Office of Research and Engineering

​​​​The Office of Research and Engineering is an investigative office providing scientific and technical expertise for NTSB accident investigations in all modes of transportation. The office, which includes four divisions and two program areas, also conducts safety research, generates periodic statistical reviews of aviation accidents, and provides medical and toxicology expertise for investigations in all modes.

Safety Research Division

The Safety Research Division examines transportation accidents, accident trends, and technological changes to identify problems and associated remedial actions that will reduce risk and improve the safety of the transportation system. Division staff includes transportation safety research and data analysts, who conduct systematic examinations of:

  1. risks or hazards in the transportation environment that may influence accidents or injury,
  2. the techniques and methods of accident investigation, and
  3. the effectiveness of various safety countermeasures such as policies, programs, or technologies.

​The division also provides data science, data visualization, and statistical expertise to support accident launches and investigations, assist in the development of safety recommendations, and publish annual statistical reviews for the NTSB, Congress, and the public.

Materials Laboratory Division

The Materials Laboratory Division performs expert multidisciplinary engineering and scientific analyses to determine whether the performance of materials and structures is related to the cause or severity of an accident. Engineers also analyze wreckage to determine the causes of fires and explosions. The division provides chemical and forensic science expertise, as well as technical advice and resources for experimental testing and research in the physical sciences.

Vehicle Recorder Division

The Vehicle Recorder Division extracts, formats, and analyzes data from aircraft flight data recorders (FDR) and cockpit voice recorders (CVR), and from recorders installed in locomotives, large ships, and some highway vehicles. Engineers also:

  • examine recorded electronic audio and video information captured by aircraft, ship, train, and support communication systems;  
  • provide electronic engineering expertise for all accident investigation modes in examining communication and control systems;​
  • provide time synchronization to correlate voice, data, and video recorder outputs;  
  • use advanced digital and analog filtering and signal representation techniques to extract critical recorder information; and
  • perform forensic examinations of personal electronic devices and other computer hardware.  ​​

Vehicle Performance Division

The Vehicle Performance Division provides:

  • specialized aeronautical, mechanical, structural, and biomechanical engineering expertise;  
  • three-dimensional laser scanning and accident reconstruction;  
  • photogrammetry and video analysis; and  
  • animation and graphics development for all modes.  


Engineers use computational and visualization technology to provide accurate time-motion histories of the sequence of events and evaluate data from multiple sources to determine vehicle and occupant motion and the underlying causes of that motion. Engineers also develop video animations of accident scenarios, evaluate occupant injury mechanisms, and participate in and direct research into special projects as required.

Program Area – Medical Investigations

The medical officers evaluate the medical aspects of investigations, including medical fitness, pathology, toxicology, injury causation, and biomechanics. Examples of medical issues addressed include:

  • operator incapacitation,  
  • injury prevention,  
  • night vision,  
  • hypoxia,  
  • substance impairment,  
  • obstructive sleep apnea, and  
  • use of prescription and overthecounter medications as well as illicit substances.​​

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