Posts Tagged research

NASA helicopter crash test is a smash hit

NASA has dropped an an old Boeing Vertol CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter fuselage filled with 15 dummy occupants from a height of about 9m in order to test improved seats and seatbelts and gather data on the odds of surviving a helicopter crash.

Engineers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the US city of Hampton, Virginia, used cables to hoist the aircraft into the air and swing it to the ground, “much like a pendulum”. The cables were separated when it was travelling at about 50km/h, and the body hit the ground hard, researchers say.

“We designed this test to simulate a severe but survivable crash under both civilian and military requirements,” said NASA lead test engineer Martin Annett. “It was amazingly complicated with all the dummies, cameras, instrumentation and the collaborators, but it went well.”

There were 13 instrumented crash-test dummies and two un-instrumented manikins inside, 40 cameras mounted inside and outside the fuselage and onboard computers collecting data from 350 instrumentation points.Researchers used a photographic technique called full field photogrammetry to create the helicopter’s black-and-white-speckled paint job.

“High speed cameras filming at 500 images per second tracked each black dot, so we can plot exactly how the fuselage reacted structurally throughout the test,” said NASA test engineer Justin Littell.

NASA says this was the first of two planned tests using fuselages of the CH-46E Sea Knight – an aircraft which has served the US Navy and Marine Corp since the early 1960s. A similar helicopter equipped with additional technology, including high-performance, lightweight composite airframe retrofits, will be used in a crash test around this time next year. Both are part of the Rotary Wing Project in NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate.

NASA says it will use the results of both tests in efforts to improve rotorcraft performance and efficiency. Researchers also want to increase industry knowledge and create more complete computer models that can be used to design better and safer helicopters.

“The ultimate goal of NASA’s rotary wing research is to help make helicopters and other vertical take-off and landing vehicles more serviceable – able to carry more passengers and cargo – quicker, quieter, safer and greener, and lead to more extensive use in the airspace system,” the agency said in a statement.

Researchers say preliminary observations from the test – which was a collabioration between NASA, the US Navy, US Army and Federal Aviation Administration – indicate good data collection, which will take months to analyse.

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