The recent documentary aired on Channel 4 last week, showed a dramatic plane crash in the Mexican desert. The crash of the Boeing 727 was intentional, a first-time ever crash test of a commercial passenger aircraft, the very type that we all board whenever we travel abroad.
The details of what unfolds during a plane crash has previously only been known by the people on the plane, who, if they survive to tell the tale, can’t remember too much of it!
This experiment provided aircracft manufacturers with crucial information about how people may die in the event of the crash, and why some people can survive, advising us on how better to design aircraft to increase the chances of survival.
There were some interesting results from this experiment. For example, seats were catapulted from the plane, and landed several metres from the main body of the 727. The team of experts considered that passengers in these seats would be unlikely to survive, but were able to provide seat manufacturers with valuable data that can help to prevent this from happening in possible future crashes.
Another design flaw revealed in the crash was that while the brace position significantly increases passengers’ chances of survival, the foot rests are likely to cause ankles to be broken in the impact of the crash when passengers take this advised position.
This could lead to passengers being unable to exit the aircraft if they survive the initial crash, and therefore could cause them to lose their life in the likely possibility of a fire spreading through the wreckage.
The aircraft engines also continued to run after the crash and could potentially have ruptured the fuel tanks, killing any surviving passengers.
It was also found the luggage stored in the hold would likely have broken through the floor of the passenger cabin, again leading to injury.
No doubt there were other, less exciting findings that were not featured in the documentary, but now have been shared with the manufacturing companies that make systems for commercial airliners to help them improve safety still further.
Constant testing and development of the components that we manufacture for aerospace customers is important, and ground breaking experiments such as this will aid such improvements, and help us to build a safer generation of aircraft.
The same applies to other areas of manufacturing. Although testing and development can be expensive, the quality of our outputs is more important, and which is why we maintain a process of continuous improvement for all our customers.
Image rights: FotoNoir/FLIKR