Piper Comanche Full of Arrows

17 Oct 14 17 Comments

This photograph was sent to me a couple of times with questions of what it might portray and I just had to track it down.

The photograph was first posted to Reddit as This aircraft belongs to a conservation team in The Amazon. Yikes! and then again in September with its current headline, The anthropologists decided that this tribe was to remain “uncontacted”. It was the second description that took off, even though in both instances the descriptions was pretty quickly debunked.

The Piper Comanche in the photo is actually part of an art exhibition in Buenos Aires.

Argentina’s new arts district is built “from scratch” – The Art Newspaper

The Cuban artist collective Los Carpinteros is showing three large-scale installations at Buenos Aires’s Faena Arts Centre in May. They have created a new site-specific sculpture especially for the arts centre’s 700 sq ft “Sala Molinos” exhibition space and are also installing two earlier works—a Piper Comanche single-prop plane pierced by arrows and a sprawling shantytown neighbourhood built entirely from corrugated cardboard.

The piece is called Avião. Los Carpinteros say that they produced it as a symbol of modernization: the modern transport contrasting with the wood-and-feather arrows.

It seems likely that the idea came from the Sentinelese, a pre-Neolithic tribe living on the Andaman Islands who are notably hostile to outsiders. In 2006, Sentinelese archers killed two fishermen who strayed into their territory.

Stone Age tribe kills fishermen who strayed on to island – Telegraph

The two men killed, Sunder Raj, 48, and Pandit Tiwari, 52, were fishing illegally for mud crabs off North Sentinel Island, a speck of land in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands archipelago.

Fellow fishermen said they dropped anchor for the night on Jan 25 but fell into a deep sleep, probably helped by large amounts of alcohol.

During the night their anchor, a rock tied to a rope, failed to hold their open-topped boat against the currents and they drifted towards the island.

“As day broke, fellow fishermen say they tried to shout at the men and warn them they were in danger,” said Samir Acharya, the head of the Society for Andaman and Nicobar Ecology, an environmental organisation.

“However they did not respond – they were probably drunk – and the boat drifted into the shallows where they were attacked and killed.”

After the fishermen’s families raised the alarm, the Indian coastguard tried to recover the bodies using a helicopter but was met by the customary hail of arrows.

Avião may also have been inspired by another similar piece which has a very different message.

Borrowing Your Enemy’s Arrows is by Cai Guo-Qiang and on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

MoMA | The Collection | Cai Guo-Qiang. Borrowing Your Enemy’s Arrows. 1998

The title—which alludes to a text from the third century (known as Sanguozhi)—refers to an episode in which the general Zhuge Liang, facing an imminent attack from the enemy, manages to replenish a depleted store of arrows. According to legend, Zhuge Liang tricked the enemy by sailing across the Yangtze river through the thick mist of early dawn with a surrogate army made of straw, while his soldiers remained behind yelling and beating on drums. Mistaking the pandemonium for a surprise attack, the enemy showered the decoys with volleys of arrows. Thus the general returned triumphantly with a freshly captured store of weapons.

So that’s the story behind the aircraft full of arrows. The only real question is whether the aircraft is still in flyable condition; certainly if they’d used a Piper Arrow instead of the Comanche, one could say it was perfectly arrowdynamic.

I’ll get my coat…

Category: Demystifying,


  • Hard to say if the artists were inspired by any specific event. The image of firing arrows at aircraft as symbolic of the clash between the old and the new recurs in many artistic works. For example, in Peter Matthiessen’s novel “At Play in the Fields of the Lord“, a Brazilian tribesman fires arrows at a light aircraft flown by two American mercenaries. South African musician Johnny Clegg’s song “Inevitable Consequence of Progress” describes “crazy tribesmen shooting arrows/at the ‘ship overhead”

    And sometimes it happens in real life.

  • There still are cultures left in the world that have no love for our modern technology. And perhaps they have every reason to be suspicious. Logging, mining, diseases, a total lack of respect and understanding of their way of life.
    I used to work for a company that was mainly occupied with small, general aviation work. In those days there simply were no flying jobs. The chief pilot was a very competent pilot but when eventually the main business, aerial advertising, went into decline he did not get into mainstream aviation and instead went to fly for the mission in Papua New Guinea.
    The western part of that island was still Dutch and in a shameful play of politics was handed to Indonesia. The Papuas had no cultural nor racial links with the Indonesians and should have been given independence but they were sold out.
    My friend later told me stories from other bush pilots who also were attacked. Perhaps not with arrows, but runways would be blocked with oildrums or stakes. One pilot nearly got killed because the obstructions were only visible on short final.
    The runway ended at a steep rock face, a few seconds later and he would not have been able to go around.

    From your article it is not clear whether the Comanche was actually prepared for the exhibition or whether is had an “arrow escape” !

    • I have a Moluccan friend who was telling me about that. He said the Indonesian government is killing and locking up the tribal groups on that side for literally no reason.

  • I was also thinking “why the hell didn’t the artist use a Piper Arrow? That would’ve made so much more sense!” :p

    As for the question of whether it’s still flyable: “Erm… You first! No, no really, I insist! XD”

  • I don’t think that this should have been made public,as some idiot will most probably go there and cause trouble, leave these people alone,

  • Maybe im missing something but that aircraft is clearly NOT a Comanche. Maybe a Cherokee. The gear, nose and wings are clearly a different airplane.

  • Very Interesting – Modern technology and habits meet up with other cultures still living in another era

  • The boat thing is an obvious replica, and while tasteful and attention-getting, it’s not very accurately done.

    The majority of the arrows have impact angles that would only be possible if the arrow was projected from below water level or from very, very close range – imagine swimming beside it. A defending tribe’s arrows would have come from well above the vessel.

    It looks impressive, though, I gotta give it that.

    And yeah,the plane is a Comanche.

    And those arrow shafts and feathers would have pushed it outside its performance envelope; it would not be capable of continued flight with that much drag..

  • Piper missed a great marketing opportunity with this artwork. Imagine an ad that read “If I’d been flying a Cessna I would’ve been dinner by now.”

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