Nasa is crashing planes to test technology to improve emergency locator transmitters to trace missing aircraft in a bid to avoid a repeat of searching for missing planes such as Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.

A Cessna 172 aircraft was raised 100ft in the air as part of a series of three tests at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, before it was dropped from that height and left to crash on the ground. The aim is to improve emergency locator transmitters (ELTs) or transponders so they will continue to work and be able to detect a plane in the aftermath of a crash.

"This will provide very good data collection for us, This is exactly what we wanted. The nose hit the ground first," said Lisa Mazzuca, Nasa's search and rescue mission manager.

Usually ELTs are so damaged in crashes they fail to transmit a signal meaning its harder for rescue teams to reach a crash site quickly, Nasa explained.

Chad Stimson, Nasa's Langley Emergency Locator Transmitter Survivability and Reliability (ELTSAR) project manager, said: "With this one, we're trying to push the envelope. It's severe, but survivable. No one would have walked away from this. They might be alive, but they'd need help right away. In that sense, it's the perfect search and rescue case."

No distress signal was sent out when MH370 disappeared without trace on 8 March 2014. Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak later said it was believed the plane's transponder, which emits an identifying signal, was "deliberately disabled" before the aircraft changed course and continued flying for a further seven hours.

He told a news conference shortly after: "Movements are consistent with the deliberate action of someone on the plane", although he refused to label it as a hijacking.

Nothing has ever been released to the public by the authorities since to substantiate this claim further. No trace of MH370, which was carrying 239 passengers on board, has ever been found. However, the discovery of a wing part, a flaperon that controls the bank of a plane, was found by workers on Reunion island, an overseas French department, on 30 July. It has been sent to Toulouse, France, for verification to see if it belongs to the missing Boeing 777.