NIAR’s Virtual Reality Contributes to Aviation Safety

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ARTICLE: Virtual safety tests save money on product research

There are those who have had suspicions that “virtual reality” is an apt description of everything that occurs in our Nation’s Capital, but it is technically a term which describes computer modeling. The algorithms that are used to define the phenomena being assessed are scientific/engineering approximations of the object test event.

Historically the applicant for a type certificate would have to design and perform physical tests which demonstrate that the element meets the FAA standards. The manufacturer, seeking permission to include, for example, a seat into an airplane, was compelled to subject it to a number of tests which demonstrate if/when it would fail, recreating the physical forces of a catastrophic event. The testing process involved the destruction, literally, of one or more such objects. Other FAA criteria would subject wings to repeated stress events, surfaces to salt and dirt degradation, etc.

In the context of aircraft certification, there can be no deviation between reality and the model. The FAA National Institute for Aviation Research in Wichita has developed sets of equations which provide data as reliable as the physical destructions. Gerardo Olivares of NIAR has “pioneered how to do ‘crash-worthiness testing’ and has made NIAR the premier place where that testing is quickly moving to what might be called reality.” Olivares now directs NIAR’s Crash Dynamics & Computational Mechanics Laboratory where today the aerospace industry comes to use his models to prove the airworthiness elements of their aircraft.

It is tremendous when virtual reality saves money and contributes safety. Great innovation NIAR and Mr. Olivares!

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