“Big Flo” Helps Scientists Study the Mechanics of a Plane Crash in Real Time

There’s just something about watching a roughly 200,000-pound remote control airplane glide over the desert… it’s both eerie and beautiful. And that’s exactly what the scientists, pilots, and standby emergency responders did as they purposefully crashed “Big Flo” in April 2012.

The crash of the 170-seat Boeing 727 near Mexicali, Mexico was conducted to learn more about what actually happens during a plane crash. The experiment was captured by Channel 4 (a British public-service television broadcaster) in a documentary film appropriately titled The Plane Crash.

“Where should passengers sit to increase their chances of survival?”

“Is the standard ‘bracing’ position really the safest?”

Those are just a couple of the questions that the research team set out to answer.

On board the plane were three Hybrid III crash test dummies, which very accurately simulate human movement and responses while collecting data at a rate of 10,000 samples per second. The plane was piloted by Captain Jim Bob Slocum; he was joined by other crew members and a small group of passengers.

After taking off from General Rodolfo Sánchez Taboada International Airport in Mexicali, the flight made its way toward the Sonoran Desert as those on board gradually parachuted out through the plane’s ventral airstair. Slocum was the last to leave the plane, just four minutes before impact, at which point Chip Shanle controlled the 727 remotely from a small chase plane.

Big Flo hit the ground at 140 miles per hour and broke up into several pieces; she had been descending at a rate of 1,500 feet per minute.

Following the experiment, it was concluded that sitting in the back of the plane really does increase your chances of walking away without injury in the event of a crash. Also, passengers who adopt the brace position are far more likely to survive than those who don’t; the brace position involves getting your torso as low as possible by cradling your head on the seat in front of you, or by lowering your head and hugging your knees.

So for those of you who suffer from some form of flight anxiety, it might not be a bad idea to snag a seat toward the back of the plane to help calm your tensions. But rest assured, your chances of dying in a plane crash are a mere one in 11 million. So sit back, and enjoy the flight.

All photos courtesy of Channel 4.

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