An Aircraft Accident Prize

In Ashburn, Virginia, the National Transportation Safety Board Academy sits just north and east of the George Washington University Virginia campus. The Academy is a state-of-the-art learning center that presents lessons of accident investigation, mostly aimed at Aviation. There are impressive classrooms and conference rooms that enable students from every country to learn the techniques of accident investigation from the professionals themselves that sort and sift through wreckage regularly.
Before I left the NTSB, I taught at this facility twice. It really was impressive and allowed me to teach to a large audience. The labs allow lessons in structural testing, systems detail, and proper on-site procedures in the correct ways to handle wreckage. Outside you can ‘reconstruct’ an accident from the boneyard. But most notably is the TWA800 reconstruction inside the hangar. It is … disturbing.
When you first see it, you are in awe of the tragedy that still lingers like a shroud. The structure is a near complete rebuild of 93 feet of the fuselage, including wing roots. The website advertises that it has ‘been used to train hundreds of investigators’, focusing on the fuel tanks in the center of the aircraft because it was there – and only there – that things went horribly wrong. What is the other seventy feet of the aircraft there for?
I understand the fascination seeing this icon of air disasters; it’s as if viewing the Hindenburg or the Titanic up close. It’s a reminder of the lives lost. But now it’s just morbid. The excess fuselage doesn’t teach us anything. It sits in the hangar as a testament to misplaced arrogance; a shining example of just because we could do a thing, doesn’t mean we should do a thing.
Does the NTSB think the victims’ families are glad that their loved ones died in a vehicle on display for all to see, their loss naked, grief disregarded, feelings ignored? After all isn’t one of the reasons that the NTSB does what it does is to allow closure; allow the dead to be buried?
It’s time to take the structure down.

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