Video: NASA Crashes Skyhawks for Science

Researchers test ELT crash activation.

It's one thing to survive a plane crash, but if your emergency locator transmitter is damaged or fails to activate, rescuers might never find you. Studies show that ELTs often fail to send out signals in crashes, so NASA decided to tackle the issue by dropping a Cessna 172 to the concrete from a height of 82 feet at its Landing and Impact Research Facility at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

With crash test dummies strapped into the seats and four ELTs installed on board, researchers are hoping to improve ELT aircraft standards and installations.

For the tests, NASA purchased three older Cessna Skyhawks and equipped with them with brand new ELTs to test whether they'd deploy automatically and resist fire, shock and vibration.

The planes made simulated hard landings from a huge gantry at NASA's Virginia test center, the same facility that has been used recently to drop test helicopters in an effort to improve crash survivability.

The Skyhawk drops were captured by 64 sensors and a some 40 cameras inside and outside the airplanes. According to early results, only one of the four ELTs transmitted within 50 seconds of the crash, though the rest did trigger a short time later.

NASA will now try to figure out why the ELTs performed the way they did, and will follow up with further drop tests later this summer. The goal is to create new standards for ELTs that manufacturers will follow.

If nothing else, the test proves what sort of beating a Skyhawk's landing gear can take. Check it out for yourself.

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