NASA has crash-tested a version of an eVTOL fuselage and the crumpled result will provide plenty of data on some NASA innovations included in the mock-up. The composite structure was hoisted about 30 feet in the air and sent on an inclined trajectory to the concrete below in a simulation of an emergency landing by an eVTOL. The test article was built by NASA and was not a copy of any of the dozens of eVTOLs now under development. There were six crash test dummies aboard and the roof was loaded up with weight to simulate wings and engines. The structure did not hold up well.

Although the energy-absorbing floor and seats appear to have functioned as designed, engineers were surprised the roof of the passenger cabin collapsed with the weight of the simulated wing structure. The simulated passengers in the back seats may have suffered some real damage. “Our computational pretest models did a good job predicting the composite deformation until overhead structural failure,” NASA spokesman Justin Littell said. “However, the computational models did not predict the overall collapse as seen in the test,” Little said in a statement. “The test was a great success for the crash-worthiness team at Langley.”

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


    • I think this is about creating a generalizable computational model for these types of structures, which would then be tailored for the specific geometry of each eVTOL design. As stated in the article the specific structure here is not the same as any under development. Important was what was learned from this test- that the model did not accurately predict the structural collapse that was seen- this will allow for refinement of the model moving forward.

      To me, this test isn’t about developing the perfect structure, but creating a computational tool to assist future and ongoing development of these structures, as well as to possibly facilitate certification of eVTOLs in the future.

    • If you have time during a possible crash situation the first thing you want to do is open the doors so they don’t get jammed closed after the crash.

      • The VFD in the small town I spend time in near OSH has strict rules for EV crashes … if able, yank the people out and let the vehicle burn.

        • I would think that would be the case with any vehicle fire. If you’ve ever seen a vehicle fire on an ICE vehicle, it’s a scary thing to witness.

  1. “roof was loaded up with weight to simulate wings and engines”

    I’m confused, why is there ‘engines’ instead of ‘motors’ on an “e”VTOL?
    The test has very little purpose without a ton of high capacity batteries. Surviving the impact is only a small part of the risk. Next you have to survive the thermal run-away of the damaged batteries.

  2. Well, at least it’s a step in the right direction. Next step is testing actual models, with batteries and motors and wings or whatever structure houses the motors and propellers.

  3. If the crash-worthiness team’s success is measured by a positive outcome, they’ve demonstrated that computer modelling does not always predict test results.

    • They are for the cameras. They undoubtedly have high frame rate movies and can model the deformation of the structure by measuring how each dot moves in relation to the others as the structure deforms and then fails.

  4. If intended as an EVtol evaluation, then while there would not be a petroleum-based fire, there could still be a battery fire issue, neither were addressed here. But we don’t know the total scope or intent of the test.