To most people helicopters and cars are not all that similar.
About the only thing they seem to have in common is that they both carry passengers and cargo.
Yvonne Fuchs, a researcher at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., is the American Helicopter Society's 2008 Robert L. Lichten Award winner.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
But a NASA researcher has found that some computer programs that predict the human body's ability to withstand automobile crashes can also apply to helicopters.
Twenty-eight-year-old Yvonne Fuchs of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., wrote about her conclusions in a technical paper that has received a prestigious award at an international conference in Montreal. Fuchs won the Robert L. Lichten Award from the American Helicopter Society for "Vertical Drop Testing and Analysis of the WASP Helicopter Skid Gear."
Fuchs researches structural dynamics, especially crashworthiness. As part of work for NASA's Subsonic Rotary Wing Project she looked at whether crash test dummy computer models developed for the automotive industry also can be used for rotorcraft.
"Those models were particularly developed for frontal and side impacts of automobiles," said Fuchs. "In helicopter crashes vertical loads or impacts are frequently the biggest concern. The human body is sensitive to those shocks, primarily because of spinal compression."
Fuchs had a chance to see how two anthropomorphic test devices, more commonly known as crash test dummies, reacted in a number vertical drop tests during research for a company developing an ultra-light helicopter.
"HeloWerks came to NASA because it needed to design a new skid landing gear," said Fuchs. "During a test flight a couple of years ago, its WASP experimental helicopter experienced an engine failure that led to a free fall from about 13 feet. On impact the test pilot, who also happened to be the company president, suffered severe back injuries."
The Lichten Award winning paper looked at results from vertical drop tests of a lightweight helicopter skid landing gear.
Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
> View Video (.mov)
The landing gear failed to absorb enough energy on impact. The pilot got a worse jolt than expected. So HeloWerks, also in Hampton, asked Langley to do vertical drop tests on a new skid gear design. "It provided us an opportunity to collect test data from a pure vertical drop," added Fuchs. "Plus it was a very simple platform so we could really focus on the test-analysis correlation."
During the drops sensors inside the crash test dummies recorded what loads the dummies experienced to their heads, chests and pelvises. Fuchs compared those results with occupant computer models developed for cars and trucks.
Her research concluded that automotive developed passenger models can be used in aerospace applications to determine how the human body will respond in a crash, even one that involves a vertical impact.
Fuchs says she was thrilled to win the Lichten Award, which is given to an American Helicopter Society member who has not previously presented research results at any national or international meeting. "I think it's a big honor, not only because it's a two-step process, but also because I thought it was a very tough competition," said the aerospace engineer.
As her prize Fuchs received $500 and presented her paper at the society's 64th Annual Forum. The American Helicopter Society also paid for her airfare, hotel stay and registration to the conference in Montreal.