NASA Getting Ready To Crash A Chopper - On Purpose
August 27, 2013

NASA Getting Ready To Crash A Chopper – On Purpose

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA is gearing up for a new experiment where it plans to crash a former Marine helicopter in order to learn a bit more about how the aircraft crash lands.

The space agency said engineers will be dropping a 45-foot long helicopter from about 30 feet above the ground in order to test out the seat belts and seats equipped inside in. It said it is collaborating with the Navy, Army and Federal Aviation Administration for the Transport Rotorcraft Airframe Crash Testbed experiment.

The destruction site will be located at NASA's Langley Landing and Impact Research (LandIR) Facility, which has a 50-year history. The facility started out as the Lunar Landing Research Facility and later become a crash test site where engineers could simulate accidents. Now LandIR hosts Orion space capsule mock-ups.

NASA said the drop test is one of the most complicated and ambitious aircraft crash experiments the space agency has performed. Lead test engineer Martin Annett said the helicopter is equipped with nearly 40 cameras inside and out, some accelerometers, and computers that will be recording more than 350 channels of data.

Another group of cameras will be capturing the event from the outside, honing in on the aircraft's black polka dotted exterior. The former Marine helicopter got a special makeover by technicians to make it more photogenic. Each polka dot on the vehicle represents a data point, and cameras from the outside will be filming the crash at 500 images per second, tracking each dot. Once the dust settles, researchers will be able to plot each area on the helicopter to see exactly how the chopper came to its demise.

The space agency is also using a Microsoft Xbox Kinect, which is a tool many robotics engineers have used to map out environments.

"We want to see if it can be used as an additional instrument to track dummies' movements," said Justin Littell, test engineer.

NASA said the impact will be at about 30 miles an hour, representing a severe but survivable condition under both civilian and military requirements. NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate's Fundamental Aeronautics Program Rotary Wing Project is planning another helicopter crash test next year.

Results from these tests will help improve rotorcraft performance and efficiency, as well as help future engineers design better helicopters.

"The ultimate goal of NASA 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. Improved designs might allow helicopters to be used more extensively in the airspace system," the space agency said.

NASA has been known to have a history of crashing things on purpose. In 2009, NASA sent one of its rockets in for a crash landing on the moon in order to search for the presence of water. Three years later, in 2012, the space agency sent its GRAIL lunar mission probes crashing into the Moon at 3,760 miles per hour after the spacecraft successfully completed their mission.

NASA will stream the crash test August 28 on the Internet live at about 1 p.m. EDT at: