March 23, 2011
With ever-mounting budget cuts, and pressure to reduce the national deficit, NASA and the FAA just don’t crash airplanes intentionally like they used to. Here’s a golden oldie of a test the two agencies jointly conducted on December 1, 1984, when they took a Boeing 720 (a smaller, faster version of the 707) fully loaded with jet fuel and belly-flopped it onto the desert near Edwards Air Force Base in California. Engineers running the test, called the Controlled Impact Demonstration, were evaluating an anti-misting kerosene added to the standard Jet-A fuel, to see how the additive mitigated fuel ignition and flame propagation.
The test didn’t go quite as planned, as the remote control equipment used to direct the airplane brought it down off the centerline of the runway, with the left wing striking the ground first.
The researchers did get lots of useful data on features from test dummies to burn-resistant windows. But the fireball seen here, and the inferno that raged afterward, showed that a fuel additive wouldn’t make much difference in this kind of crash.