NASA researchers investigate how composite aircraft crash with drop tests


Researchers have recently conducted a drop test using the aft section of a Textron Aviation  Hawker 4000 aircraft at NASA Langley Research Center’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Virginia, USA.

The drop test was performed to generate data that will be used to develop and refine computational models of composite materials undergoing dynamic impact events.

The models will then serve to predict and understand how composite aircraft materials will behave in a crash-like scenario so engineers can continue to improve aircraft safety.

The test also served as a testbed for a variety of structural health monitoring sensors, which were added to the aircraft section to evaluate their performance during an impact event.

The aircraft section was dropped from a height tall enough to induce catastrophic failure in at least part of the section, which is necessary for the computation models.

Justin Littell, principal investigator for the Structural Dynamics Branch at NASA Langley said, “By the looks of the data thus far, we dropped at nearly perfect impact conditions, collected all of the data, and were able to create a large amount of damage and failure in the section – which was our primary objective.”

With the test aligning with researcher’s pre-test prediction, they are now processing the photogrammetry data and planning for another drop test.

“We re-ran some of the aft-section simulation models after looking at the forward model results,” said Littell. “We would like create a similar failure condition on the aft section, so we are going to update the test impact conditions as such.”

Researchers are already planning the next drop-test and hope to repeat their success this month.


Original report published by the NASA Langley Research Center

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