Controlled Impact Demonstration (CID)
In a typical aircraft crash, fuel spilled from ruptured fuel tanks forms a fine mist that can be ignited by a number of sources at the crash site. In 1984 the NASA Dryden Flight Research Facility (after 1994 a full-fledged Center again) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) teamed-up in a unique flight experiment called the Controlled Impact Demonstration (CID), to test crash a Boeing 720 aircraft using standard fuel with an additive designed to surpress fire. The additive, FM-9, a high-molecular-weight long-chain polymer, when blended with Jet-A fuel had demonstrated the capability to inhibit ignition and flame propagation of the released fuel in simulated crash tests.
This anti-misting kerosene (AMK) cannot be introduced directly into a gas turbine engine due to several possible problems such as clogging of filters. The AMK must be restored to almost Jet-A before being introduced into the engine for burning. This restoration is called “degradation” and was accomplished on the B-720 using a device called a “degrader.” Each of the four Pratt & Whitney JT3C-7 engines had a “degrader” built and installed by General Electric (GE) to break down and return the AMK to near Jet-A quality.
In addition to the AMK research the NASA Langley Research Center was involved in a structural loads measurement experiment, which included having instrumented dummies filling the seats in the passenger compartment. Before the final flight on December 1, 1984, more than four years of effort passed trying to set-up final impact conditions considered survivable by the FAA. During those years while 14 flights with crews were flown the following major efforts were underway: NASA Dryden developed the remote piloting techniques necessary for the B-720 to fly as a drone aircraft; General Electric installed and tested four degraders (one on each engine); and the FAA refined AMK (blending, testing, and fueling a full-size aircraft). The 15 flights had 15 takeoffs, 14 landings and a larger number of approaches to about 150 feet above the prepared crash site under remote control. These flight were used to introduce AMK one step at a time into some of the fuel tanks and engines while monitoring the performance of the engines. On the final flight (No. 15) with no crew, all fuel tanks were filled with a total of 76,000 pounds of AMK and the remotely-piloted aircraft landed on Rogers Dry Lakebed in an area prepared with posts to test the effectiveness of the AMK in a controlled impact.
The CID, which some wags called the Crash in the Desert, was spectacular with a large fireball enveloping and burning the B-720 aircraft. From the standpoint of AMK the test was a major set-back, but for NASA Langley, the data collected on crashworthiness was deemed successful and just as important.