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NASA Tests Flying Airbag

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the drop-the-cloud-anchor dept.

NASA 118

coondoggie writes "NASA is looking to reduce the deadly impact of helicopter crashes on their pilots and passengers with what the agency calls a high-tech honeycomb airbag known as a deployable energy absorber. So in order to test out its technology NASA dropped a small helicopter from a height of 35 feet to see whether its deployable energy absorber, made up of an expandable honeycomb cushion, could handle the stress. The test crash hit the ground at about 54MPH at a 33 degree angle, what NASA called a relatively severe helicopter crash."

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118 comments

A flying airbag is whatcha get... (4, Funny)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379806)

... when you strap my mother-in-law to a turbine engine. The rest of the plane is optional.

He'll be here the rest of the week (1)

cruff (171569) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379938)

Isn't he a riot! Stop in often, tell your friends to come!

Re:A flying airbag is whatcha get... (1)

sconeu (64226) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380788)

I was hoping to be the one to put the politician in the cannon to create a "flying airbag".

Wait... that would be a flying douchebag.

Re:A flying airbag is whatcha get... (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381148)

Wait... that would be a flying douchebag.

Especially if it's Hilary Clinton or Sarah Palin?

*ducks*

This is a great development (1)

Jogar the Barbarian (5830) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379812)

One of the main hindrances (the primary hindrance?) to adopting widespread flying cars or other airborne vehicles is safety, and helping to keep people from killing themselves in spectacularly Youtube-worthy ways. The development of an advanced "airbag" like this will really help accelerate the dawn of "highways in the sky", IMO. (Disclaimer: I work for NASA, albeit as an IT geek)

Re:This is a great development (2, Insightful)

thetoadwarrior (1268702) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379908)

I think the bigger problem is what people will run into. I personally do not look forward to some soccer mom flying around in an SUV-like thing near my house.

Re:This is a great development (3, Funny)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380094)

Be the first one on your block to have Personal Interceptor Missiles! Now available with micro-nukes for those neighbors that just won't turn the music down when asked.

Re:This is a great development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30380316)

I think the main hindrance is that air vehicles, while relatively easy to control, are still harder to control than cars. And look how well the average person handles a car.

Re:This is a great development (1)

Billy the Mountain (225541) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382172)

I think the main hindrance is that air vehicles, while relatively easy to control, are still harder to control than cars.

If that is the case then why is it that planes such as UAVs routinely fly themselves, but cars are no where near that level of capability?

Re:This is a great development (2, Insightful)

aXis100 (690904) | more than 4 years ago | (#30383338)

Big sky theory. This of course stops as soon as you fill the air with flying cars.

Re:This is a great development (1)

egburr (141740) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380364)

So, does the airbag deploy during the initial 100+ mph head-on collision 100 feet up in the air, or does it wait for the subsequent collision with the ground 20 seconds later?

The safety issues the would worry me are those of incompetent or incapacitated drivers not following the proper flight paths.

Also, consider how difficult it is to consistently and coherently mark a 2D surface of limited width (roads) and get people to understand and obey those markings; how would you mark a traffic path in the air? The current US air traffic system is already overwhelmed with the current number of airborne vehicles limited to only trained and licensed pilots.

I look forward to the day of public roadways being restricted to only 100% computer-controlled vehicles; that is the only way general use of personal flying cars could possibly function with any semblance of safety.

Re:This is a great development (2, Interesting)

CaptSlaq (1491233) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381526)

Oooh, I am *ALWAYS* hesitant to put that much control into something that would have (effectively) very limited failover capability. Semi-autonomous vehicles in combination with said centralized oversight (eg: malfunction notification of a specific unit that the vehicle's software could try to navigate around) would be the far more sane way to do it, IMO.

Mercedes and BMW are both heavily investing in stuff that will make the autonomous vehicle a reality in a few years. Some things are already making it to the production line as we speak, like automatic brake control (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sensotronic_Brake_Control) and automated parking systems (http://gizmodo.com/196551/lexus-self-parking-car-video-and-review) just to name a couple.

Re:This is a great development (1)

DougF (1117261) | more than 4 years ago | (#30384578)

So, does the airbag deploy during the initial 100+ mph head-on collision 100 feet up in the air, or does it wait for the subsequent collision with the ground 20 seconds later?

What gravity well do you live in that it takes 20 seconds to fall 100ft?

Re:This is a great development (1)

egburr (141740) | more than 4 years ago | (#30385004)

Sorry, I didn't do the math. It was meant as a concept example, not a rigorous proof, How about this instead?

Does the airbag deploy during the initial 100+ mph head-on collision X feet up in the air, or does it wait for the subsequent collision with the ground Y seconds later?

You can fill in the X and Y with appropriate numbers.

Be sure to consider that the vehicles may still have some lift capability remaining after the crash, so the fall may not be at maximum free-fall (accounting for altitude, initial velocities, angle of impact, elasticity of collision, air-resistance, temperature, pressure, humidity, time of day, phase of moon, etc.) velocity.

So, with all that under consideration, does the airbag deploy for the initial collision or does it wait for the subsequent impact with the ground?

Re:This is a great development (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30380644)

I agree; moreover, this is a huge improvement over the failed helicopter ejector seat.

Re:This is a great development (1)

2names (531755) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382272)

failed helicopter ejector seat

Where do you think they got the idea for the Salad Shooter?

Re:This is a great development (1)

Mindwarp (15738) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382614)

Oh you may laugh, but they've been developed and tested! Explosive bolts sever the rotor blades before seat ejection on the Russian designed units, while I believe the American units were downward ejecting.

Re:This is a great development (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382622)

"The development of an advanced "airbag" like this will really help accelerate the dawn of "highways in the sky","

There is no need for energy-wasting mass adoption of light aircraft,and no airbag/drogue chute/etc will solve the problems of midair collisions and running into expensive stuff such as buildings. Most people should not be trusted with an airplane of any sort because they are simple, easily distracted, and not very intelligent.

The best thing about general aviation is the high barrier to entry.

Re:This is a great development (1)

vtcodger (957785) | more than 4 years ago | (#30383242)

***The development of an advanced "airbag" like this will really help accelerate the dawn of "highways in the sky"***

Five car bombs in Baghdad yesterday. 127 dead. 500 Injured. And that's despite checkpoints and vehicle inspections.

You want to try to implement building security in a world with several hundred million flying vehicles that are easily converted to DIY cruise missiles? Think about it. ... Really think about it.

Demolition Man (1)

camperdave (969942) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379814)

I liked the system that they had in Demolition Man. When the car that Sylvester Stallone was driving crashed, it filled with foam. Initially, it came out like shaving cream, but by the time the crash had finished, it was like styrofoam. There are two problems I can see with it. The foam will suffocate you if it solidifies around (or even in) your mouth and nose. Also, it may be difficult to extract yourself from the foam.

Re:Demolition Man (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30379912)

Here's my question, which I also found myself thinking after watching Iron Man. Sure enough, the foam or the super exoskeleton or whatever can protect the outside of your body and the bones from harm when undergoing a sudden deceleration, such as crashing or whatnot, but what about all of the soft things sloshing around inside your body, like your brain, your viscera, etc? Surely they are going to, well, *slosh* around violently upon a sudden stop like that. I think boxers have proved that point very well over the years.
Yes, they are fiction and I treat them accordingly, but such egregious fact-ignoring is a bit scary sometimes.

Re:Demolition Man (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380156)

The advantage of foam is that it spreads the impact out evenly over every square inch of the portion of your body facing the impact. There's still a speed at which hitting something is going to cause internal damage and/or death, but it's EXTREMELY high compared to having the entire impact absorbed over a smaller space (such as a seatbelt, which isn't a lot of square inches of coverage, really, but is sufficient to save your life during a very impressive crash).

Isolate the entire body from relative movement (neck snapping, etc) and spread the impact over all of your body fairly evenly, and you could probably survive an impact at 100MPH or more pretty easily. You'd still probably end up concussed and with some injuries, but the chances of survival are very high.

The "Demolition Man" foam had another cool feature - when it deployed it appeared to be a thick liquid. Meaning it not only spread the impact out over a significant area of your body rather than a thin line like a seatbelt, but had a certain amount of give so it could absorb some of the impact itself. This is the same principle that airbags are based on, except the foam/gel spreads the impact out to the rest of the body, and protects you the effects of decelerating the body but not the head (neck problems).

Re:Demolition Man (1)

gknoy (899301) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380328)

Spreading the impact is great for reducing trauma forces on the outside of your body, but doesn't protect your brain from smashing into your skull when the skull (and your body) decelerates quickly.

Re:Demolition Man (1)

jandoedel (1149947) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380686)

the inside of your skull has cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which has the same role as this foam. The foam should anyway reduce the impact on you head a bit because it's a bit flexible.

Re:Demolition Man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30383764)

What he was saying was the foam starts off squishy, so it decelerates slower than hitting a hard object.
Thus reducing the damage to internal organs even more.

Decelerate by hitting a small solid object into one part of your anatomy decelerating by seatbelt decelerating by upper torso on airbag decelerating by full-body coming into contact with mostly solid body shaped foam decelerating by full-body contact with initially soft material that hardens with time.

Re:Demolition Man (1)

T Murphy (1054674) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380166)

We would need some way to make our bodies act like water and cornstarch, but that probably would induce a whole new set of dangerous problems.

Re:Demolition Man (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30380564)

I, for one, welcome our new thixotropic overlords...

Re:Demolition Man (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380240)

Presumably the foam would be able to decelerate your body over a long enough distance to keep you from being seriously injured. The Iron Man suit simply doesn't have enough room to allow that even with the Stark Industries super-shock-absorbing padding.

Of course in the context of the Iron Man movie, Tony Stark got the mandatory supernatural-durability upgrade that all heroes get even if they supposedly have no supernatural abilities. He survived crashing into the desert in his original suit which had zero padding and would have actually made the landing far more deadly, and then survived rocketing full speed and spine-first into the ceiling.

Re:Demolition Man (1)

FatdogHaiku (978357) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380764)

Indeed, no one like liver puree, less so when it's their liver. If my crashing helicopter was going to deploy an airbag, I'd like it to be one of the pontoon boat sized ones that are used for movie stunt work... Given the volume of one of those and the speed required for useful deployment, I'd be a bit concerned about flying around with all that airbag propellant (it's explosives, really) right under my ass.

Personally, I'd like to see something that locks (or jettisons) the rotor and then deploys a whole craft parachute like BRS [brsparachutes.com] sells for fixed wing aircraft.

Re:Demolition Man (2, Funny)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381596)

Personally, I'd like to see something that locks (or jettisons) the rotor

I'm pretty sure that the poor schmuck watching on the ground would prefer your rotor to lock rather than jettison. Imagine a giant ninja start flying at your head.

Re:Demolition Man (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381394)

Sure enough, the foam or the super exoskeleton or whatever can protect the outside of your body and the bones from harm when undergoing a sudden deceleration, such as crashing or whatnot, but what about all of the soft things sloshing around inside your body, like your brain, your viscera, etc? Surely they are going to, well, *slosh* around violently upon a sudden stop like that.

This does happen, but humans are able to survive such effects of rapid deceleration in car crashes that occur on speeds higher than a typical terminal velocity of a crashing helicopter (if we believe the figure quoted in TFS).

Re:Demolition Man (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381860)

Well if the foam compressed slowly then it could still gradually decelerate you and prevent said sloshing.

No fair! I thought of it first! (1)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379832)

When I was young I used to wonder whether they couldn't wrap people in a stiff rubber like material that would just bounce off the ground if the plane crashed.

Of course, it would take some time to find you after your superball bounced around the country 23 times.

Re:No fair! I thought of it first! (4, Insightful)

goodmanj (234846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380018)

Basic physics: the forces involved in a bouncy collision are *greater* than the forces involved in an identical "smooshy" collision. Why? Because the crash has to not just bring you to a stop, but throw you back away again.

What you want is a smooshy collision that takes place over a long time. Thus, airbags.

Re:No fair! I thought of it first! (2, Insightful)

bertok (226922) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380782)

Basic physics: the forces involved in a bouncy collision are *greater* than the forces involved in an identical "smooshy" collision. Why? Because the crash has to not just bring you to a stop, but throw you back away again.

What you want is a smooshy collision that takes place over a long time. Thus, airbags.

Reminds me of Hollywood physics, where it's the "ground" that kills, not the "stop". The protagonist is always saved by a safety rope, even if it stops him instantly 1m from the ground after a 1000m fall.

Re:No fair! I thought of it first! (1)

jpmorgan (517966) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381670)

Yeah, I'm sure climbers and bungee jumpers never thought of that.

A safety rope DOESN'T stop you instantly. A good safety rope is designed to stretch and absorb much of the energy of your fall, and stop your fall over a comparatively long period of time.

Re:No fair! I thought of it first! (2, Insightful)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382734)

Yeah, I'm sure climbers and bungee jumpers never thought of that.

A safety rope DOESN'T stop you instantly.

But in Hollywood they do. And don't just think ropes, think Spiderman plucking you from the air as you fall (thus not only causing an immediate upward acceleration to break your fall, but a sideways one so you swing away).

Even worse is when the rope instantly stops the person just before they hit the ground, but the rope isn't attached to a harness but around their ankle (so the near-hit is made even more dramatic by it being their *head* that is inches above the ground). With no ankle damage/amputation. And when someone falls off a tall object with a chain wrapped around their neck, they die of suffocation not a broken neck or decapitation (a short fall with a chain could result in suffocation, but I'm talking 30+ feet).

That's Hollywood physics.

A good safety rope is designed to stretch and absorb much of the energy of your fall, and stop your fall over a comparatively long period of time.

More to the point, to be a safety rope in situations where falling is possible, it has to be a dynamic line. Static lines are very dangerous even in short falls.

Not really (1)

celtic_hackr (579828) | more than 4 years ago | (#30384838)

What you really want is something that absorbs the energy of the motion. You want something that collapses slowly, while arresting as much momentum as possible, and then also have a non-deflating portion as a final cushion. An airbag is not going to do this, at least not an airbag in the common understanding. Now an airbag that slowly deflates as you impact it would meet some of this requirement. I think NASA's honeycomb airbag, probably, is something like this. What I'm describing is used by Hollywood stuntmen to break falls.

Bugs Bunny figured this out already. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30384234)

Hasn't the FAA watched Looney Toons? Just when the plane Bugs was in was about to crash, he simply stepped out without a scratch!

And? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30379860)

The thing hit the ground, and what happened? Worst. summary. ever. From nasa: "Engineers say the MD-500 survived relatively intact as a result of the honeycomb cushion. "

Deficient summaries (1)

openfrog (897716) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380444)

"The test crash hit the ground at about 54MPH at a 33 degree angle, what NASA called a relatively severe helicopter crash."

I agree. Unless it hits at 300,000 Km/s, let's say a crash is 'relatively severe'.

Severe Crash? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30379864)

A severe crash from 35 feet? How many helecopters do you know travel at a constant 35 feet? Nasa should try at a more reasonable height

Re:Severe Crash? (3, Insightful)

SBrach (1073190) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379998)

Helicopters can auto-rotate so crashing into the ground at 50-60mph like they say is a pretty severe crash.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381476)

Auto-rotation may not help if you are flying too low and slow. Or if you don't have a good place to land.

Re:Severe Crash? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30384964)

if you are flying too low and slow

Needs more detail, sorry. If you're flying low and slow, crashing won't be so bad, right?

Re:Severe Crash? (2, Interesting)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380096)

how many helicopters are generating zero lift when they hit the ground? What's important is not the height of helicopter crashes, but the speed. I can certainly imagine worse accidents than 53mph at 33 degrees, but I'm willing to take NASA's word for it that this is "relatively severe."

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380388)

how many helicopters are generating zero lift when they hit the ground?

All of them. As a matter of fact, that's one reason why helicopter crashes are so much more often fatal than regular fixed-wing airplane crashes. A plane gets most of its lift from the wing, and the engine merely provides the propulsion (which is needed to reach the speeds at which you get good lift, of course). An airplane that has all engines failing is still airworthy and will still glide to a degree -- quite frequently well enough such as to allow for an emergency landing. As you have seen many times on TV - plane encounters trouble, does an emergency landing on a field, street, river, anything. A helicopter, on the other hand, has no aerodynamic lift whatsoever. It is essentially a brick, held up in the air by sheer brute force. If/when the engine goes, there's not such thing as "gliding" back to the ground. A plane at non-zero speed always has a little lift left as long as there's any part of the lift surfaces (aka wings) still around. A helicopter doesn't have any lift surfaces other than the rotor/engine itself.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380530)

A helicopter produces lift as long as the rotor is spinning, do you think that all helicopter crashes result from main engine or rotor failure?

Helicopter crashes are more deadly than plane crashes because helicopters do more dangerous things, like flying around cities at a couple hundred feet.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

Nadaka (224565) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380536)

wrong.

Unless the rotors are blown off somehow, they will continue to rotate and generate lift at any speed. Meanwhile, a fixed wing aircraft will stall at sufficiently low speeds and the only way to regain lift is to dive towards the ground at high speed, this places a high minimum velocity for fixed wing air crashes under most circumstances.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380546)

Wrong again. You can land a helicopter with a stalled engine. It is called "autorotation" and the parent mentioned it. The blades will continue to rotate and actually act as brakes while providing some lift.

This is why NASA is looking into airbags. People do walk away from helicopter crashes, but the forces are just right around the survivability limit. This is why a cushion makes sense.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381348)

Yeah one killer is their very crap lift/drag ratio. In a fixed wing aircraft you can trade speed for altitude and look for a spot to land. In a helicopter you are going straight down into that junk yard or river, whatever is right below you.

Makes me wonder if a backup engine of sorts could be used to stretch autorotation. Possibly just something to give the rotors more momentum so you can better pull up in ground effect.

There are three helipads on the Yarra river close to where I work. A couple of years ago two people drowned when an engine failed while lifting from one of those pads. If airbags are to be used then you would need to look into ways of either keeping the aircraft afloat or making it easier to egress after a landing on water.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382042)

you should keep reading http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autorotation_(helicopter) [wikipedia.org] Helicopter has the same capability of forward controlled flight with Auto-rotation, assuming you can still have control of the blade pitch, except it also has the additional ability of going straight down slowly, a plane doesn't.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 4 years ago | (#30383944)

Hmmm. Interesting.

Several factors affect the rate of descent in autorotation; density altitude, gross weight, rotor rpm, and airspeed. The pilot's primary control of the rate of descent is airspeed. Higher or lower airspeeds are obtained with the cyclic pitch control just as in normal flight. Rate of descent is high at zero airspeed and decreases to a minimum at approximately 50 to 60 knots, depending upon the particular helicopter and the factors previously mentioned. As the airspeed increases beyond that which gives minimum rate of descent, the rate of descent increases again.

...I expected the best sink rate to be at zero forward speed, which would make vertical landings easy. But if the rate of descent increases at low forward speed you might have to touch down with forward velocity, which doesn't sound good in a helo.

Re:Severe Crash? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30382202)

Looking at it, this airbag appears to be made for severe (controlled) crashes. Where the pilot still has some control of the helicopter, but the aircraft is outside the flight envelope for a successful autorotation landing (too low and/or slow). Or perhaps for those pilots still not experienced enough to judge when to flare the autorotation for a safe landing. (Weather and other factors can make it trickier too, just because a pilot qualifies on it - doesn't mean situations are ideal when the need to do an autorotation landing happens.)

If they can package it in a way that's relatively clean on the airframe, I'm sure most helicopter pilots would appreciate this extra little bit of protection.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

SoupIsGoodFood_42 (521389) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381600)

That depends on if you screw up the landing during an auto-rotation. Which may be beyond your control if you have limited landing sites. No point in keeping enough energy for a smooth landing if doing so will set you down on a forest canopy.

Re:Severe Crash? (2, Funny)

ratsbane (1363433) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380288)

[sigh] Yes, but any helicopter that crashes from ABOVE 35 feet must also travel THROUGH 35 feet, thus a 35-foot test elevation should substitute for most helicopter crashes. One could certainly argue that a 5-foot test would effectively sample more scenarios than a 35-foot test, so perhaps they should test based upon that height instead. When will science learn that if you just use the right logic no one has to die.

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380386)

At 5 feet, the helicopter wouldn't reach the impact speed of a 35 foot helicopter crash. It also may be the case that most crashes below 35 feet tend to be less serious... and anything past 35 feet is going to kill you regardles

Re:Severe Crash? (1)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380696)

How was this modded "insightful" instead of "funny"? A 35 foot test only substitutes for greater height tests if in falling from a greater height, the helicopter pauses at 35 feet before continuing on to it's doom... as far as 33 mph, it's possible they accelerated it horizontally before they dropped it; they're simulating an auto-rotating 'copter coming in hard, not a 'copter falling from the sky like a brick.

From heights of 36 feet and greater (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30379878)

This tech acts as a convenient container for your corpse.

This is the only thing keeping me... (3, Informative)

TheModelEskimo (968202) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379958)

...from becoming a helicopter pilot. In fact, just last night my wife said, "sure honey, you can become a pilot just as soon as they invent the deployable energy absorber."

C'MON NASA!!!

NASA Tests Flying Airbag (0, Flamebait)

MonsterTrimble (1205334) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379962)

Catapult + Glenn Beck

The joke that keeps giving. . . (1)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380860)

Yeah, that headline is the joke that keeps on giving. Just insert your favorite talking head: Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, or whoever. . . the list goes on and on - and that's just the U.S. I'm sure people in any country on Earth can find someone to insert into the punchline.

Re:The joke that keeps giving. . . (1)

mjwx (966435) | more than 4 years ago | (#30384518)

Yeah, that headline is the joke that keeps on giving. Just insert your favorite talking head: Michael Moore, Rush Limbaugh, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly... the list goes on and on - and that's just the U.S. I'm sure people in any country on Earth can find someone to insert into the punchline.

We don't normally let people like this onto TV and give them an audience, we usually stick them into mental institutions and ignore them.

Sorry but this problem is fairly unique to America, singed ROTW.

how often would this actually help? (1)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 4 years ago | (#30379988)

I can't say I've studied helicopter accidents very much, but every one that I've seen video of involved a main rotor or tail rotor failure. The airbag seems like a good idea if the craft can autorotate down to the ground, but if the rotors are compromised you probably aren't going to hit belly first.

Perhaps there is a selection effect? I wouldn't likely see many successful autorotate landings of helicopters since they aren't sensational enough to make it onto the nightly news.

Re:how often would this actually help? (2, Informative)

slinches (1540051) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380258)

every one that I've seen video of involved a main rotor or tail rotor failure

The more spectacular helicopter crashes happen this way, but loss of power events are more common. The most severe of these occur at low altitudes as there isn't enough time to successfully autorotate. So this type of device should improve survivability in the most common crash/hard landing scenarios.

Re:how often would this actually help? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30380592)

Successful autos are actually quite common, more common than unsuccessful ones. There've been several in Hawaii this year, no injuries.

Re:how often would this actually help? (1)

fred fleenblat (463628) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381800)

That's funny, the only time I've been on board a helicopter was with BH. I was blissfully unaware of their recent unscheduled landings until you mentioned it. But the flight I was on was awesome and we had no problems.

Re:how often would this actually help? (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382654)

Autorotation after damage in combat is common. The air bag is a natural safety measure for helos at low height with little/no forward speed over a landing zone.

Well... what happened?!? (1)

Ponteaus (1485065) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380148)

TFS didn't mention it, but the helicopter and "passengers" (excluding the skids) survived the crash.

Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physics (0)

Trecares (416205) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380214)

The physics for this does not work out. They can't hit 54 MPH in the space of 35 feet when being dropped with earth's gravity. They'd need to drop it from almost 100 feet to attain that, ignoring wind friction of course. I hesitate to wonder what a networking journal is doing reporting on NASA's activities, especially given the apparent lack of background expertise.

Trecares

Re:Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physi (1)

BarefootClown (267581) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380376)

The fact that it hit at a 33* angle suggests that the 54MPH was either groundspeed or total impact velocity, not just the vertical component.

Re:Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physi (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30380624)

Perhaps you need to go back and study some more physics. In earth gravity of 32ft/s^2 it would take about 2 seconds to hit the ground from 35 feet falling straight down. 2 seconds of earth acceleration has you moving at 64ft/s, which is just over 43mph. Even the lackluster summary states the impact was at 33 degrees, which implies the helicopter was guided in along a slope, rather than being dropped. So using a bit of trig, 35ft/Sine(33) = 64.26ft is the length of slope the helicopter descended, at 33 degrees to the ground, to impact at 54mph, which would then imply that it was actually falling slower than gravitational pull would account for, largely due to the friction of the guide cable. This is likely the same rig used to test reentry mechanisms for many other NASA vehicles, which has the ability to vary impact angle, while maintaining repeatability between each test in a given configuration.

Re:Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physi (1)

oldfield (536750) | more than 4 years ago | (#30383962)

Uhh, physics troll? h = gt^2/2; t = sqrt(2h/g); v = gt = g(sqrt(2h/g)) = sqrt(2gh) = 47 feet per sec = 32 mph. Not sure yet how you get more energy out of an inclined plane, but work it. Anyway, http://www.nasa.gov/topics/aeronautics/features/helo-droptest.html [nasa.gov] says: "We crash-tested the helicopter by suspending it about 35 feet (10.7 m) into the air using cables. Then, as it swung to the ground, we used pyrotechnics to remove the cables just before the helicopter hit so that it reacted like it would in a real accident," she explained. The test conditions imitated what would be a relatively severe helicopter crash. The flight path angle was about 33 degrees and the combined forward and vertical speeds were about 48 feet per second or 33 miles per hour (14.6 meters per second, 53.1 kph).

Re:Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physi (1)

Iron Condor (964856) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380668)

It's close enough to the free-fall velocity in vacuum in km per hour, that I'm suspecting that someone at Networkworld just wasn't paying attention to units. Unfortunately NASA has been hobbled by all kinds of external contractors/suppliers/manufacturers/operators and, apparently, reporters who just aren't quite bright enough to get metric units. Of course any article about anything that NASA supposedly does/did/said that doesn't come with a link to an official souce might as well be considered a fabrication. There's certainly enough of those around on the net.

Re:Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physi (4, Funny)

19thNervousBreakdown (768619) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380680)

Just put weights in it, duh.

Re:Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physi (1)

StikyPad (445176) | more than 4 years ago | (#30382748)

Funny, but adding weight *would* increase the energy of the impact as an alternative to going faster. But as others have said, 54MPH is apparently appropriate for simulating a severe crash.

Re:Apparently NASA does not obey the laws of physi (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30381466)

Try holding a ball in your hand and then drop it at a 33 degree angle.

Having trouble? Now try throwing it to get the desired angle.

It's going faster now, isn't it?

Obviously they had to do the same with the helicopter.

On a related note (2, Funny)

muncadunc (1679192) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380228)

On a related note, I think final car safety tests should be performed with the CEOs of the car company inside the car.

Re:On a related note (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380604)

On a related note, I think final car safety tests should be performed with the CEOs of the car company inside the car.

The inadequate suspension of the Chevy Corvair killed one of a Cadillac General Managers sons (pretty sure that was Cal Verner)... Didn't help as much as you'd think, still all spin and coverup.

Re:On a related note (1)

aurelianito (684162) | more than 4 years ago | (#30383778)

On a related note, I think final car safety tests should be performed with the CEOs of the car company inside the car.

When romans inaugurated their bridges, the architect was below them. They lasted two thousand years.

NASA Stated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30380346)

Who stated that comment? Oh ya, NASA stated it.

Video (3, Informative)

e4g4 (533831) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380412)

This site has a video [nasa.gov] and some more information.

I hope they make it deployable (1)

yabos (719499) | more than 4 years ago | (#30380940)

Hopefully they find a way to make that deployable since I doubt anyone is going to put big blocks on the bottom of the helicopter that increase airframe drag.

33 mph, not 53 mph (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30380722)

From the article:
"The test conditions imitated what would be a relatively severe helicopter crash. The flight path angle was about 33 degrees and the combined forward and vertical speeds were about 48 feet per second or 33 miles per hour (14.6 meters per second, 53.1 kph)"

Image (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30381700)

Why does clicking on the image lead to an image that is the exact same size? Really annoying and last thing I'd expect on a techie site.

Somewhat pointless (1)

Eil (82413) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381804)

I'm all for using science and research to improve safety, but this seems a little pointless to me. All helicopter crashes can be generally lumped into two categories: those in which control is lost at a relatively high altitude, and those in which control is lost only a short
distance from the ground.

In the former case, no one survives. Once a helicopter pilot loses control of the machine, it has all the aerodynamics of a grand piano and will collide with the ground with much the same effect.

In the latter case, the biggest threat to life and safety isn't the collision with the ground, it's the two giant rotors spinning at an ungodly rate. In a crash, the rotors inevitably strike the ground or a nearby structure and cause all manner of high-velocity objects, material, shrapnel, as well as the rotor blades themselves, to go flying in all directions.

This flying airbag is only going to be of much help in only the best-case crashes where the bird is only a short distance from the ground, perfectly level, and a good distance away from any structures. Go watch some YouTube videos of helicopter crashes. Those kinds of videos completely cured me of wanting to be a helicopter pilot some day. There are lots of ways a pilot can survive even the most severe problem with a normal airplane. In a helicopter, even the slightest mistake can kill you and a lot of other people before you even realize a mistake has been made.

Re:Somewhat pointless (1)

aXis100 (690904) | more than 4 years ago | (#30383234)

Helicopers can regain quite a bit of control and actually perform a propper landing if they loose power high enough. They can dive and autogyro to get the rotors spinning, then level out at the last second for an emergency landing.

Not something I'd want to experience though.

The issue with air crashes... (1)

SeeSp0tRun (1270464) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381806)

As some know, cars are well equipped with something that is called a crumple zone. Airbags keep your seatbelt from breaking your neck, but the crumple zone is what absorbs most of the force of the crash. See this video [youtube.com] for why your crumple zones make a big difference over the air bags.

"Relatively Intact"? (3, Informative)

trygstad (815846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30381876)

I really don't know what the heck they mean by "Relatively Intact". In my 3300+ hours of piloting helicopters the only valid criteria was "Could you walk away from it?" That's the standard pilots (and I assume passengers) really care about.

Where's the kaboom? (1)

Psaakyrn (838406) | more than 4 years ago | (#30383418)

It's not proper collisions testing unless MythBusters does it. Preferably with big explosions somewhere in the process.

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