Boeing 727 crashed on purpose for science, television

May 3, 2012

Discovery

Producers of an upcoming Discovery Channel documentary filmed the deliberate crash of a Boeing 727 in a remote stretch of Mexico’s Sonoran Desert. The aircraft was packed with crash test dummies, cameras, and instrumentation to advance scientific understanding of crash dynamics. Photo courtesy Discovery Channel.

It was the ultimate “don’t try this at home” aviation moment: The pilot of a Boeing 727 put the aircraft on a collision course with a remote stretch of Mexico’s Sonoran Desert, and then jumped clear and opened a parachute.

A checklist that ends with “crash the airplane” is unusual, to say the least. Not since NASA conducted a similar test in 1984 to assess the efficacy of fuel additives intended to reduce post-crash fires has a Boeing been intentionally blasted to pieces. This time, according to a Discovery Channel announcement on April 29, following the crash, more sophisticated cameras captured a host of angles, and new instruments captured data expected to advance aviation safety research. It also promises to make good television.

"This ground breaking project … explores the big questions about how to make plane crashes more survivable; it's the ideal premiere episode for our Curiosity series that stirs the imagination of our audience, bravely asking questions and fearlessly seeking answers,” said Eileen O’Neill, group president of Discovery and TLC networks. “This latest production captures that audaciousness perfectly and I can't wait to share it."

It was unclear how long viewers would have to wait to see high-quality video; a bootleg recording of the crash, filmed from a distance with an unsteady hand, was circulated on YouTube and posted by Discovery.

The producers—Dragonfly Film and Television Productions—worked closely with the Mexican government, assembling a team of 300 for the location shoot, including pilots, safety experts, and film crew members. An environmental firm has been retained to clean up the mess, located in an uninhabited stretch of the desert in Baja California, Mexico.