Aviation Research Boost Requested

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As aviation industry leaders were asking the U.S. Senate last week to spend more money on research, NASA was quietly getting ready to close down a major safety research facility. Representatives of industry and universities urged the Senate Aviation Subcommittee to support increased government funding for aviation technology to prevent the loss of industry and jobs to other countries. Meanwhile, not far away, at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., researchers were winding up their work at the Impact Dynamics Research Facility, where for decades the crashworthiness of dozens of aircraft was tested. Airframes were dropped from heights of up to 240 feet and the resulting wreckage was analyzed. NASA spokesman Bill Uhr said the facility will be closed in September as the agency focuses its efforts on space-related endeavors. The staff will be redeployed to projects developing structures and materials for use in space projects such as the International Space Station. "No one will be laid off," he said. Uhr said the FAA has some facilities for crash testing and Italy has just built a state-of-the-art research center. Closure of the lab also raises questions about the future of the huge gantry used to suspend the aircraft. It was originally used to dangle astronauts learning to maneuver the Lunar Module used in NASA's manned moon flights. It's considered a historic site, said Uhr.

NOTE: Read the complete testimony of Ed Bolen, president of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, to the Senate Aviation Subcommittee on Feb. 27, as an Adobe PDF file. For more information about the hearing, go to the subcommittee Web site. Quicktime movies of recent demonstrations of crash-impact tests are available online.