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Crash Test: NASA Tests ELTs Through Simulated Accident

By Juliet Van Wagenen | August 24, 2015
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[Avionics Today 08-24-2015] Using a Cessna 172 dropped from a height of 100 feet, NASA’s Search and Rescue Mission Office will simulate a severe but survivable plane accident Wednesday, Aug. 26 to test Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELTs). The test will take place at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., where a research team has equipped the vintage 1974 airplane with five ELTs, two crash test dummies, cameras, and data-collecting sensors.

NASA’s second crash test involving a Cessna 172 to test ELTs
NASA’s second crash test involving a Cessna 172 to test ELTs. Photo: NASA

Emergency locator transmitters are installed on general aviation and commercial planes to transmit a location signal in the event of a crash. Current ELT models send that signal to orbiting satellites, which repeat it to the nearest search and rescue ground station. The signal is used to determine and transmit the ELT’s identity and location to rescuers. ELTs have to work in the extreme circumstances involved in an airplane crash, such as excessive vibration, fire and impact damage. NASA research is designed to find practical ways to improve ELT system performance and robustness.

This is the last of three crash tests of three different Cessna 172 aircraft. Each of the three tests simulate different, but common, crash conditions. The first plane was dropped from about 80 feet and came in at nose level on concrete. The second was hauled up to 100 feet and crashed nose down into soil, and the third is planned to come in from 100 feet, tail down, into soil.

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