NASA Conducts Drop Test of Aircraft; Emergency Locator Transmitters Fail

A team of researchers from the Aeronautical Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia recently conducted an 82-foot drop test with an aircraft known as the Cessna Skyhawk. The Cessna aircraft is used strictly for science and it includes four emergency locator transmitters (ELTs).

“The setup for the test was much the same as in drop tests conducted in 2013 and 2014 involving CH-46 helicopters chock full of sensors and crash test dummies, painted in that same polka dot scheme that enhances analysis of images captured by high-speed cameras. Elastic deformation of the fuselage during impact can be studied in detail at leisure through a technique knowns as photogrammetry,” according to AOPA News.

The drop test, which was designed to simulate a controlled emergency landing on a hard surface, begun as the Cessna fell at 72 feet per second onto a concrete pad.

During the test, only one of the ELTs activated within the design specification time of 50 seconds. “The three stragglers did trigger ‘a short time later,’ and the team will take some time to figure out why three of the four took a little extra time,” NASA reported.

“What we found was we needed to study ELTs at the component level first to better understand why the systems fail. Too often they fail to work as expected, in part, because of inadequate performance specifications in several areas including vibration, fire survivability, automatic activation, crash safety and system installation,” Chad Stimson, manager of the research project, added.

NASA plans to conduct future drop tests to help improve ELTS in general aviation aircraft.

To watch the video of the drop test, click here.


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