Test equipment from Diversified Technical Systems (DTS) gives researchers at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., insights during drop tests of a small Cessna aircraft meant to simulate a severe, but ultimately survivable crash. In August, a Cessna 172 plunged 100 ft at 55 mph and hit the ground, flipping over with a brutal, tail-snapping crunch.
The August test was the final crash in a series of three meant to test emergency locator transmitters (ELTs), which are designed to send coordinates to emergency responders after a plane crash, but often fail to signal because of damage sustained during the impact.
Each crash simulated different, but common, crash conditions. The first plane was dropped from about 80 ft and came in at nose level on concrete. The second crashed nose down into soil, while the third was dropped from 100 ft, tail down, into soil.
NASA researchers equipped each plane with five ELTs, two crash test dummies, approximately 40 cameras and DTS test equipment which included 64-channels of TDAS data recorders, a Smart Battery and TDAS Distributor.
The test results will go to the national international committees working on updating ELT specifications. They will make recommendations on how to improve ELT systems and installations.
“It was a pretty severe crash,” said Lisa Mazzuca, NASA’s Search and Rescue mission manager. “That’s the whole idea behind this – severe but survivable. Those two passengers are going to need some help.”
The Cessna was chosen for testing because it is the most common general aviation airframe of all time and research revealed no correlation between ELT performance and any particular aircraft. By dropping the Cessna planes on different surfaces, researchers feel the crash tests come as close as possible to replicating real-world conditions. Plus the five ELT units mounted on the test aircraft work exactly as they would on an airborne aircraft, even transmitting information to satellites.
Currently NASA uses DTS miniature on-board DAS at four different facilities for a variety of dynamic tests including heavy payload and flight testing, aerobrake testing, and on the Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD).