The Discovery Channel’s Curiosity Show ran an episode last week titled “Plane Crash” that gave viewers a look inside one of the most spectacular safety experiments ever conducted into the survivability of aircraft crashes.
A remotely-controlled Boeing 727, turned into a giant flying laboratory, was purposely flown into the ground at a remote Mexican desert test site to study the results on the aircraft and dozens of heavily wired test dummies seated in the cabin. The safety experiment’s goal was, just as in automobile crash testing, to better learn how to make airliners more survivable for passengers and crew during a crash. Sensors and cameras, in addition to the dummies, located throughout the airplane captured the severity of forces unleashed in accidents.
An airliner test like this has been staged only once before when NASA crashed a Boeing 720 in 1984 to gather data on the usability of a new fuel additive. The test was not successful when the aircraft was engulfed in flames half a second after impact. (Fitz Fulton, the pilot of that remote-controlled flight, believes that the test was a success, because it proved that the fuel additive didn’t work.)
The Discovery Channel show highlights four years of planning that asked questions like whether bracing passengers before impact really has any positive effect. Or, contrary to what aircraft manufacturers say, does the seat a passenger chooses make any difference in an accident? Sensors also highlighted which onboard locations experienced the greatest forces during a crash. The rebroadcast schedule for “Plane Crash” has not yet been released.