Go Back  PPRuNe Forums > Aircrew Forums > Military Aviation
Reload this Page >

Pilot error brought down the Armies Watchkeeper

Military Aviation A forum for the professionals who fly military hardware. Also for the backroom boys and girls who support the flying and maintain the equipment, and without whom nothing would ever leave the ground. All armies, navies and air forces of the world equally welcome here.

Pilot error brought down the Armies Watchkeeper

Old 16th Aug 2019, 07:21
  #21 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: england
Posts: 914
Originally Posted by Chugalug2 View Post
Never mind the Army, htp. Are you saying that Thales is operating under its own RTS, or under no authority at all?
Being a CFAOS organisation for watchkeeper I'd suspect, Thales would not be bound by the in-service RTS but would have their own (likely similar) document that may be more or less restrictive in various areas. If they were bound by the RTS it'd be pretty hard to do developmental test flying which, almost by definition, is doing stuff that is novel and untested and, therefore, not in the RTS...
pba_target is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 07:56
  #22 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Mar 2013
Location: Lincs
Age: 50
Posts: 12
If memory serves, Thales were flying the one that crashed in icing conditions under a military flight test permit which had been issued earlier that year. Whilst the the SI was (rightly) critical of the choices made such as flying the sortie with a rather expensive and limited-availability radar on board, the officers singularly missed the obvious point i.e. you don't deliberately fly an unmanned system into icing conditions, even more so in a system designed such that the Remote Pilots have no means of 'direct' control.
AF03-111 is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 08:02
  #23 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: West Sussex
Age: 78
Posts: 4,196
Originally Posted by pba_target View Post
Being a CFAOS organisation for watchkeeper I'd suspect, Thales would not be bound by the in-service RTS but would have their own (likely similar) document that may be more or less restrictive in various areas. If they were bound by the RTS it'd be pretty hard to do developmental test flying which, almost by definition, is doing stuff that is novel and untested and, therefore, not in the RTS...
Thanks for that, pba. Could you please say what CFAOS is, and what or who it is answerable to if not the MOD? AFAIK there are only two relevant Regulatory Aviation Authorities, the CAA/EASA and the MAA. Presumably Thales operates Watchkeeper testing under one or the other?

Of course testing means going outside of the Military RTS but presumably not recklessly, so was this accident the result of systematically testing the boundaries of the aircraft or simple carelessness? What was the role of the MOD Duty Holder in what happened, if any?

Thanks
Chugalug2 is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 09:02
  #24 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: on the edge of a big fall
Posts: 123
Originally Posted by Chugalug2 View Post
Thanks for that, pba. Could you please say what CFAOS is, and what or who it is answerable to if not the MOD? AFAIK there are only two relevant Regulatory Aviation Authorities, the CAA/EASA and the MAA. Presumably Thales operates Watchkeeper testing under one or the other?

Of course testing means going outside of the Military RTS but presumably not recklessly, so was this accident the result of systematically testing the boundaries of the aircraft or simple carelessness? What was the role of the MOD Duty Holder in what happened, if any?

Thanks
CFAOS and Watchkeeper SI link
higthepig is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 19:45
  #25 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: uk
Posts: 237
Its easily done.I had to climb a 20 foot tree to recover my drone last week.
phil9560 is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 19:57
  #26 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: West Sussex
Age: 78
Posts: 4,196
Thanks for the links htp. The SI one won't open for me but perhaps it is protected? The CFAOS one does, and contains this intriguing RA4051(1) in the sample Ops Manual:-

RA 4051(1): Flight Testing of Aircraft
Flight-testing and Airborne Checks (ACs) shall be conducted within the boundaries of the Release to Service (RTS).
Chugalug2 is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 20:27
  #27 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Apr 2009
Location: Wherever it is this month
Posts: 1,210
Chug: ‘flight testing’ is what’s done after maintenance activity, colloquially known as an air test. Operating outside the RtoS is ‘test flying’.
Easy Street is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 20:46
  #28 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: West Sussex
Age: 78
Posts: 4,196
Originally Posted by Easy Street View Post
Chug: ‘flight testing’ is what’s done after maintenance activity, colloquially known as an air test. Operating outside the RtoS is ‘test flying’.
Ah, I thought it was too easy (sorry!).

Thanks for the explanation though ES.
Chugalug2 is offline  
Old 16th Aug 2019, 21:08
  #29 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: UK
Posts: 280
Originally Posted by AF03-111 View Post
the officers singularly missed the obvious point i.e. you don't deliberately fly an unmanned system into icing conditions, even more so in a system designed such that the Remote Pilots have no means of 'direct' control.
Then how do you propose they test the icing clearance? Which was one of the major selling points over the original Hermes 450.
Bing is offline  
Old 17th Aug 2019, 05:10
  #30 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: uk
Posts: 2,856
Originally Posted by Bing View Post
Then how do you propose they test the icing clearance? Which was one of the major selling points over the original Hermes 450.
I think a typical Icing section in an RTS will provide a good indication of what factors are considered; some of which are universal (e.g. icing deemed to exist in certain temperature/visibility conditions), others aircraft-dependant (e.g. engine surge margins). Modelling will have given a good indication of what to expect, and one then gradually expands the opertating envelope to verify performance. But one tends not to (deliberately) get to the stage where the testing is destructive. Although things are a little blurred by today's use of the term 'drone', which is a quite different thing to people of a certain age!
tucumseh is offline  
Old 17th Aug 2019, 13:07
  #31 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: UK
Posts: 280
Originally Posted by tucumseh View Post
I think a typical Icing section in an RTS will provide a good indication of what factors are considered; some of which are universal (e.g. icing deemed to exist in certain temperature/visibility conditions), others aircraft-dependant (e.g. engine surge margins). Modelling will have given a good indication of what to expect, and one then gradually expands the opertating envelope to verify performance. But one tends not to (deliberately) get to the stage where the testing is destructive. Although things are a little blurred by today's use of the term 'drone', which is a quite different thing to people of a certain age!
Oh the testing wasn't deliberately destructive. They were in the gradually exploring the envelope stage by my reading of the report, but didn't catch the deteriorating situation in time. I seem to recall they had most (all?) of the anti icing on though so probably not a pass for that data point.
Not that I don't think the whole programme hasn't been a massive cluster.
Bing is offline  
Old 18th Aug 2019, 08:51
  #32 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: uk
Posts: 2,856
I've quickly scanned the recommendations in the two reports issued on the same day. Yep, seen them all before. Formal declarations made that the relevant regs had been met, when it seems much of the work hasn't started.

General Felton's rather pointed recommendations (WK043) amount to 'Now we've crashed 5 after the RTS was issued, let's think about issuing a legal RTS'. I wonder if he knows how many previous BoI/SIs have said this?

DG DSA (who certainly knows) excuses much due to complexity. The need for endorsed Aircrew and Operating Data Manuals isn't complex. It's bloody mandated. Incomplete understanding of how sub-systems integrate? I distinctly recall one person who later headed UAVs saying 'If it works on the bench, it'll work in the aircraft'. RTS signed with no integration, testing, trials, training, pubs, etc. Four years later, Tornado ZG710, 2 killed. At least the death count is now lower.
tucumseh is offline  
Old 19th Aug 2019, 08:33
  #33 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Mar 2013
Location: Lincs
Age: 50
Posts: 12
As Tucumseh said, quite a lot can be done with modelling but if it had been me making the decision, I would have insisted on LOTS of environmental chamber testing, including (if access could be gained) use of a Climactic Wind Tunnel. Beyond that, the process should have been incremental testing and "learning through experience" on training, test and operational flying, seeking to build a body of evidence over a period of time.
The problem with the "all weather" capability as marketed at the outset of the WK programme is that it wasn't something the manufacturer could actually deliver, and so they ended up trying to prove a capability that was in all likelihood going to result in the loss of the aircraft. The pressure to deliver may have been contractual i.e. the MOD insisting on it being tested to their satisfaction. It's bad enough being iced in a manned light aircraft, let alone a UAV that has positive 'pilot' control, and of course, WK is "point and click" so the operators could not intervene i.e. try to find a break in the clouds and get the hell out. Remember, the programme had already suffered an airframe loss due to water ingress / blockage in the pitot tube.
To anyone with a decent amount of UAV experience, putting the aircraft into these conditions was a pretty foolish thing to do and it suggests that those making the decision to do so either did not appreciate the risk, or did so but pressed on regardless.
AF03-111 is offline  
Old 19th Aug 2019, 17:22
  #34 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Aug 2005
Location: where-ever nav's chooses....
Posts: 636
Originally Posted by AF03-111 View Post
As Tucumseh said, quite a lot can be done with modelling but if it had been me making the decision, I would have insisted on LOTS of environmental chamber testing, including (if access could be gained) use of a Climactic Wind Tunnel. Beyond that, the process should have been incremental testing and "learning through experience" on training, test and operational flying, seeking to build a body of evidence over a period of time.
The problem with the "all weather" capability as marketed at the outset of the WK programme is that it wasn't something the manufacturer could actually deliver, and so they ended up trying to prove a capability that was in all likelihood going to result in the loss of the aircraft. The pressure to deliver may have been contractual i.e. the MOD insisting on it being tested to their satisfaction. It's bad enough being iced in a manned light aircraft, let alone a UAV that has positive 'pilot' control, and of course, WK is "point and click" so the operators could not intervene i.e. try to find a break in the clouds and get the hell out. Remember, the programme had already suffered an airframe loss due to water ingress / blockage in the pitot tube.
To anyone with a decent amount of UAV experience, putting the aircraft into these conditions was a pretty foolish thing to do and it suggests that those making the decision to do so either did not appreciate the risk, or did so but pressed on regardless.
given that there was a (very) reduced risk to life, and that environmental testing may have cost more than a single airframe, why not fly it into icing conditions?

and it's boring for people to talk about risk without acknowledging that there is a concomitant opportunity. "Pressing on regardless" is not a bad thing - risks pay off (sometimes big) on a daily basis.
alfred_the_great is online now  
Old 19th Aug 2019, 18:15
  #35 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: West Sussex
Age: 78
Posts: 4,196
Originally Posted by alfred_the_great View Post
"Pressing on regardless" is not a bad thing - risks pay off (sometimes big) on a daily basis.
Pressing on regardless by subverting the airworthiness regulations and illegally ordering their suborning is what did for UK Military Airworthiness Provision in the first place, and can be said to have lead to over 100 deaths in subsequent airworthiness related fatal air accidents.

This wasn't a battlefield situation requiring flouting of the RTS (such as sending a rescue mission clinging to the outside of an AAC Apache into a fire fight). This was a commercial company carrying out test flying of an MOD aircraft in UK airspace. I've no idea what the costs are vis a vis environmental chambers and total airframe loss, but I'm damn sure no such costing had been assessed and consequent action authorised anyway. The scandal of WK loss rates out of operational areas needs to be fully investigated. Pilot error doesn't begin to address the fundamental causes.
Chugalug2 is offline  
Old 20th Aug 2019, 08:57
  #36 (permalink)  
 
Join Date: Feb 2003
Location: uk
Posts: 2,856
Originally Posted by alfred_the_great View Post


environmental testing may have cost more than a single airframe

I certainly remember when that was once true. As part of the RAF's 'savings at the expense of safety' policy of the late 80s/early 90s, a decision was made to cancel the ETC maintenance contracts. No amount of expert advice would persuade AMSO that they needed to be exercised regularly and, according to policy of the day, re-certified every year by the original manufacturer. Then along came EFA, wanting to use them... God knows how much it cost to resurrect them. Ferranti had a hangar-sized building full of them, all owned by MoD - but the plinths had rotted away and they leaked like No 10 DS. Cheaper to pay for the maintenance contract.
tucumseh is offline  

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are Off


Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us Archive Advertising Cookie Policy Privacy Statement Terms of Service

Copyright © 2018 MH Sub I, LLC dba Internet Brands. All rights reserved. Use of this site indicates your consent to the Terms of Use.