Channel 4 to crash 300-seat jet into desert

Two pilots will parachute from a passenger jet before it crash-lands at high speed in an empty desert as part of a scientific experiment to be screened on television next year.

Viewers will be able to watch as the pilots board the plane before setting it on a collision course for the Channel 4 documentary.

Plane Crash is expected to give scientists invaluable information about how aircraft react in potentially fatal accidents.

The 300-seat wide-bodied passenger jet will be loaded with cameras and sensors, along with crash test dummies taking the place of passengers and crew.

The landing site will be filmed from every angle.

Broadcasters expect the footage and data will give scientists an "unprecedented insight" into what happens when a plane crashes, enabling experts to study how areas such as seatbelt design, seat arrangement and overhead baggage can have an impact on passenger safety.

Producer Geoff Deehan, at Dragonfly Film and Television Productions Ltd, said: "As well as making spectacular television, we hope Plane Crash will be one of the most useful experiments ever in the history of aviation, an experiment devised, run and supervised by some of the world's leading aviation experts - experts who are consulted by all the world's leading aircraft manufacturers on aircraft safety, crashworthiness and survivability.

"It will give us unprecedented answers to the big question: how can we make air crashes more survivable?"

Prof R John Hansman, one of the scientists involved in the experiment, said the crash would give experts a "rare" opportunity to examine a crash test on a "full-scale aircraft".

"Much of our understanding of aircraft impact phenomena comes from accident investigations where we only have limited data," he said.

"It is rare to be able to instrument an aircraft to be able to document what is going on inside and outside of the aircraft during a crash event.

"This will provide valuable data to calibrate models of crash dynamics, forces on the passengers, and post-crash fire. We often crash-test automobiles but we rarely are able to conduct crash tests on full-scale aircraft."

The T. Wilson Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics added: "This will be a remarkable opportunity to increase passenger survivability."

The documentary has been announced as part of the new season on Channel 4.

Programme makers are keeping the location of the crash under wraps but say they have overcome the "known obstacles" and are ready to press ahead with the purchase of the passenger jet.

The aircraft, a secondhand plane, will crash-land in such a way that it will not be completely destroyed, simulating the most common type of serious - and survivable - incident.

The identities of the two pilots have yet to be announced but they are understood to have backgrounds with the US navy.

The documentary is among a number of new programmes planned for the 2010 season, which will begin with the UK television premiere of the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire.

This will be followed with a special one-off episode from The Secret Millionaire series - The Slumdog Secret Millionaire - in which a female British-Indian entrepreneur will leave her affluent lifestyle behind to go incognito in India.

The programme will feature in the channel's India Season, along with a special edition of Dispatches and Gordon's Great Escape, showing chef Gordon Ramsay's first trip to India.

Other highlights for the new season include Blitz Street - a science and history series presented by Tony Robinson which will show a typical row of 1940s terrace houses being subjected to a range of high explosives similar to those used by the Luftwaffe.

Chef Heston Blumenthal will return to the small screen with his second series of Heston's Feasts, along with the final series of Celebrity Big Brother.