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NASA, USAARL crash helicopter to improve safety

Engineers and scientists from 14 government agencies recently crashed a former Marine CH-46 helicopter airframe at NASA Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Hampton, Va.

The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory at Fort Rucker, Ala., the U.S. Navy, the Federal Aviation Administration, the German Aerospace Center, and the Australian Cooperative Research Center for Advanced Composite Structures collaborated with NASA on this Transport Rotorcraft Airframe Crash Testbed full-scale crash test, which is part of NASA’s Rotary Wing Project.

The purpose of the test was to collect data on composite structures and to answer questions aimed at occupant protection and injury mitigation during a helicopter crash.

The recent test was the second crash test in a series, and mimicked the first crash test that was completed in 2013. Like the first test, the helicopter was loaded with 15 crash-test dummies, lifted 30 feet into the air, and released – crashing into a bed of dirt at about 30 miles per hour. This time, however, the helicopter stopped and only slid a few feet, compared to the first test where the helicopter slid approximately 5 feet. The impact represents a severe, but survivable condition under both civilian and military standards.

The helicopter was instrumented inside and out with a total of 40 high-speed cameras, recording more than 500 images per second. These images will allow researchers to understand how the fuselage cracked or collapsed under crash loads.

USAARL’s support, funded by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, provided NASA with a reinforced legacy litter support system, a developmental litter system, and improved patient restraint systems for a comparative analysis to the legacy systems used in the 2013 crash test.

“USAARL’s overall intent is to ensure that litter occupants, attending flight medics, and aircrew are protected during aircraft crash events. Testing in a dynamic environment provides USAARL and the Army with critical data needed to understand the dynamic force transmission during crash events. Data from the accelerometers mounted onto the litter support systems are essential to define strength and performance requirements for future patient movement items,” said Joe McEntire, a USAARL research mechanical engineer leading the Army’s collaboration effort.

McEntire said that the data will be used to influence the design requirements of future aeromedical transport equipment and patient litters.

Preliminary observations indicate considerable useful data were collected during the crash, and the information will be analyzed over the next few months.

Photo by David Bowman, NASA Langley
Former Marine CH-46 helicopter airframe before the crash test at NASA Langley’s Landing and Impact Research Facility in Hampton, Va.

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USAARL works to make medevac missions safer

FORT RUCKER, Ala. --Medical evacuation operations are very complex and dangerous for evacuation helicopters, crewmembers, and patients. Medevac missions consist of retrieving the wounded from a dangerous environment and transporting them to medical triage or a medical treatment facility. In the event that a helicopter cannot land, medevac crewmembers are trained to send down a medic, who evaluates and packages the patient, and to use a rescue hoist device to lift the medic and patient into the aircraft.

One complication of medevac hoist operations is the uncontrolled spinning of the stretcher at the end of the hoist cable. This spinning can cause harm to the medic and patient.

Medical equipment, like hoist cables and stretchers, used aboard an aircraft must be tested and evaluated for aircraft compatibility to improve products or techniques that may reduce risk and increase efficiency of medevac missions.

Scientists and engineers of the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, Fort Rucker, Ala. Enroute Care and Airworthiness Division and Flight Systems Branch recently tested an anti-rotational device that when used on a hoist cable is intended to reduce the spinning of a load when lifted from the ground to the helicopter. The purpose of the test was to observe how the device interacted with the rescue basket and hoist system during helicopter transport over open terrain, an urban environment, and a ravine. USAARL also tested the tagline hoist that is currently used in many hoist missions and compared the performance of the tagline hoist to the performance of the anti-rotational device.

USAARL conducted the mock rescue hoist missions using an HH-60M Medevac helicopter, an Army medic trained in hoist operations, a rescue basket, and an anthropomorphic test device or crash test dummy that was wearing a standard rucksack. Each hoist configuration was tested at 40 feet over open terrain, at 80 feet over an urban terrain, and at 100 feet over a ravine. During each test scenario, ECAD assessed the safety, usability, and effectiveness of the anti-rotational device in comparison to the tagline hoist.

“USAARL develops, tests, and evaluates performance solutions within the military environment,” said David Jones, a USAARL test manager assigned to ECAD. “Testing equipment is one of the ways we contribute to preserving the health, safety, and performance of the Warfighter.”

After data collection is completed, analyses will be conducted to verify whether the anti-rotational device allows for a safer and more efficient hoist mission than standard hoist techniques. Results may be used to determine if the tagline currently used for hoist operations should be replaced with the anti-rotational device.

USAARL provides knowledge and expertise to plan and conduct studies to improve patient outcomes by addressing patient movement equipment and patient care capability gaps related to ground or rotary-wing transport. Specifically, the studies include research, development, tests, and evaluations to support the selection of medical devices used in air and ground ambulances, as well as to improve knowledge and treatment of injury and disease under the unique physical, mechanical, and physiological stresses of the patient movement environment.

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The U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory, Fort Rucker, Ala., donated excess computer equipment to Eastgate Christian Academy, Ozark, Ala., Nov. 19. The donated equipment included three desktop computers, 11 laptop computers, and three printers. As a federal laboratory, USAARL is authorized by the Education Partnership Act, Title 10 United States Code 2194, to transfer excess defense laboratory equipment to educational nonprofit organizations. Transfer of excess computer equipment under an Education Partnership Agreement from the U.S. Army Aeromedical Research Laboratory to ECA is intended to facilitate and nurture the study of science, art, and mathematics by students of ECA. Pictured left to right: James Strickland, ECA co-administrator, Kathy Strickland, ECA principal, Andrew Alvarado, USAARL information technology specialist, and Jasper Stallworth, ECA high school teacher. (Army photo by Catherine Davis)