Thursday, December 10, 2009

Airbags for helicopters?

NASA has dropped a helicopter fuselage onto protective airbags in an attempt to develop a system that will protect occupants from serious injury. Popular Science reports:

NASA dropped a donated Army MD-500 carrying four crash test dummies from 35 feet, to determine whether a new honeycomb cushion made of Kevlar strapped to the bottom of the copter could absorb the brunt of the impact.

. . .

The helicopter swung by cables from a 240-foot-tall structure once used to teach moon-bound astronauts how to delicately impact the lunar surface. As it approached the ground at a 33-degree angle, pyrotechnics were used to sever the guide cables so the aircraft would impact and react as though in a real crash. All said, the impact simulated a crash landing at about 33 miles per hour vertical speed.

Aside from the test dummies -- one of which contained simulated organs within its torso -- the aircraft was fitted with instruments recording 160 different channels of data. While all that data still needs to be crunched and compared, the initial outlook appears to be good. As for the dummies, NASA said they appeared "only a little worse for wear."

The honeycomb cushion was developed as a way to protect the next generation of spacecraft, but NASA quickly realized it could just as well save the lives of aerial travelers here on Earth.

There's more at the link.

Here's a short video of the crash-landing.

That's pretty impressive! I've seen a few (military) helicopter crashes, and believe me, after a 33 mph impact, they're normally not as well preserved as that one - to say nothing of the occupants! If this technology can be perfected, it'll be a blessing for those who fly in whirlybirds.



Anonymous said...

Posh, helicopters don't fly, they shake so bad the Earth runs away.

As for this on commercial helos, it would be a matter of an engineered design for each type, an STC, and all the work and downtime to fit it. So I don't think it is practical for existing designs, but I can see the appeal of it for new aircraft.


Anonymous said...

Cool video. I had a chance to visit the facility around the time they were testing the landing bags on Orion. Cool place with an interesting history. It was originally the Lunar Landing Test Facility and was one of the methods used to train astronauts for landing on the moon. A full-scale LM mockup was suspended from the gantry and it was lowered onto a simulated lunar surface on cables in response to signals from the pilot. After the end of the Apollo program, it was converted to its current use, testing the safety of various planes (and the occasional spacecraft).