Beechcraft Baron final “flight”
New ride opens at Blackpool pic.twitter.com/LWwG95Gj6P
— Andrew Hodgson (@Hoddy1982) May 2, 2020
My friend Rob sent me a link to this with a note that said simply, “I have questions.”
Not everyone can see the video on the tweet, so here’s a high-res version of the video that the tweet is based on — one or the other should work for everyone:
There’s a lot of questions here, starting with “What the hell?” and ending with “Why?”
I’m never one to resist a challenge. Besides, the aircraft registration is clearly visible in the image, so how hard could it be to find out more?
Let’s look at some freeze frames to start.
N99RJ was a privately owned Beech Baron which was deregistered on the 8th of March 2018.
The excavator is a CAT and squinting at the model number I think it starts with 225, as in a Caterpillar 225 Hydraulic Excavator. I can’t seem to quickly find information about how much weight they can lift, and funnily enough, capacity for swinging an aircraft through the air isn’t in their documentation.
On the left side of the image we can see a control tower and a hangar, which confirms that the wide open space here is a runway.
I certainly don’t know my US airports well enough to be able to identify it based on the angle of the hangar and the tower alone, but as the owner of the aircraft had a Florida address and the incident happened in Florida, it seems a good bet that the aircraft was scrapped in Florida too. I know we have some Florida pilots who read this; does anyone recognise it?
Searching on the registration is easy and I found this photograph by K West showing the Beech Baron in better days: .
You can tell it was taken some years ago because the FAA have recorded an accident on the 17th of January 2018 which would not have left it in such pristine condition. The FAA report says that the left main gear collapsed on landing resulting in a propeller strike. This happened in Miami, Florida under Part 91, that is, flying under General Aviation regulations.
Here’s the pilot’s report:
Coming to a full stop landing, left base to final 27R, landing gear handle down, green light on.
Translation: as I was turning to land on runway 27 right, I checked that the landing gear handle was down and the green light (to show that the gear had extended fully) was illuminated.
Translation of the translation: I didn’t screw up.
Normal touchdown, 3 to 4 seconds on the roll out the plane starts moving let to right…
I’m sure that’s a typo and the pilot means that the plane began to swerve left to right.
…resulting in a left main gear collapse first, left propeller hits the ground.
You can tell it is painful even to just talk about it.
Then the nose gear retracts, at that moment the right propeller hits the ground and the right main gear is partially retracted. We secured and exited the plane with no injuries.
So basically, the landing gear failed completely and in the process, both propellers struck the ground, which means a lot of money to check and repair the engines.
The search also showed that this is not the first time that the propellers on this aircraft had taken damage. Sixteen years earlier, under different ownership, the aircraft struck a taxiway light.
Pilot departed FBO Signature Flight support ramp area at Miami International Airport in route to Runway 27R, in darkness and in rainy conditions, and as he was passing thru an unlighted taxiway section and construction area, in which many wooden barriers and temporary blue lights were placed to mark the paralleling taxiway, the aircraft propellers impacted an unlighted taxiway light, causing damage to the aircraft propellers.
And funnily enough, it’s also not the first time the landing gear had collapsed. In 1979, the NTSB investigated an occurrence at Howey in the Hill in Florida, where the landing gear collapsed when the pilot turned off the runway and into soft sand.
NAME OF AIRPORT - HOWEY IN THE HILL
DEPARTURE POINT INTENDED DESTINATION
TYPE OF ACCIDENT PHASE OF OPERATION
GROUND-WATER LOOP-SWERVE LANDING: ROLL
GEAR COLLAPSED LANDING: ROLL
PILOT IN COMMAND - SELECTED UNSUITABLE TERRAIN
AIRPORTS/AIRWAYS/FACILITIES - AIRPORT CONDITIONS: SOFT RUNWAY
MISCELLANEOUS ACTS,CONDITIONS - OVERLOAD FAILURE
It seems the aircraft had an exciting and relatively long life before this recording of its final flight went viral.
The aircraft is listed as scrapped on the 30th of April 2020. The first instance of this video that I could find was dated just a few days later.
[Note: Finally, I found this FlightAware reference of a three minute re-positioning flight on the 22nd of May 2020. It’s clearly an error. There’s no way that N99RJ flew again after being in the jaws of that caterpillar. Besides, the engines had already been removed.]
The only remaining question is why. There’s certainly no practical reason to swing a plane through the air other than for the pure joy of doing so. I strongly suspect that the operator of the excavator was making vroooom noises as the plane swung round. And I’m not the only one. The best comment I saw on this was on Reddit:
What do we want?
Low flying airplane noises.
When do we want them?
I also loved this comic by a Reddit user called Shitty_Watercolour, who draws scenes based on discussion in Reddit threads. It’s a fun thing that he does but this one is probably my favourite ever.