While my dad never attempted to repair anything more complicated than a stapler, I knew plenty of other Area Dads that had long-term project cars in various states of repair. I’m a dad like that now, as is our editor-in-chinos, Rory. They’re a common trope. This one guy, though, Chris Croy, has everybody beat when it comes to dad-vehicular-restoration projects, because his involves a passenger aircraft, and it ends up causing hassles for an airport in India for 24 years. You have to hear his story.
I encountered the story on this Twitter thread, and I absolutely think you should read it, too:
Okay, if you’ve had a chance to read it, let’s just recap what’s going on here: Chris’ dad was an aircraft mechanic in San Diego, and in this small municipal airport near the U.S.-Mexico border was an old 1960s-era Boeing 720 — a version of Boeing’s first real commercial jet airliner, the 707, but modified for shorter-range routes and shorter runways.
The 720 was effectively abandoned at the airport by creepy televangelist Kenneth Copeland, a holy scam artist (who is still trying to get people to buy him private aircraft, by the way).
By 1990, the plane had been sitting for a few years, and that’s when Chris’ dad noticed someone checking the plane out. That someone turned out to be Sam Verma, a non-resident Indian businessman who seems to have a lifelong obsession with flying and aircraft. In fact, he landed a Cessna on an Indian highway back in 2013:
Anyway, long before that highway landing, Verma saw the old Boeing and thought it would be perfect to start a regional airline service in India. He arranged with Chris’ dad to repair the plane enough to make it capable of flying to India so he could start that business.
Now, here’s where it all really gets amazing to me. Chris’ dad took on the repair of this full-sized airliner as a side project, scrounging parts from junkyards, and, as Chris says,
For the next year, when he wasn’t working on the plane he was pestering Boeing engineers for advice and picking through aircraft boneyards for parts.
While Chris’ dad was attempting to make the plane airworthy, his mom was working with the FAA:
Incredibly, the plane was able to make these test flights, and after the test runs into Mexico, Chris’ dad and Sam Verma boarded the “junkyard plane” and set off to fly halfway around the world to India.
Just think about that for a moment: there’s a scrapped plane that has been sitting for years, some dude gets it running in his spare time, and after a couple Tijuana-based short test flights, these two guys decide to fly it to India.
Chris is sort of dismissive of this in his tweets, but, astoundingly, the plane made it to India! I think this is a colossal triumph, a grand victory for old people hammering on shitboxes everywhere.
Well, it just made it, as upon arrival at the Nagpur airport, the plane had engine trouble and made an emergency landing, after which it never flew again.
The plane was shoved off the active runway, but not that far off the runway:
The damn thing sat there for 24 years, just once getting dragged a bit further away from the runway due to pressure from pilot complaints and government regulators:
By 2015, a new airport director finally had the plane actually removed from the airport, and the saga was over.
Of course, it’s possible Chris Croy is making all this up, and his dad had nothing to do with it, and I have reached out to try and get some confirmation.
Chris responded, assured me everything was true but admitted that he wasn’t sure the best way to corroborate all the details, and also informed me that another publication spoke with Sam Verma, who has some disputes with the narrative.
That said, this would be a really, really strange and specific thing to just make up, and all of the parts about the aircraft itself being abandoned check out, so I’m inclined to believe him. Perhaps I just want to believe, but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt — with this hedge, of course.
So the next time you feel like hassling your dad about that old Porsche 914 that’s been up on blocks since 2002 or that Firebird under the tarp for so long it’s completely hidden by tools and scraps of drywall in the garage, remember that at least his unfinished heap hasn’t been pissing off pilots at an Indian airport for almost a quarter century.