Good news for anybody waiting to purchase a helicopter until they improve crash test ratings.
A deployable energy absorber (think "honeycomb airbag") may have some promise. NASA recently tested the technology by dropping a helicopter from 35 feet in the air.
So far the agency has only had time to crunch the chopper -- not the data -- but they report, "Four crash test dummies along for the ride appeared only a little worse for the wear."
From the NASA release:
For the test at Langley, researchers used an MD-500 helicopter donated by the U.S. Army. The rotorcraft was equipped with instruments that collected 160 channels of data. One of the four crash test dummies was a special torso model equipped with simulated internal organs. It came from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.
Technicians outfitted the underside of the helicopter's crew and passenger compartment with the deployable energy absorber. Created by engineer Sotiris Kellas at Langley, the device is made of Kevlar and has a unique flexible hinge design that allows the honeycomb to be packaged and remain flat until needed.
Kellas initially came up with the idea as a way to cushion the next generation of astronaut-carrying space capsules, but soon realized it had many other possible applications. So the concept became part of a helicopter drop test for the Subsonic Rotary Wing Project of NASA's Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate in Washington.