STL pilot crashes plane — for Discovery Channel

2012-10-05T07:00:00Z 2012-10-05T14:36:08Z STL pilot crashes plane — for Discovery ChannelBY JOE HOLLEMAN • > 314-340-8254

The airplane crashed in a Mexican desert, and it was perfect.

That was the assessment from STL pilot Leland "Chip" Shanle Jr. of Webster Groves, whose Broken Wing company was hired by the Discovery Channel show "Curiosity" for an episode dealing with what happens during an airplane crash.

The show will air at 8 p.m. Sunday on the Discovery Channel. A viewing party will be held at the Hwy. 61 Roadhouse in Webster Groves.

Shanle, whose day job is piloting for American Airlines, said Broken Wing provides a variety of aviation-related technical services, including acting as advisors on movies.

"In this case, we got hold of an old 727, remounted engines on it and then rigged it with drone kits," said Shanle, who piloted the plane by remote control from a trailing Cessna 337.

All told, Shanle employed 23 people for the crash. (Like any good pilot, Shanle consistently avoided using the word "crash" and instead called it "the event.") Crews of independent scientists also worked on the show, equipping the plane with cameras and other instruments to collect data on conditions present during a crash.

Shanle, 54, is a Chaminade (Class of '77) and Mizzou grad, then became a Navy pilot. After retiring from the military, he some time as a test pilot. During that time, he met Dave Kennedy and the two started Broken Wing. Two of Shanle's sons, Leland III and David, were part of the crew for this operation.

On the crash project, Shanle said he had six people in the doomed plane until right before the "event."

"We had a pilot, a first officer and a flight engineer, and then we had three jumpmasters to make sure they (parachuted) out of the plane safely and on time," he said.

Shanle said scientists were worried that the plane would catch fire after the crash, endangering their recorded information.

"We kept telling them we couldn't promise that it wouldn't, but it didn't catch on fire. The science people later said they got enough data to study for the next 10 years," Shanle said.

When asked about the safest place to be on an airplane, Shanle said: "The results show that impact pressure dissipates greatly as you move toward the rear."

Non-military translation: Sit in the back.

"But if you're like me," he said, "I'm going to sit in the big seats in first-class whenever I get the chance."

"Joe's St. Louis" appears online Monday through Friday and in print on Saturday. Joe Holleman's "Life Sherpa" column appears on Sunday in Everyday. Follow Holleman on Facebook and Twitter.

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