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NASA to Test Emergency Locator Transmitters by Crashing Airplane


Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman

NASA’s Search and Rescue Mission Office, at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, will test emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) Wednesday, Aug. 26 by simulating a severe but survivable plane accident using this 1974 Cessna 172.

Operating a Cessna 172 dropped from a height of 100 feet, NASA’s Search and Rescue Mission Office will reproduce a brutal but survivable plane accident Wednesday, Aug. 26 to check emergency locator transmitters (ELTs). NASA Television will air live coverage of the experiment, which is programmed to happen between 1 and 2 p.m. EDT. The test will take place at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where an examination team has equipped the classic 1974 airplane with 5 ELTs, cameras, two crash test dummies and data-collecting sensors. Emergency locator transmitters are mounted on conventional aviation and commercial planes to transmit a position signal in the occurrence of a crash. Modern ELT models send that signal to orbiting satellites, which repeat it to the closest search and rescue ground base. The signal is handled to determine and communicate the ELT’s identity and location to rescuers. ELTs have to work in the dangerous circumstances involved in an airplane accident. Comprised in those extreme conditions are the potentials of extreme vibration, fire and crash damage. NASA study is designed to find viable ways to improve ELT system performance and robustness, offering rescue workers the best opportunity of saving lives. This is the last of 3 crash tests of 3 distinct Cessna 172 aircraft. Each of the 3 tests simulates distinctive, but common, crash conditions. The 1st plane was dropped from about 80 feet and it came in at nose level on concrete. The 2nd was hauled up to 100 feet and crashed nose down into soil, and the 3rd is scheduled to come in from 100 feet, tail down, into soil. These researches are funded by the Search and Rescue Mission Office at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
Media interested covering the crash test should contact Kathy Barnstorff at 757-864-9886 or kathy.barnstorff@nasa.gov, no later than 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 25, and arrive at the Langley gate at 2 Langley Blvd. by 12:15 p.m., Aug 26. In the event of bad weather, the test will be rescheduled.

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