Son of pilot reveals story behind mysterious abandoned plane at Nagpur Airport in India

The plane has been the subject of many photos and stories over the years.
The plane has been the subject of many photos and stories over the years. Photo credit: Creative Commons/Google Maps

The son of the pilot behind a mysterious plane parked beside the runway of an airport in India has finally revealed the story of how it came to be there. 

For decades, an abandoned Boeing 720 sat untouched and unloved in the grass of Nagpur Airport. 

Some may have thought it was wreckage from a crash, or just an aircraft in very, very long storage.

But the backstory was revealed by Chris Croy on Twitter on Wednesday (NZ time).

The aircraft was a Boeing 720, an aircraft manufactured in the 1950s. It had four engines and could carry around 130 passengers - slightly longer than the current Boeing 737.

Croy's dad, who was an airplane mechanic, spotted the aircraft sitting at Brown Field Municipal Airport in San Diego.

Its previous owner, Kenneth Copeland had left it there years before and it had been sitting there untouched ever since.

An Indian tire magnate named Sam Veder asked Croy's dad if the aircraft could ever fly again.

His dad said yes, he could get the thing back in the air.

"The 29-year-old plane wasn't commercially viable in the US, but India's another story. All they had to do was get it there," Croy said.

"A normal dad might have an old muscle car he tinkers with on the weekend, but -my- dad had a Being 720. 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."

Fellow engineers constantly told Croy's father he was wasting his time. They said the aircraft would never fly again, and even if it physically could, legally there was no way.

Croy said while his dad was fixing the plane, his mum was filing paperwork with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). 

"They just needed to fly across the border to Tijuana to complete the test flights. The FAA agreed - on the condition that the plane climb north to 14,000 feet before turning south to Tijuana."

The aircraft was then put to test in Tijuana to make sure the aircraft was capable of flying the thousands of kilometres to India.

"My dad's junkyard jet embarked for India with my dad and Sam Veder on board. If Sam was going to die, then the mechanic who 'fixed' it was going to die with him," Croy said.

The aircraft did make it to India, but not to its intended destination.

"They encountered engine problems on the maiden flight from Delhi and had to do an emergency landing at Nagpur airport, where it would live for the following 24 years.

It was originally towed 300 feet away from the runway, far too close for aviation regulators, but there it sat for many years.

"According to the airport, Sam Veder was a broke bi*ch, owed them rent, and needed to move the plane," Croy said.

"Sam said he had a plan to at least move the plane immediately, but the airport wouldn't give him access to the plane, so they're like a landlord that locked a tenant inside." 

As time went on, Veder retired and moved on, but the plane didn't.

Cory says it was in 2011 that the government told the airport to "move the damn plane" or the airport would be stripped of its license.

To fix the problem, the aircraft was dragged across the ground just a few extra hundreds of feet from the runway, in order  to meet regulations.

A final solution came in 2015 when new airport management had the plane's tyres changed and then simply towed it to the nearby flying club. The most simple of solutions, decades after the problem began.

"The new airport director decided to solve it, changed the tires, and got rid of the plane in half an hour," Croy said.