Hands up: who would honestly claim no interest in seeing what happens to a full-sized airliner when it is purposely flown into the ground, given that the only casualties are a bunch of unfortunate mannequins whose reward for a lifetime's dedication to advancing safety is a one-way ticket to Scuppered-on-the-Sand?
Spectacle, such as the televised trashing of a Boeing 727 in Mexico, draws an audience. But it is the bit about "advancing safety" that seems to have been shoehorned into the picture. The accompanying publicity claims noble interests behind the experiment, but its relevance is not entirely clear. With its metal fuselage and rear-mounted engines, the 727 is hardly representative of current aircraft design and construction, where composite materials, underwing high-bypass turbofans and lightweight cabin fittings are typical. The automotive industry would surely scorn any suggestion that crash-testing a 1960s car would give genuine, valuable insights into modern passenger safety.
Ironically, the experiment precisely simulated controlled flight into terrain, long acknowledged as a primary safety concern, the prevention of which would do far more for passenger survival than any number of airframe-design tweaks. There is no global shortage of wreckage from such accidents over which to pore.
Staging a full-scale air crash for television is no mean achievement, and no doubt it is art. But is it science?
(This piece first appeared as the second leading article in 8 May Flight International)