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Television Transportation Science Technology

Discovery Channel Crashes a Boeing 727 For Science Documentary 281

Posted by samzenpus
from the crashing-for-ratings dept.
conner_bw writes "A Boeing 727 passenger jet has been deliberately crash-landed. The pilot ejected just minutes before the collision. The plane was packed with scientific experiments, including crash test dummies. Dozens of cameras recorded the crash from inside the aircraft, on the ground, in chase planes and even on the ejecting pilot's helmet. All of this was done for a feature length documentary to be shown on the Discovery Channel later this year."
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Discovery Channel Crashes a Boeing 727 For Science Documentary

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  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Electrawn (321224) <electrawn.yahoo@com> on Monday April 30, 2012 @02:54AM (#39842705) Homepage

    H2?! The Ancient Aliens Bull Shit network? All of History channel, RIP.

  • by dbIII (701233) on Monday April 30, 2012 @03:19AM (#39842757)
    Non-destructive testing has been done on airframes for a very long time and points where expected overloads or fatigue are likely have been identified fairly well since the 1950s.
    There's a movie out there called "The Thing From Outer Space" filmed in 1951 which heavily features a ski equipt DC3, and today (2012) there are two DC3's that are very similar to that one which fly from South Africa to Antarctica each year. A section in front of the wings which is prone to fatigue has been removed and replaced with a longer section, and they have turboprops, but the airframe is out of the 1940s.
    Remaining life assessment of aircraft is something that has been going on for a long time, and it's hours of flight instead of physical age that is the important thing anyway. A lot of factors determine whether an airframe gets retired at a certain age or not instead of them all having the same use by date.
  • Re:Distributed costs (Score:5, Informative)

    by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday April 30, 2012 @03:26AM (#39842779) Journal

    have the ejection seat installed by one of the companies that do such things for research/advertising purposes, etc...

    I feel like "eject" was the wrong word for this article (which was probably poorly transcribed from a press release).

    727s don't have ejection seats.
    Commercial airliners in general don't have ejection seats for a host of reasons,
    some of the structural, but mostly to keep them from abandoning the passengers.

    The likeliest scenario is that the pilot cracked open a door and jumped out.
    And it's no trouble at all to open the doors on an unpressurized airplane.

    /The most (in)famous person to ever jump out of a 727 is D.B. Cooper [wikipedia.org]

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Monday April 30, 2012 @03:48AM (#39842863)

    Get more valuable data from a design standpoint doing that. Like every plane gets its wings bent way beyond normal tolerances to see what they can survive. There's a cool video of the 777 being tested (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRf395ioJRY) where they push its wings to 154% of their designed load capacity (they are bent way up) before they shatter. Since it is being subjected to kinds of stresses almost impossible in the real world (the 100% number is set by the maximum expected real world stress).

    The problem with an actual crash is that things are highly unpredictable. So maybe you go and crash a plane, and you probably only do one they are hundreds of millions of dollars, and everything looks fine. No major damage, people inside are good, etc. Wonderful... Except you later discover that the crash was just lucky, or unlucky depending on your view. It just happened that nothing got subject to very severe stress and that only because of that precise kind of crash was everything so tame. In another crash everything goes to hell because shit was slightly different.

    Better to spend time and money doing specific stress tests.

  • by Catmeat (20653) <mtm@sys.uea.a c . uk> on Monday April 30, 2012 @04:24AM (#39843031)

    I call bullshit on the word "ejected". Installing a seat would be a massive amount of hassle - cutting a hatch in the roof of the cockpit would be a major modification of the airframe. I'm no airplane geek but I bet the airframe would need FAA recertification after that kind of modification, plus a massive amount of testing to make sure it all worked correctly (you really don't want the situation where the seat fires but the hatch remains locked in place). I admit I'm pulling a number out of the air, but I'd be unsurprised if there was little change from ten million.

    Forget the ejection seat. I bet the reason they used a 727 is that it's fitted with an Airstair [wikipedia.org], a combined hatch/stairway at the very rear of the aircraft. The Airstair makes the 727 one of the few airliners that it's possible to parachute from without the risk of being hit by the engines, wing or tailplane - a person known as "Mr Cooper" [wikipedia.org] proved this was possible in 1971. The only modification needed to do it again is the removal of the Cooper vane [wikipedia.org], a small aerodynamic device fitted to 727s after the DB Cooper hikack, intended to stop the Airstair being opened in flight.

  • Re:Distributed costs (Score:5, Informative)

    by AK Marc (707885) on Monday April 30, 2012 @05:20AM (#39843207)

    I agree, he might not have actually ejected via an ejection seat, but then again, he might of.

    "might 'ave" (to say it the way your wrote it) or "might have".

  • by clarkes1 (1309863) on Monday April 30, 2012 @05:41AM (#39843275)
  • Re:Piloted plane? (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebrain (944107) on Monday April 30, 2012 @05:46AM (#39843287)

    The actual stick manipulation for basic flying doesn't take much additional equipment, but running all of the systems does. Remember, the 727 is a relatively old design, requiring a three-person crew. The third person is a flight engineer, whose job is to monitor and run the hydraulic (flight controls, brakes, landing gear), pneumatic (pressurization and deicing), electrical power, and powerplant (engine) systems. These functions are much more automated on newer aircraft (compare a modern computer-controlled car engine to one from the 60s), but older ones like the 727 require a human to monitor the analog gauges, control the systems, and prevent them from exceeding limits.

    Trying to automate all of those things for a one-time flight would be simply cost-prohibitive. I know some of them wouldn't be necessary for the flight in question, but you couldn't just wave them all away, either.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

    by bruce_the_loon (856617) on Monday April 30, 2012 @06:13AM (#39843361) Homepage

    According to the accident report, this was for National Geographic's Seconds from Disaster. http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=145323 [aviation-safety.net]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 30, 2012 @07:28AM (#39843657)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_the_shark

  • by dave420 (699308) on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:32AM (#39844257)
    Usually in craft such as these, during flight testing, there is a chute behind the cockpit that allows the crew to just slide out underneath the aircraft, missing engines and the tail. It is preferred to the awesome-yet-nonsense manually-fitted rocket-propelled ejection seat as those require extensive modification to the cockpit, rendering flight testing useless (as the test pilots are essentially flying a different plane at that point), and are a damn-sight more expensive than a simple hole in the craft. Rocket engines are entirely overkill. There is a *lot* of space in these passenger planes, and they fly slowly and usually at great altitude. That combination makes egress incredibly easy with a chute. With all due respect, I have no idea how your post was modded +4, Informative :)
  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Fished (574624) <amphigory AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 30, 2012 @08:49AM (#39844427)

    I happen to be expert in one particular area of history (Ph.D. in New Testament and Early Christian Studies), and when I watch programs related to that area on the History Channel, I'm astounded at how uniformly awful they are. They seem determined to present any and every wacky theory, and to distort every recognized fact. While I'm not expert on other areas (e.g. American history), I also find their reporting in these areas to be... idiosyncratic?

  • Re:Well... (Score:4, Informative)

    by Martin Blank (154261) on Monday April 30, 2012 @11:11AM (#39846171) Journal

    United Flight 232 is proof of that. While 111 were killed, 185 people survived the crash (including the cockpit crew), including 125 people who had only minor injuries and 13 people who survived without injury. From the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]:

    The tip of the right wing hit the runway first, spilling fuel, which ignited immediately. The tail section broke off from the force of the impact, and the rest of the aircraft bounced several times, shedding the landing gear and engine nacelles and breaking the fuselage into several main pieces. On the final impact, the right wing was sheared off and the main part of the aircraft skidded sideways, rolled over on to its back, and slid to a stop upside-down in a corn field to the right of Runway 22.

    The article also notes that "[m]any passengers were able to walk out through the ruptures to the structure."

    It's not quite what you were looking for--no cartwheeling of the fuselage--but it's proof that an airplane crash that results in the effective destruction of an aircraft can be survivable.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Monday April 30, 2012 @12:07PM (#39846867) Homepage Journal

    Do you happen to have a quote on the weight? The closest I could find is 496 pounds for an ACES, 450lb(205kg) for an ancient Russian K-36 [ejectorseats.co.uk] which should be within the design tolernances of a cockpit originally designed for three, at least for limited use. (Note: the K-36D may have gained weight, it was listed as 'noticeably heavier than the ACES II')

    Heck, that site says that a lightweight model suitable for trainers was developed - don't need to deal with significant slip-stream or ejection speeds over 510kts(727 cruise is 521kt)? 110lb with the K-36LT-3-5. Need that extra bit of speed capability? The K-36D-3.5 only ups that to 156lb giving you safe ejection up to 595 kt.

    As for the rockets disfiguring the hole, that's why I said 'appropriately sized'. He's not going to be mangled if he's already OUT of the plane by the time the rockets mangle the exit with their exhaust.

    Per the RAF and 'limited number of ejections' comment, well, my research shows that ejection seats have drastically improved from the '80s. I was thinking something modern, like an ACES II, would be used. The ACES II seat keeps maximum ejection forces between 12 and 14 G, a far cry from the 25+ seen with early seats which often seriously injured the one using it, sometimes even killing them.

    After all that, I'll note that in retrospect I'll agree with most of the other posters-an actual ejection seat was unlikely to have been used. At this point the logistics of fitting a 727 with an actual functioning ejection seat is more an interesting mental exercise.

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