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Engineers Study Safety in Airplane Drop
U.S. National - AP

Engineers Study Safety in Airplane Drop
Wed Jul 30, 8:16 PM ET

By JOHN CURRAN, Associated Press Writer

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. - Engineers dropped a commuter plane containing 23 crash dummies onto a concrete pad Wednesday, hoping to learn enough from the crumpled fuselage to develop new airline safety standards.

More than 250 people crowded onto a grassy knoll to watch the test as a man's voice came over the loudspeaker counting down "Five, four, three, two, one." The plane then fell 14 feet with a loud boom, causing the plane's roof-mounted wings to sink deep into the top of the fuselage.

The $250,000 test is the last of four plane drops conducted by the FAA (news - web sites) at the William J. Hughes Technical Center since 1992. The experiment was aimed at assessing how a commuter plane responds to a severe but survivable crash and using the data to develop energy-absorbent seats, among other things.

The FAA says that in many survivable crashes, loose seat attachments, falling overhead bins and ceiling panels have seriously injured passengers.

The engineers dropped a 32-passenger turboprop similar to those used by regional carriers.

The bright yellow plane, its propellers removed for safety's sake, was equipped with more than 130 sensors inside to measure the acceleration and damage to the fuselage, seats, storage bins and fuel tanks.

In addition, four still cameras mounted inside the plane and nine video cameras outside recorded the drop. Some of the crash dummies were specially instrumented to measure human reaction to the crash.

"It's a very severe test," said Gary Frings, manager of the FAA's Crashworthiness Program. "I think it'll yield good data."

The plane was suspended in air by a cable hanging from a 55-foot tower in preparation for the drop.

Dropping the plane from any higher up would have been pointless because the crash would not have been survivable, negating the need for studying structural damage, Frings said.

The FAA will take six months to gather and analyze the data, and six months after that the agency will issue a report on all four tests, Frings said.

"This will yield information that will save lives in the future," said Rep. Frank LoBiondo (news, bio, voting record), R-N.J., who watched the test.
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