NASA Intentionally Crashes Helicopter

Approximately 35,000 people witnessed the crash of an old Marine CH-46E helicopter as it happened Wednesday afternoon, but most didn’t come away with the emotions such an event typically evokes. That’s because Wednesday’s crash was intentional — put on by NASA as an experiment to test the safety of new seats and seatbelts while collecting other crash data.

The test took place at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and was broadcast live on the web, where tens of thousands tuned in to see the event. To conduct the experiment, researchers took the 45-foot-long fuselage of the CH-46E and dropped it into a bed of soil from about 30 feet to simulate a serious yet survivable crash. The helicopter, which was filled with 13 crash dummies, was dropped at a speed of about 30 miles per hour.

NASA equipped the helicopter with almost 40 cameras and collected data from over 350 different channels during the drop. The helicopter was also painted in a unique black and white dot scheme, with the dots representing data points. According to NASA, cameras captured 500 images per second and tracked each individual black dot, providing integral data to assist the agency in its next task of evaluating exactly how the crash played out.

Researchers say that process could take several months, and will be integral to the project’s ultimate goal of furthering the development of safer helicopter designs.

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