Ditched airplane still flying

In The Rockford Files episode ‘Forced Retirement’, a Navion is ditched in the ocean.

I searched N8825H and found out that it still holds a valid certificate and is owned by a Delaware corporation. I tried the NTSB accident investigation database, and no files were found.

Question 1: Since the aircraft was ditched and must have suffered some sort of damage, why isn’t there an NTSB report on the incident?

Question 2: Given how cheap airplanes used to be in the '70s, even classic ones like the Navion (especially ‘old ones’ like the Navion), how could recovery and reconstruction have been worth it?

Question 3: After ‘Superstorm’ Sandy, a fairly new Beechcraft Bonanza had been submerged in salt water. The dataplate was pulled and, even though the aircraft was made perfectly airworthy, it had to be re-registered in the Experimental category. How serious is a saltwater ditching, in terms of structural integrity? Also, why would an airplane that probably suffered structural damage (the Navion) not be in the Experimental category, while the dataplate was pulled from the Bonanza?

Oops. This should be in General Questions. I was thrown off by the disappearance of the Chicago forum.

I know one of the things they religiously check during annuals is for corrosion on the airframe. I assume that submersion salt water will greatly speed up that process. Not to mention every electrical connection and fitting in the aircraft.

IIRC there was a time that a hurricane got to the Piper factory in Florida and they ended up scrapping several new planes because of salt water exposure. Too lazy to Google that one, but ir rings a bell.

It was the Susquehana River Flood of 1972, which was caused by rains from Hurricane Agnes. The flooding destroyed the Piper Comanches that were being built in the Lock Haven plant, plus the parts and a lot of the tooling. Instead of rebuilding, Piper discontinued the PA-24 and built PA-28s and PA-34s in the Vero Beach, FL facility.

(Yes, I do own a copy of The Piper Indians. :wink: )


How do you know that the airplane in the series was actually ditched, as opposed to some editing/trickery that made it appear to ditch?

I know CGI wasn’t around back then, but what about a scale model, frinstance?

I was watching the scene very closely, expecting them to do the standard thing and cut to a studio shot from inside of the cockpit or something. By all appearances, this was an actual ditching. It could have been a model, but water is hard to scale and the waves and the spray looked real. (FWIW, they cut to an explosion just after touch-down.) The fuselage also appeared to flex, which I don’t think it would have done if it were balsa. It might be on Hulu, but I don’t have Hulu.

In any case, I’m more curious about the general questions than how they pulled off the shot.

Gotcha covered, Flyboy.

Off to GQ.

If my understanding of the Aircraft registry is correct, a plane will stay on it until the FAA receives information that it has been destroyed (or re-registered as Experimental, presumably).

Even if they really destroyed the bird, if they didn’t notify the FAA (there would have been no accident/incident report for an intentional ditching) of its destruction, how would the FAA know to pull the registration?

Drop a line to the registered owner - maybe you’ll get an answer.

It wasn’t.
See http://www.airport-data.com/aircraft/N8825H.html

It certainly is being kept in registration.
Cockpit footage can be done with any amphibious aircraft.
The outside shot of the aircraft ditching is done by composition… Basically, project the water scene - no airplane - with the airplane section darkened out smoothly … (fade to black ) , and then with another projector put the airplane in the black spot… and film the result. Foreground is bright and background is dark, so the foreground goes over the top and blurs in nicely. You are adding white splashes on top of dark water…

Related question:

In the USA does a registration stay with an aircraft from birth to death? Over here registrations can be moved around a fair bit. I used to fly a Pitts Special with a particular registration but have recently seen a Boeing 737 carrying that rego.

I once reserved a tail number.
I believe one can request a new tail number, whereupon the original would be re-cycled and (at least possibly) re-issued.

Depending on the situation - it might be simpler to just fake it. Find a similar aircraft, already wrecked, and paint it with the same numbers. (legal I presume for non-fraud purposes for non-flying aircraft) Shoot the flying scenes with the real aircraft. Take the junker doppelganger, and either use a helicopter or a crane to drop it into the sea with dummies in the cockpit. If necessary, haul it out, affix floats, put it back in for the "get out before she sinks’ scenes. if they just blew it up - bonus. Load the fake with explosives, make sure the camera is rolling, drop from the helicopter at a decent altitude trimmed to glide. (We can only do this once…)

I bet the choice of aircraft was dictated by a handy “spare”.

It didn’t say it wasn’t ditched. A commenter quoted ‘crashing’ and mentioned it exploded. The explosion was quite obviously an effect, and the real aircraft did not explode. However, the ditching appeared to be genuine. One detail was that the canopy was cracked open for the pilot to egress rapidly, which wouldn’t have been done if it were a model. Also, it appeared to be a ‘perfect execution’ of a ditching with the tail down and touching the water first, followed by a low-speed ‘belly flop’.

The ditching was done in one shot, and there was no view from inside the cockpit. I mentioned earlier that I was expecting a cut-away, for example, to an interior shot, but it didn’t happen.

There was no ‘fade to black’. As I said, it was a continuous shot. I consider myself pretty good at noticing composite shots, and I did not see any matte lines or other artefacts. The spray looked exactly as it would if a full-size aircraft landed in water.

Again, I’m not concerned so much about how they got the shot. Real airplanes have been ‘crashed’ on-screen before. (And airplanes have been ditched before and returned to flying status.) My questions are why, assuming the ditching was performed by a stunt pilot, which it certainly looks like to me, there is no NTSB report; what are the effects of immersion in salt water; and why would they bother to repair an airplane that was pretty much disposable?

Registrations can be changed, in which case the old number can be re-used.

I just watched the scene (on Netflix, season 4, episode 11, about 21 minutes in).

It actually does look like a real ditching to me.

However it’s not the same plane. The plane taxiing at the airport had yellow wingtip tanks that extended both forward and aft of the leading and trailing edges of the wing. The ditching plane had yello painted wingtips, but no tanks.

Also, you can pause it at 20:56 and read the number on the side – a little fuzzy, but I think it’s N4372A.

Looked again and decided the A might be a K.

Isilder’s site comes up with 2 hits on that number, one a Ryan Navion, with a blank location field, and this suggests that the numbers may also be recycled.

It might also be N4572K, which hits on another Navion, with a “Current Status” of “Revoked” as of 1/14/77.

Thank you! :slight_smile:

Aha! I completely missed that, since I was concentrating on the stunt. :smack:

Which matches with the episode, which was from 1977.

Thanks for looking that up!

So. My questions were based upon the false premise that the aircraft that was ditched is the same one that is flying now. Since it wasn’t the same aircraft, my questions are invalid.

Yeah, but what’s spooky is that they even recycle the ones that met with a tragic end.
For instance, N7711G was a Cessna 172. It collided with a PSA 727 over San Diego and was destroyed. That tail number is now assigned to a 1978 Cessna P210N based in Delaware. It seems that there should be some provisions for retiring a N number in such cases. I wonder if the owners even know that?

N6228T was a ('64?) Cessna 150 affectionately known as ‘Shaky Jake’. (Hey, Morgenstern, do you remember it? I think it was blue-on-white.) It collided with a Cessna 182 in San Diego in June 1972. N6228T is now assigned to a Kitfox IV in Michigan. The Skylane’s number (N3106S) is now assigned to a Spectrum A22 Valor in Santa Barbara.

Great catch. It definitely was a real ditching but as you rightly determined it was a different Navion than the one at the airport.

I have the Rockford Files on DVD and happened to be watching this episode this evening when I noticed there was a Navion in the episode. My father and grandfather had owned a Navion distributorship after WWII at the downtown Kansas City airport and I always perk up when I see one for real or on TV.

When you go frame by frame, it is clearly once the propeller hits the water it causes part of the aft fuselage to buckle in the center of its registration number on the side.

You can also see the pilot working the elevators hard at impact and after impact to control (as much as that’s possible once hitting the water!) the pitch of the Navion.

Always sad to see one of these at their end, but hopefully was salvaged for parts. They may not have known it then, but they scrapped a highly collectible plane that is the closest one can get to its real life cousin it was based on: P-51 Mustang!

Thanks for posting your thoughts. I had the same reaction and immediately started Googling it!