Chopper Crash Test a Smash Hit

The second crash test of a small lightweight helicopter at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., was a smashing success, literally -- just as engineers had predicted.

"Three, two, one, release," said the technician on the loudspeaker at the Landing and Impact Research Facility. With that countdown the helicopter smacked hard into the concrete. Its skid gear collapsed, its windscreen cracked open and its occupants lurched forward violently, suffering potentially spine-crushing injuries according to internal data recorders. The crash test was all in the name of research to try to make helicopters safer.

"The goal of any research program that has an element of impact dynamics is to develop an understanding of the crash response of the vehicle," said Karen Jackson, an aerospace engineer who oversaw the test. "Once we understand that response we can look at ways to improve the crash performance."

In December 2009 researchers dropped the same MD-500 at a similar angle from the same height of 35 feet (10.7 m). Inside were the same instruments that collected 160 channels of data and the same four crash test dummies. Three of the dummies were full bodies and one was a special torso model equipped with simulated internal organs. Technicians set up the same cameras to record the impact from inside and outside the helicopter.