NASA helicopter crash tests flying airbag

NASA is looking to reduce the deadly impact of helicopter crashes on their pilots and passengers

NASA is looking to reduce the deadly impact of helicopter crashes on their pilots and passengers with what the agency calls a high-tech honeycomb airbag known as a deployable energy absorber.

So in order to test out its technology NASA dropped a small helicopter from a height of 35 feet to see whether its deployable energy absorber made up of an expandable honeycomb cushion called a could handle the stress. The test hit the ground at about 54MPH at a 33 degree angle, what NASA called a relatively severe helicopter crash.

According to NASA researchers the helicopter was dropped from a 240-foot tall structure once used to teach astronauts how to land on the moon on impact. On impact the helicopter's skid landing gear bent outward, but the cushion attached to its belly kept the rotorcraft's bottom from touching the ground. Four crash test dummies along for the ride appeared only a little worse for the wear, the agency stated.

For the test at NASA's Langley Research Center, researchers used an MD-500 helicopter donated by the US Army. The helicopter was equipped with instruments that collected 160 channels of data. One of the four crash test dummies was a special torso model equipped with simulated internal organs. It came from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, NASA stated.

The airbag was created by NASA engineer Sotiris Kellas and the device is made of Kevlar and has a unique flexible hinge design that lets the honeycomb be packaged and remain flat until needed, NASA stated. Kellas initially came up with the idea as a way to cushion the next generation of astronaut-carrying space capsules, but soon realized it had many other possible applications, NASA stated.

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, more than 200 people are injured in helicopter accidents in the United States each year, in part because helicopters fly in riskier conditions than most other aircraft. They fly close to the ground, not far from power lines and other obstacles, and often are used for emergencies, including search and rescue and medical evacuations, NASA stated.

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Michael Cooney

Michael Cooney

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