Have you ever crashed a Boeing 720 jetliner? Well, Fitzhugh Fulton has and lived to tell the tale!
On December 1st, 1984 NASA research pilot “Fitz” Fulton purposely crash landed a four engine Boeing 720 loaded with 76,000 pounds of fuel into the desert at Edwards AFB, CA.
By the way, Fitz was smart enough to not be in the big Boeing jet at the time of the crash landing. He remotely piloted the aircraft from the NASA Dryden Remotely Controlled Vehicle Facility.
Why would NASA purposely crash a jet like this? NASA’s ‘Controlled Impact Demonstration’ was designed to test a new jet fuel anti-misting additive that many thought would inhibit the ignition of fuel in the event of a crash.
The FAA was considering making this addition a requirement for all airline fuel. Ground tests had shown promising results so the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center teamed up for this very unique real life test event.
Four years of planning and research had been done before the actual test crash took place. The technology need to remotely control the aircraft had to be developed and tested. 14 test flights with actual pilots on board were flown which produced over 16 hours of remote-controlled flight including takeoffs and landings.
One the day of the flight with Fitz Fulton remotely controlling the aircraft, it took off from Edwards AFB and climbed up to an altitude of 2300 feet. The idea was to crash-land, wings level with the gear up on a specially prepared runway to the east of the Edwards dry lakebed. Special metal poles had been strategically placed just after the landing touchdown point to tear open the wing fuel tanks but leave the main fuselage intact.
The unexpected results ended the FAA’s quest to make airliners put the anti-misting additive in their jet fuel.
The FAA and NASA did learn valuable information about impact survivability from the data obtained in the crash. Also, crash dummies were seated in the cabin area with cameras onboard that recorded the impact. This resulted in many new FAA rules and updates that enhanced safety on board airliners.
Fitzhugh L. Fulton, Jr. was a civilian research pilot at NASA’s Dryden (now Armstrong) Flight Research Center, Edwards, CA, from August 1, 1966, until July 3, 1986, following 23 years of service as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Fulton was the project pilot on all early tests of the 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (SCA) used to air launch the Space Shuttle prototype Enterprise in the Approach and Landing Tests (ALT) at Dryden in 1977.” – NASA