The advanced role of computational mechanics and visualization in science and technology: analysis of the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash Academic Article uri icon


  • © 2017 The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Computational mathematics, physics and engineering form a major constituent of modern computational science, which now stands on an equal footing with the established branches of theoretical and experimental sciences. Computational mechanics solves problems in science and engineering based upon mathematical modeling and computing, bypassing the need for expensive and time-consuming laboratory setups and experimental measurements. Furthermore, it allows the numerical simulations of large scale systems, such as the formation of galaxies that could not be done in any earth bound laboratories. This article is written as part of the 21st Century Frontiers Series to illustrate some state-of-the-art computational science. We emphasize how to do numerical modeling and visualization in the study of a contemporary event, the pulverizing crash of the Germanwings Flight 9525 on March 24, 2015, as a showcase. Such numerical modeling and the ensuing simulation of aircraft crashes into land or mountain are complex tasks as they involve both theoretical study and supercomputing of a complex physical system. The most tragic type of crash involves 'pulverization' such as the one suffered by this Germanwings flight. Here, we show pulverizing airliner crashes by visualization through video animations from supercomputer applications of the numerical modeling tool LS-DYNA. A sound validation process is challenging but essential for any sophisticated calculations. We achieve this by validation against the experimental data from a crash test done in 1993 of an F4 Phantom II fighter jet into a wall. We have developed a method by hybridizing two primary methods: finite element analysis and smoothed particle hydrodynamics. This hybrid method also enhances visualization by showing a 'debris cloud'. Based on our supercomputer simulations and the visualization, we point out that prior works on this topic based on 'hollow interior' modeling can be quite problematic and, thus, not likely to be correct. We discuss the effects of terrain on pulverization using the information from the recovered flight-data-recorder and show our forensics and assessments of what may have happened during the final moments of the crash. Finally, we point out that our study has potential for being made into real-time flight crash simulators to help the study of crashworthiness and survivability for future aviation safety. Some forward-looking statements are also made.

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Chen, G., Wang, Y., Perronnet, A., Gu, C., Yao, P., Bin-Mohsin, B., Hajaiej, H., & Scully, M. O.

citation count

  • 1

publication date

  • February 2017