NASA Concludes 172 Crash Tests to Help Save Lives

Third Skyhawk is dropped for ELT research.

NASA's Search and Rescue Mission Office this week conducted the third and final Cessna 172 Skyhawk crash test at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, in its quest to improve the post-crash effectiveness of Emergency Locator Transmitters in severe but survivable crashes. Video clips from several angles show a Skyhawk being dropped from 100 feet carrying two crash test dummies, five ELTs, several cameras and a slew of sensors. As the airplane crashed violently onto the ground it flipped over on its roof and snapped the fuselage in half.

The ELT research began on July 1 with a drop test that had a different Skyhawk crash in a flat attitude onto a concrete surface, simulating an emergency landing on a road. The second test, conducted on July 29, dropped another 172 airframe in a nose down attitude onto a dirt surface. The drop resulted in the airplane flipping over the nose onto the roof. This week's test dropped a third Skyhawk on a dirt surface, though this time the airframe was in a tail-low attitude.

NASA has found that a harder surface produces less damage as it allows the airplane to skid to a stop compared with a softer surface, which produces a more abrupt stop. "So all that force is absorbed by the airframe and the occupants," said Chad Stimson, NASA's Langley Emergency Locator Transmitter Survivability and Reliability project manager after the July 29 crash test. "No one would have walked away from this. They might be alive, but they'd need help right away. In that sense, it's the perfect search and rescue case."

Check out this video showing the third and final test, including views of the crash test dummies inside the cockpit.

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