NASA researchers intentionally dropped a helicopter fuselage packed with 13 crash test dummies on Wednesday (Aug. 28) to collect data intended to improve aircraft safety.
Around 1:15 pm ET, the chopper body was hoisted 30 feet (9 meters) into the air by cables attached to a huge gantry at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. About 10 minutes later, the fuselage was dropped, and it slammed into the ground with a thud.
NASA officials said earlier week that the airframe would hit the ground at 30 mph (48 km/h). [Photos: NASA Conducts Crash Test of Chopper Body]
To monitor how the vehicle and the dummies handled the impact, the researchers had installed a suite of cameras and sensors inside and outside the helicopter, including an Xbox Kinect, a motion-sensing device used to play video games.
The test was supposed to mimic a survivable crash scenario, and the data collected will help researchers improve safety features like seat belts.
The airframe used in the test once belonged to a CH-46 Sea Knight used by the U.S. Marine Corps. One side of it was painted white with black polka dots, though not for aesthetic reasons. In pictures taken on the ground, those dots will act as data points so that the researchers can reconstruct the crash to see just how the chopper's body bent and broke when it hit the ground.
Though the crash is instantaneous, these tests can take years to plan. The researchers say they are planning a 2014 crash test of a similar helicopter outfitted with additional materials, such as composite airframe retrofits. The tests are being conducted under the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Fundamental Aeronautics Program Rotary Wing Project, which aims to improve the performance, safety and efficiency of rotorcraft.
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