At least 100 NASA employees and their families gathered outside the Landing and Impact Research Facility at NASA Langley in Hampton to see the crash test of the Fokker F-28 on Thursday.
“If we can better understand what happens when airplanes crash by conducting these controlled experiment, we can make them safer,” Martin Annett, structural dynamics branch head for NASA, wrote in an prepared statement.
The crash test is to help establish new guidelines or “crashworthiness” of passenger aircraft — by covering the entire plane more than 8,000 1-inch black dots which are tracked by more than 15 image capturing devices including cameras, cam-recorders and GoPros.
“Tracking cameras will track each dot and then will process the motion of each dot post test such that the positions and ultimately deformation of the aircraft at each dot locations can be compute. Once all dot locations are computed, the entirely of the airframe deformation can be displayed and examined,” Annett said.
NASA Langley Research Center, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Army and the National Transportation Safety Board each contributed to the crash test. NASA supplied the aircraft, which was bought from Canadian Regional Airlines in 2001. The Army and the FAA provided the Anthropomorphic Test Devices or crash dummies and the NTSB conducted pre and post 3D scans of the aircraft.
The retired passenger plane was sitting at the LandIR for 19 years because of lack of funding for the crash test, the government furlough and the facility schedule, Annett said.
The ARAC submitted recommendations for passenger aircraft improvement to the FAA on Sept. 20, 2018.
The Fokker F-28 had 24 dummies, about half to 95 percent of which were males weighing anywhere from 170-250 pounds, five percent female dummies weighing 120 pounds and a couple smaller dummies representing children ages 3, 6 and 10 years old. In addition, the aircraft is equipped with foam luggage, real passenger seats and carseats making the total weight of the aircraft about 33,083 pounds.
The aircraft was dropped from 106 feet.
The test lasted a few seconds but cost the Federal Aviation Administration $500,000.
When asked if the test had anything to do with the Boeing aircraft plane crashes in recent years, Tammy Jones, spokeswoman for the FAA said the organization planned this particular test years ago, before the plane crashes.
This isn’t the first time NASA has conducted crash tests at the LandIR site. Built for operations in the mid-1960s, the research testing facility tested spacecraft, military assemblies, race cars and fuel systems, Annett said.