NASA uses dummies for maximum impact


The high-wing light aircraft on a test rig performs a hard landing, rolls onto its nose, crumples and overturns. The necks of the two ‘occupants’ flex and twist; were they human, they would probably have been dead in less than half a second.

But they’re crash test dummies at NASA’s Langley Research Center, and a new ‘Life at the Lab’ video gives a glimpse of the centre’s impact testing of aircraft and spacecraft.

Many of the experiments involve the use of crash-test dummies, similar to those used by car safety designers. NASA’s dummies are packed with sensors that provide engineers with a large amount of data from each impact test.

Martin Annett, a structural impact dynamics engineer at the centre, says, ‘Everything that you want to know about injury occurs anywhere from one-tenth to four-tenths of a second … we have to be able to capture a lot of data within that time-frame.’

Miniaturisation means that the instrumentation to record the data now fits into the back of a dummy’s head. The data is evaluated and used to improve, for example, the design of aerospace suits and helmets.

One of the clips shows the cross-section of a passenger-laden aircraft fuselage hitting the ground from a vertical drop. Annett describes the importance of energy-absorbing seats in such a scenario, with tests allowing the team to learn about the likely effect of such an impact on humans.