Researchers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory purposely wreck a McDonnell FH-1 Phantom as part of the laboratory’s Crash Fire Program. NACA Lewis researchers created the program in 1949 to investigate methods for improving survival rates for take-off and landing-type crashes. In these types of crashes, the passengers often survived the impact only to perish in the ensuing fire. Previously there had been little information on the nature of post-crash fires, and it was difficult to use analytical studies in this area.
Irving Pinkel, Chief of the Lewis Flight Propulsion Division, was the primary researcher. He enlisted flight safety specialist and aeronautics researchers G. Merritt Preston and Gerard Pesman, mechanical engineer Dugald Black, and others. The tests were conducted at the nearby Ravenna Arsenal using decommissioned Air Force fighter and transport aircraft. The pilotless aircraft were accelerated down a rail on a 1700-foot track at take-off speeds and run into barriers to simulate a variety of different types of crashes. The first barrier stripped off the landing gears and another briefly sent the aircraft off the ground before it crashed into a dirt mound.
Telemetry and high-speed cameras were crucial elements in these studies. NACA Lewis photographer Bill Wynne developed a method for inserting timekeeping devices on test film that were able to show time to one thousandth of a second.