NASA crashes plane to help save lives

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) – NASA crashed a small airplane on purpose Wednesday at its Langley Research Center to test emergency locator transmitters that can help find downed aircraft.

Researchers dropped a Cessna 172 from about 100 feet to simulate a severe plane accident that people could survive.

“Time is of the essence in search and rescue, and NASA is helping us reduce the time it takes for first responders to get on scene,” said Captain Peter Martin, U.S. Coast Guard.

The airplane was equipped with locator transmitters, two crash test dummies and data-collecting sensors. When there is a crash, the transmitters send a location signal to satellites, which then repeat the signal to the nearest search and rescue station.

“The ELT’s are a passive system that sit essentially dormant until a crash event is detected. Then it comes to life and transmits the distress signal to space,” said Chad Stimson, a technical director with NASA.

This is the third and final crash at NASA’s Langley Research Center. The first plane was dropped from about 80 feet onto concrete. The second plane was dropped from 100 feet and crashed nose down into soil.

NASA says dozens of people have helped work on the project, which launched in 2013. Much of their time has been spent behind computers, but astrophysicist Lisa Mazzuca says their final results depend on real-life scenarios.

“Models only get you so far,” said Mazzuca. “You need the real data and then feed it into the models to make them even stronger.”

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