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Another Watchkeeper down

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Another Watchkeeper down

Old 15th Jun 2018, 15:25
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Another Watchkeeper down

A fifth Watchkeeper has crashed - this time near Aberporth in Wales. In case you're not familiar, Watchkeeper is an ISTAR UAV asset of the British Army, built by a company set up by Elbit and Thales, and based on the Elbit Hermes. Report from the Cambrian News
Fire crews called after drone crash near West Wales Airport News Cambrian News

Defense Aerospace comments:
The Watchkeeper programme was originally contracted for 800 million by the British Army, but delays and overruns have boosted its cost to over 1,200 million.
In exchange, the British Army obtained 54 Watchkeeper aircraft, several of which were rushed to Afghanistan so they could fly some token missions before the British Army pulled of the country.
They have since been mostly operating on training missions, with regular crashes diminishing their number: five having been lost to date.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 16:38
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I remember the army's programme chief telling me some years ago that attrition losses were factored into the 54-aircraft buy, but they are going through airframes at a rate of knots.

Genuine question - why do UAVs need to be flown and potentially lost in peacetime? Why can all the training not be done synthetically? For the pilot, he is not in the aircraft anyway so will lose nothing in terms of realism from sitting in a simulator . Any ground forces he is supposed to be interacting can do so synthetically also, no?
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 16:48
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Originally Posted by melmothtw View Post
I remember the army's programme chief telling me some years ago that attrition losses were factored into the 54-aircraft buy, but they are going through airframes at a rate of knots.

Genuine question - why do UAVs need to be flown and potentially lost in peacetime? Why can all the training not be done synthetically? For the pilot, he is not in the aircraft anyway so will lose nothing in terms of realism from sitting in a simulator . Any ground forces he is supposed to be interacting can do so synthetically also, no?
got to keep Aberporth busy I guess....................
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 17:24
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Synthetic training does not iron out the rarely occurring faults in the hardware, airborne software, RF link, weather related incidents, maintenance issues etc. Applying the same logic, none of our armed forces would ever leave their bases until war is declared.

Anyway, if the UAV is in a tree, it hasn't crashed, it just hasn't landed yet!
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 17:35
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All of those failures can be included in the synthetic training, just as engine failures etc are currently practised on simulators.

There is value to real-world training where that training replicates the actual environment where the person will be operating, but I still don't see why a drone operator who in real life will be sat in a windowless shipping container with no physical connection to his or her aircraft cannot experience synthetically everything they will ever experience in the real world.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 18:12
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What you are suggesting is that the time to discover faults with the air vehicle is when our troops on the ground are depending upon it? Without knowing what the contingency plans were, there is no reason to suppose that the drone operators did anything wrong at this stage.
A British operated Hermes 450 was lost at Camp Bastion, with the root cause being a blocked oil feed pipe due to the engine oil reacting with the plasticizer in the pipe. Hermes 450 ZK515 loss Synthetic training won't bring things like this to light.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 18:18
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Mechta, you said
Synthetic training won't bring things like this to light.
Quite so, and, although the erudite discussion on the thread about synthetic training is interesting, I'd like to know why these things keep crashing. Any ideas, anyone?

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Old 15th Jun 2018, 18:41
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What you are suggesting is that the time to discover faults with the air vehicle is when our troops on the ground are depending upon it? Without knowing what the contingency plans were, there is no reason to suppose that the drone operators did anything wrong at this stage.
At this rate it won't matter what the fault(s) might be, because by the time our troops on the ground are depending on it there won't be any left.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 18:53
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Only 22.22 million a throw; peanuts.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 19:24
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Melmothw, simulation is used to practise actual flight conditions and procedures. Without actual flight experience you do not know if the simulation is accurate. Also, a general rule in simulator flying is to concentrate on likely scenarios as there is unusually insufficient simulator time to explore every possibility with every pilot.

​​​
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 19:53
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Thanks Pontius, I know what simulators are for. The actual flight conditions and procedures for the drone pilot are surely no different to the simulated flight conditions and procedures, no? There is no physical connection between the operator and aircraft in either environment so surely anything and everything can be simulated.

The lack of simulator time you speak of has no real bearing on my point - that could be adjusted to meet the need.

I'm still no wiser as to why a drone operator/pilot can't learn and train for everything they might encounter in a synthetic enviroment, and so save expensive airframes from falling out of the sky until none are left.

But no matter.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 19:57
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At least it’s not as bad as the “buggeroff” (Phoenix).
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 20:02
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Originally Posted by melmothtw View Post
Genuine question - why do UAVs need to be flown and potentially lost in peacetime? Why can all the training not be done synthetically? For the pilot, he is not in the aircraft anyway so will lose nothing in terms of realism from sitting in a simulator . Any ground forces he is supposed to be interacting can do so synthetically also, no?
Pilots aren't the only people involved in operating UAVs, nor the only people to benefit from training.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 20:04
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Sorry dears - I'm still not with you.

Surely, how people might be trained to deal with all the possible emergencies that could occur is a secondary concern? Wouldn't it be a good idea to decide why so many of these
expensive airframes [are] falling out of the sky until none [is[ left.
and then stop it happening?

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Old 15th Jun 2018, 20:23
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Pilots aren't the only people involved in operating UAVs, nor the only people to benefit from training
Indeed, but I still don't see why ground handling crews, air traffic controllers, forward controllers, troops on the ground etc, need the Watchkeeper to be flying to get their training value.

Their only interaction with the drone in real-life would be via radio communication with the operator /pilot (who could be in a networked simulator for training) or viewing a video feed (which could be synthetic or fed from a surrogate manned platform that wouldn't fall out the sky).
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 20:57
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  • November 2014 - WK031 - Master Override selected to get aircraft down on first approach ahead of approaching thunderstorm. Aircraft thought it had landed when it hadn't, so gave down elevator command. Dived into ground as a result. WK031 accident description
  • November 2015 WK006 - Master Override selected to get aircraft down after two failed automated landing attempts. Aircraft dived into runway at 35 nose down. WK006 Accident description
  • 3 February 2017 - WK042 - Lost whilst testing de-icing equipment.
  • 24 March 2017 - WK043 - Training flight WK043 & WK043 Accident description
It appears that in an effort to achieve a system with operators rather than pilots, the ability to do a fully manual landing has been designed out. This leaves a system dependent on the automated system sensors always working properly; which they don't.

Lettting the manufacturer provide 'surveillance by the hour' is the way to go, rather than letting a succession of two-year tourists tell the experts how to design a UAV for a soldier to operate.

The Israelis will get it right if you just let them get on with it, in the knowledge that crashes will come out of their pocket and not yours.

Last edited by Mechta; 16th Jun 2018 at 08:13.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 21:18
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Basrah late 2007/08 Hermes flown into the side of the main terminal in very poor vis, I also saw a picture of a Hermes trying to fly into the side door of aMmerlin that was also airborne. No criticism but am I correct in thinking that the Army UAV's are not flown by pilots.
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Old 15th Jun 2018, 22:02
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Originally Posted by KPax View Post
Basrah late 2007/08 Hermes flown into the side of the main terminal in very poor vis, I also saw a picture of a Hermes trying to fly into the side door of aMmerlin that was also airborne. No criticism but am I correct in thinking that the Army UAV's are not flown by pilots.
KPax, the Hermes 450 would have had an 'external pilot' doing the takeoff and landing, and an 'internal pilot' in the ground control station for the rest of the flight. The external pilots would have been experienced R/C pilots, as those are the skills required, and would have been civilian contractors. I don't know about the internal pilots. Watchkeeper is intended to be operated by the Army, although a lot of the development flying has also been by non-military personnel, as would be expected.

Last edited by Mechta; 16th Jun 2018 at 08:15.
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Old 16th Jun 2018, 12:21
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Originally Posted by airsound View Post
Mechta, you said

Quite so, and, although the erudite discussion on the thread about synthetic training is interesting, I'd like to know why these things keep crashing. Any ideas, anyone?

airsound
The absence of a pilot means that the aircraft needn't be designed to be as safe as a normal military aircraft. Quite a lot of the cost savings come from this decision. Unfortunately they then tend to crash a lot more often but this is regarded as an economic issue rather than a safety issue. The safety of the overflown population can be helped substantially by clever choice of the aircraft's course/operating area.

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Old 16th Jun 2018, 13:43
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Thanks, EAP for that - and also Mechta for the accident accounts. Are the Service Inquiry reports publicly available, do you know? I haven't been able to find out so far - sorry!

Also, while accepting EAP's point about UAVs' not having to be as safe as manned (personned?) aircraft, I don't recall hearing of anything like this rate of accidents to other advanced UAVs like Reaper.

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