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Crash Test Helicopter

Test engineers at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., crashed an old Marine helicopter at the Landing and Impact Research facility. NASA collaborated with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army, and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the full-scale Transport Rotorcraft Airframe Crash Testbed.

The goals of the complex crash-test event are to test aircraft seatbelt safety, to make aircraft safer and aviation accidents more survivable, and ultimately, to enable modern helicopter designs to be used more extensively in public airspace.

The impact test was devised to collect crashworthiness data to help improve aircraft seatbelts and seats. The team of NASA test engineers dropped the 45-foot long military rotorcraft from a height of roughly 30 feet. It reportedly reached a speed of approximately 30 miles per hour (mph) before it hit the ground. This impact condition is considered severe but survivable according to civil and military standards.

Engineers painted a white background with black polka dots over the traditional Marine gray to aid in the full field photogrammetry. High-speed cameras filming at 500 images per second (ips) tracked each dot—each of which represented a data point, enabling NASA researchers to plot how sections of the fuselage buckled, bent, cracked, or collapsed under crash loads.

The fuselage exterior was painted, whereas the interior housed instrumented crash test dummies and uninstrumented mannequins. The former Marine helicopter airframe was outfitted with accelerometers and nearly 40 cameras, both inside and outside the helicopter, to record how 13 crash-test dummies reacted before, during, and after impact. Onboard computers recorded more than 350 channels of data. The Microsoft Xbox Kinect, with its inherent video game-quality motion sensor, was also installed inside the helicopter to track the dummies’ movements.

The test results are expected to enable NASA engineers to improve rotorcraft performance and efficiency, as well as to help assesses the reliability of high-performance, lightweight composite materials. This mil/aero geek enjoys a little destruction and mayhem, as long as its just dummies onboard and the chaos is being recorded in detail for science.

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