On December 25, 2009 a passenger on board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 attempted to detonate a small explosive device as the Airbus A330 was descending towards Detroit. The man was subdued and arrested after a safe landing.
What damage would have been caused had the bomb exploded? A BBC Two documentary (“How safe are our Skies? Detroit Flight 253“) wanted to answer that question.
A controlled experiment was carried out using the same amount of the explosive pentaerythritol (or PETN) allegedly carried by the passenger.
All conditions were replicated using a decommissioned Boeing 747 at Kemble, Gloucestershire, England. A video shows the explosion did not rupture the skin of the airplane. Two experts concluded that the quantity of explosive used was nowhere near enough needed to rupture the skin of a passenger plane.
The airplane used in the test was probably a 26-year old Boeing 747-267B(SF) registered N2868R. The airplane had been parked at Kemble as of August 2009 after 25 years of service for Cathay Pacific Airlines as VR-HIH and B-HIH.