Small Plane Gets Stoned

27 Nov 20 15 Comments

This photograph has been posted to aviation forums repeatedly, each time with a thread of pilots wondering what the hell could have happened to cause the light aircraft to be smashed with a large rock?

I have to admit, I presumed some sort of airfield accident when the plane was parked but, until I saw it again this week, I hadn’t attempted to find out. Plane and Pilot Magazine took a stab at it although they mainly came up with what didn’t happen.

We presumed the plane had just flown in but was in an unlucky spot.

Then we asked how in the world the rock could’ve gotten there, and we’re coming up with nothing. It couldn’t have rolled, because that would have left a mark, a sign of the rock having trampled the grass on its path. And it couldn’t have bounced, because we’re not seeing the kind of damage to the plane a forward bouncing rock would make. This looks as though it dropped directly down from the sky. We’ve heard of golf-ball sized hail, but this is ridiculous.

The answer, it seems, is exactly the same as it is for the popular Piper Comanche Full of Arrows passed around with its misleading headline about uncontacted tribes.

The aircraft and its boulder is an art installation of “fibreglass, stone and airplane” by Jimmie Durham called Encore tranquillité (Calm Once More), which is on display at the National Gallery of Canada.

Durham is an American sculptor living in Berlin who describes himself as of Cherokee descent. He bought the aircraft in Berlin, although it isn’t identified other than as a “hand-built German airplane”. He took it to a derelict Russian airfield outside of Berlin, where he lowered a boulder onto the aircraft, splitting it in two. He then replaced the boulder with a fibre-glass replica.

The display was then moved to Paris as a part of an exhibition called Rejected Stones with a collection of Durham’s work. CAA Reviews (nothing to do with the Civil Aviation Authority) explain how the centrepiece of the exhibit shows the boulder “taking an emphatic revenge on technological modernity, for which the airplane remains a persistent symbol.”

Other works on display in Rejected Stones contributed to the gradual unfolding of a world that is not functioning according to expectations. Odd juxtapositions of language and image appeared throughout the enormous horseshoe-shaped gallery in a seemingly endless series of videos, drawings, photographic portraits, and collaged bits of this and that. While conforming to a loose chronological order, the diverse media in the gallery cross-fertilized, producing slippages of association that made it difficult to affirm the boundaries of particular works of art and the discrete elements that form them. The manner of display complimented the tendency of the work to resist fixed meanings and stable identities. Often placed directly on the floor and unmediated by framing pedestals or display cases, slabs of wood, oil cans, furniture, and household appliances were altered in such ways that they seemed to no longer bear the weight of the cultural investments projected into them.

He’s done similar work before, including Still Live with Stone and Car where Durham dropped a painted boulder onto a Ford Festiva and Xitle and Spirit where he dropped an eight ton stone onto a Dodge Spirit.

We tend to say that stone is permanent, immovable, when it fact it is just slower and tougher than us, or sometimes much faster.

In the National Gallery of Canada magazine article They Will Be Smashed, Durham appears to have had some affection for the aircraft before he dropped a boulder onto it.

I imagine someone who is bothered by a fly and swats it down, having peace again for a moment. But I actually admired the plane: such good and artisanal work on it, and people still flew in it! My frame of reference was, and is, simple: Nature falls on us. Our clever efforts are smashed. But to me this is funny tragedy. Our efforts ARE clever, and they WILL BE smashed. A person says, ‘I’m going on vacation,’ but instead, he is run over by a truck or cancer.

I’m not sure I’m really getting the idea of a “funny tragedy” but as a message, I can see what he’s trying to say. The article goes on to quote the curator talking about Durham’s belief that “stones were like the Cherokee people, because they’d been kicked down the road, and moved, and moved, and moved.”

The inspiration for this sequence appears to have been a 1996 work in which he threw stones at a refrigerator which he then named Saint Frigo.

M HKA Ensembles

I don’t really destroy things. I just change them. I change their shape, just like any sculptor does. I chose the refrigerator. I stoned it for a week, every day, until I got the shape really changed. I chose it because I wanted to throw stones at something as sculptural work, but I wanted an object that no one would care about. I thought that if I stoned a TV or an automobile, everyone would be glad and care in some way or another, and I thought that a refrigerator was completely neutral. It was, until I started stoning it and then it wasn’t neutral anymore. Then it started being brave, so that in the end I called it Saint Frigo, because it was a martyr. I saved its life by making it a martyr. It was going into the trash, now it’s eternal, now it’s art.

Well, I have to say I think he did destroy that innocent little aircraft, although I accept it was probably on the scrap heap anyway. Nevertheless, I’m a little bit incensed that an everyday and perfectly ordinary refrigerator gets called brave and is given a sainthood, while the seemingly one-of-a-kind hand-built plane is given nothing so much as a “Good riddance!”

I have to admit that his work got me thinking, which is of course what the sculptor must have wanted in the first place.

Still, I wish I knew more about the poor plane.

Category: Demystifying,


  • I guess that my appreciation of modern art is lacking somewhat. The purpose, the “art” behind it simply escapes me.
    Some years ago I read a story of an “art object” in an exhibition of modern art in a museum. One so-called art work consisted of nothing more than a heap of rubbish beside a dustbin lying on its side.
    Little wonder then that, after closing time, staff thought that some visitors had kicked over a full bin, swept it up and deposited it all in the trash. To the consternation of the museum management and the artist, although I tend to side with the staff who cleaned it up.
    This is different, but to me looks like a senseless destruction of what might even have been a perfectly airworthy aircraft. Or one that could have been given an inspection and passed its C of A renewal.
    OK, I already admitted, when it comes to the appreciation of art I am a Philistine. Or is the artist just having a laugh at the public’s expense?
    Or maybe the emperor is going around in his underwear?
    I may be wrong, but the aircraft may be (have been) a Jodel. They were built of wood and the upturned wings were typical for Jodel.
    Where was the photo taken? It had a German registration, so it probably really WAS an aircraft.
    A pity, looks it looks like a waste of an aircraft to me.

  • Why give them more attention? I like your normal posts far better. This isn’t art, it’s ____.

  • Well Mike, I guess that Sylvia is upset about the destruction of an airplane that looks as if it had been in good working order before it was crushed by a rock.
    Other than that, as my comments clearly demonstrate, I share your sentimemnt.
    Coming to think of it: The car breakers’ yards are full of priceless works of art. In many cases the artists put their own lives on the line in order to create their artworks. No disrepect intended to victims of road traffic accidents. No seriously, it is a case of the emperor’s clothes, vandalism.

  • Judging by the size of the grass, I thought for sure that is a toy airplane! What make and model could it be?

  • To continue on the subject of the aircraft:
    The identification is of course not made easy because of the state it is in, and there is only one photo. But the wing dihedral, the upturn about two-thirds from the fuselage was a distinct feature of the Jodel. And looking at the picture again, it does not look like the result of the vandalism, called “art”. If I remember correctly, Jodel became absorbed into Avions Robin.
    I believe that many Jodel aircraft were actually home-built. The wooden construction lent itself to advanced amateur aircraft construction.
    The first, or at least one of the first, was the Bebe (baby), a very small single-seat aircraft. A very similar model was the Druine Turbulent, built in the UK by Rollason. It was powered by a (slightly adapted) Volkswagen Beetle engine. Maybe it is better to say “slightly UNDERpowered”. The Tiger Club, in my days based at Redhill, owned a few. Logical, because Norman Jones, the CEO of Rollason, was also the chairman of the Tiger Club. A member, once checked out on the Tiger Moth, was considered to have been released on all club aircraft. Michael Jones, Norman’s son and secretary, saw to it that a pilot would read through the notes before taking out an aircraft. Of course, there was only one way to get checked out on the Turbulent: climb in, get the prop swung and off you go. There was barely room for one person. Today it would qualify as a “microlight”. Even from a little distance it looked like a large model, nearly big enough to fit a person in. And, surprisingly, when close-up one realised that it actually WAS big enough for a pilot. But only just.
    Before allowing a first flight in a club Turbulent, Michael would sternly warn the pilot to be careful: The engine was not powerful enough to allow the aircraft to climb away if the speed dropped to a little above the stall speed.
    I see that I have created a chain: From a “stoned” aircraft to its – presumed – manufacturer, this brought me to the miniature aircraft of the time and reminded me that the engine used, a VW Beetle, imposed power limits on these microlight aircraft.
    Maybe Sylvia will forgive me if I use the opportunity to throw in a little lecture about power and drag. No, not a guy in a dress, the other thing: the resistance created, in the case of an aircraft, by moving an aircraft through the air.
    You pilots of course know about the power-drag curve: The higher the speed, the more drag will be created.
    Those who already hold a pilot’s licence may hook off here, what follows is not for you.
    In order to keep it simple, let us assume that we are dealing with a light aircraft without flaps, a fixed undercarriage and a fixed propeller. And we assume that it weighs 750 kg.
    We will leave aside the concept of “wing loading”. Just for the record: a glider has a very low wing loading, the Turbulent had a relatively high wing loading. Meaning that without engine power it did not glide nearly as well.
    I mentioned the “power-drag curve”. It is a graphic illustration about the relationship between drag, engine power and the way this changes with speed. The following exercise assumes that the aircraft will be, and remain, in level flight.
    Now, for those who are still awake and interested – or maybe curious to see if I am able to explain this in a simple manner:
    Get a piece of paper. Plotting paper is good, but any paper will do. Of course, a pen or pencil and maybe a ruler.
    At the bottom, draw a horizontal line and, at the left of this line, draw a horizontal, straight up.
    We are, just for this exercise, assuming a light aircraft with a stall speed of 40 kts, a minimum drag glide speed of 60 and an optimum glide speed of 70. Flying at 60 will allow the aircraft to stay in the air for the longest period of time with a failed engine, 70 will allow the best distance covered, but this is also dependent on conditions such as wind. Cruise speed will be assumed to be 100 kts, maximum speed 160, never exceed speed 180. Mark these values at the bottom line, the horizontal from left to right. End the line at 190. Remember, this is not a particular aircraft.
    The vertical will represent how the drag will change at various speeds.
    The wing of an aircraft delivers lift. This is obtained by moving it through the air. As we all know, the wing has a certain profile: a rounded leading edge, at first of increasing thickness and then tapering to the trailing edge. In flight, this results in a decreasing air pressure at the top, and an increase at the bottom. Together this difference in air pressure enables the aircraft to stay up, to fly.
    The wing is fixed to the body, the airframe, at a certain angle, the incidence. The front is a bit higher. This causes a so-called “angle of attack” whereby the air meets the wing at a certain angle. The wing itself may be fixed, but the angle of attack can be varied by the pilot. Using the elevator by moving the controls: pulling the stick or control wheel towards him / her will, assuming sufficient air speed, bring the nose of the aircraft up. The wings will meet, “attack”, the airstream at an increased angle and this should also increase the lift. But there are consequences: If the airspeed is sufficient, the aircraft will start a climb. But the speed will decrease and drag will increase. If the speed is not sufficient, the aircraft will stall.
    Now we will start plotting all our newly acquired knowledge on our graph: You can make markings on the vertical line, let us say from zero (at the bottom) and up from 1 to 20. Give it some room, otherwise the result will be too flat. We are not talking here about accuracy nor about an actual type of aircraft, just to illustrate, make visual the theory.
    Minimum drag, assumed to be at 60 kts. Let’s give this a drag of 1.
    Stall speed was 40, make it 4 on the vertical. Our graph starts at 40, not at 0. Why not? Because the aircraft cannot fly any slower than 40, below that it will stall.
    A bit further right, at 70, we have the recommended speed in case of an engine failure. It will allow the pilot good control, a good range and still a low drag, a good compromise so mark 70 (speed) with 1.5 (drag). Cruise speed 100, still a reasonably low drag of 2 but as we know: with increasing speed the drag will from here on increase exponentially.
    At the maximum speed of 160 the drag will be 9. Never exceed speed 180 will be drag 11 on our chart, At 190 we mark 14. From there, if the airplane has reached that speed, it will be in a steep dive. If you have room for 200, mark the drag as 17 or, if you want, 20. Any faster and the wings will be torn off. Get your parachute and jump !
    Now draw a gentle curve between the points that you have marked, from 60 to 180 (or if you are a daredevil to 200). If I got it right, you should now be presented with a curved line that starts at 60, drag value 1, and goes up with an increasingly steep gradient.
    Now about what happens below 60:
    We assumed a drag of 4 at the stall speed of 40. So you can draw a curve from 60 (1) to 40 (4).
    If we did this all correctly, we now have a curved line, starting at 40 and drag 4, drag decreasing to 1 at 60, gently curving upwards to 2 at 70 kts and with rapidly increasing drag to 9 at 160,11 at 180.
    What does this tell us?
    At speeds of 60 the drag will be at its lowest, increasing at higher speeds. The aircraft will fly at a relatively low nose attitude, the air flows smoothly over the wings. But the increasing speed incurs a penalty: drag.
    Why does the drag climb again so rapidly when we decrease the speed below 60?
    The air does not flow fast enough over the wings at a low angle of attack to keep the aircraft flying level. In order to increase the lift, the angle of attack must be increased. That means: raising the nose.
    The air flowing over the wings now will have to travel a greater distance in order to meet the air flowing under the wing, creating the required low pressure on top, and a higher pressure under the wings. But now the wing, in fact the entire aircraft, will present a larger frontal area to the airflow. So, even at this lower speed, the drag will increase. And another phenomenon will be created: The airflow will be less smooth. Near the trailing edge, as the speed decreases further, little eddies, vortices, will start forming. This will again increase the drag, and decrease the lift. So the pilot must increase power to overcome the drag, better: to add sufficient power to overcome the drag AND increase speed, which will improve the airflow and reduce the drag.
    But, if the pilot elects to slow down further and, instead of using adding engine power, create more lift by raising the nose, this process will continue. It will result in more and now rapidly increasing drag at decreasing airspeed. The airflow will start breaking down, again causing more drag. The aircraft will now be slowing, the airflow over the wings will break down, lift will decrease rapidly but drag will increase exponentially. At 40 kts the aircraft will stall.
    Now: bear in mind that this all assumed straight and level flight.
    The weight of our aircraft remains the same (forget fuel burn).
    This in turn means that the lift, as long as we don’t climb or descend, remains essentially the same. We need to generate 750 kg of lift throughout this imaginary exercise.
    I have taken enough time as it is, and I don’t want Sylvia getting annoyed with me.
    So, with her permission, I will finish off next week.

  • Jodel D9 Bebe: Wing span 7.00 m, length 5.35 m, height 1.52 m
    Jodel D11: wing span 8.20 m, length 6.20m
    The art installation is actually bigger than these!
    The artist obviously removed the engine, but did they also push the front and the back apart to make more space for the boulder to look better?

    Trivia: Jodel was named afterthe constructors Édouard Joly und Jean Délémontez.

  • It’s a Jodel DR.1050, registration D-EDNF. There are pictures of the paint job, it’s identical. And the engine may not be removed after all, this model is more streamlined than the earlier versions!
    Length 6.5 m, Height 1.8 m (before a rock smashed the canopy), Wing span 8.72 m, empty weight 415 kg

    DR stands for Delemontez-Robin who constructed it. The same plane with a different engine sold as the DR1051.

    Pierre Robin and his wife took their factory tuned and streamlined DR1051 to a number of air races, winning every race they entered. The race around Sicile being the most notable race of them all. The streamlining went as far as removing the air brakes, removing the door handles and taping up the doors after the Robin’s had entered the plane (which in a sunny 43 degrees Centigrade is not a comfortable thing to do). The tailwheel received its own wheel pant as well. Furthermore the Robin engineers managed to squeeze every last horsepower from the Potez engine. The result of these efforts were an average speed of 270 kph during the race, which is the Vne of the stock model!


  • Sylvia, so far so good. It did not take me long to identify the aircraft as a Jodel. Mendel did some more ferreting and managed to identify the actual aircraft. Well done !
    I probably underestimated the level of knowledge of your readers when I – half tongue in cheek – extended my contribution to a home exercise.
    Should I continue it or leave it?

    • I’m waiting for you to complete the lesson: how an underpowered aircraft can get “behind” the power/drag curve such that it flies at a speed where it’s not stalled yet, but can’t escape the stall by adding power — the only way is to push the nose down. But I couldn’t explain it at the level of detail that you’re doing it.

    • Funnily enough, I saw a headline today that said that we still don’t know how planes stay in the air. So clearly there’s a need for this exercise on a much grander scale! Please continue.

  • OK, I have quite a few things to finish now, but I will !
    If not this episode, then after the next (Friday).
    BTW: As writing “off the cuff” is one of my bad habits, correct me if I go off the rails somewhere.
    But I am confident that I will manage.

  • A little extra useless information on the registration:
    The first part indicates the country of registration. In the early years of aviation, when it became law for the loosely assembled collections of bamboo, balsa wood, piano wires and bedlinen called “aeroplanes” to carry registration markings, there was still a lot of choice and Great Britain, France, Germany, picked the first letter of the alphabet to correspond with the name of the country:
    F for France, G for Great Britain, D for Germany (Deutschland). There were composites: EI for Ireland, and soon there was less leeway for choices. OO was assigned to Belgium, OY to Denmark, LN for Norway The USA got NC, later N. Some countries were assigned letters and digits, like 5N for Nigeria. The Netherlands had H-N, later amended to PH. After the country code came the code for the individual aircraft. Mostly letters, or a combination of digits and letters. In some countries it denotes a sequence: the first aircraft on the register was “-AAA”, the next “AAB”, and so on. In quite a few countries the owners can pick a personal registration. I remember in the ‘seventies a British Citation with G-UESS followed in smaller characters by “WHO”. The Dutch electronics manufacturer Philips used to operate a fleet of corporate aircraft, all of course starting with “PH”. So there was PH-IPS, PH-ILI, PH-LIP, etc. The Cessna 310 that I used to fly was owned by Sterdisposables and was PH-STR.
    The Germans, not unusually as something similar applied to other countries, adopted a system: D- for the country. E was for light single-engine aircraft, I for light twins, C for medium-sized twins, H for Helicopter, A for airline-sized aircraft, L for airship (Luftschiff = Blimp, Zeppelin). Gliders would use digits after the D.
    So the German Jodel in the photo, so cruelly treated, would have had registration marks starting with D-E. The rest is invisible under the rock, but thanks to Mendel’s investigative powers we now know.

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