Crash Test Dummies Survive Successful NASA Chopper Drop Test
August 29, 2013

Crash Test Dummies Survive Successful NASA Chopper Drop Test

[ Watch the Video: Helicopter Drop test ]

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA's chopper experiment crashed with flying colors, just as expected, giving scientists more data to make a better helicopter.

Engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center crashed an old Marine helicopter loaded down with plenty of technology and 15 dummy occupants to gather data about surviving a helicopter accident. The scientists dropped the helicopter from a height of about 30 feet, from which it picked up enough speed to hit the ground at 30 miles per hour. NASA chose this height because it represented a survivable chopper crash.

"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."

NASA said on Tuesday that this crash test would be one of the most complicated and ambitious aircraft crash experiments the space agency has performed.

The former Marine helicopter was equipped with nearly 40 cameras inside and out, accelerometers and computers that recorded more than 350 channels of data. A separate group of cameras outside the helicopter was focused on black polka dots that covered the entire vehicle. These polka dots represented a data point that will allow researchers to plot out how each area of the chopper reacted to the crash.

"High speed cameras filming at 500 images per second tracked each black dot, so after everything is over, we can plot exactly how the fuselage deformed or reacted under crash loads," said NASA test engineer Justin Littell.

NASA said that the helicopter hit the ground pretty hard, but preliminary observations show that the data collection was good. Engineers will be spending the next few months analyzing the data gathered from this planned crash.

This was the first of two planned Navy-provided helicopter test crashes. A similar helicopter loaded down with other technology will be hitting the ground next summer. NASA will be using the test results of both these tests in order to improve rotorcraft performance and efficiency. They will also use the knowledge obtained from these crashes to design a safer helicopter.

Wednesday's chopper crash included a test to see how improved seats and seatbelts worked out with the dummies on board. The space agency also used a Microsoft Xbox Kinect to help track the movement of the dummies. This instrument is a popular video game accessory that is able to track the motion of a body, working as a remote control. However, the toy has also become a popular tool for engineers to either map environments, or in this case, track a dummies' movement.

"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 space agency said.