot Leland "Chip" Shanle could send the jet into a controlled crash in the Mexican desert.

"I remember when we first met, he had this rather sophisticated control system in his hands with which he was going to control a 727," said Simon Andreae, Discovery’s senior vice president of development and production. "And we said to him, ‘Where did you get that?’

"And the answer was — RadioShack."

It was actually the controls for a toy airplane that Shanle said he bought "off the shelf."

story continues below
story continues below

And that is pretty cool.

"I tell you, I’ve been flying since 1982," Shanle said. "And I’ve done some crazy stuff. But that’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve done. It was really neat."

The show doesn’t really put much focus on this, but we’re assured that scientists will be analyzing the data collected from this plane crash for "years and years to come to really understand everything we can learn from it," as Barth put it. "When that airplane crashed to the ground, me and the other scientists really looked at it like — this is where our work begins."

None of the airlines or aircraft manufacturers participated in the program, but the scientists and producers promised to share the results with the industry. And according to the preliminary results, the industry is doing pretty well.

"This experiment really helped us understand that we are doing a lot of things correctly," Barth said.

But you can’t expect jetliners to protect their passengers and crew under all circumstances.

"You can’t design the airplane to keep everybody alive if it flies into the side of a mountain at full speed," Barth said. "You have limits. And so this experiment really helped us understand that our limits are well placed, the regulations are serving their purpose, and they’re pretty much doing a good job."

Oh, and crashing a 727 into the desert looks pretty cool.


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment

About Reader Comments

Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.