back to article RAF pilot sacked for sending Airbus Voyager into sudden dive

The Royal Air Force officer who sent his Airbus Voyager into an accidental dive from 33,000 feet, injuring passengers and crew, has been dismissed and given a suspended prison sentence. Flight Lieutenant Andrew Townshend was captain of an Airbus A330 Voyager which dropped 4,400 feet in about 30 seconds during a flight from the …

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Townshend’s actions cost the RAF almost a million pounds

Prosecutor Nigel Lickley QC told the court martial that Townshend’s actions cost the RAF almost a million pounds

£207,000 on repairs to the aircraft, tail number ZZ333

£827,000 on chartered civilian aircraft to replace the rest of the RAF Voyager fleet for the 13 days they were all grounded as a safety precaution.

Er, maybe maths isn't my strongest suit, but how much coimpensation for :

injuring passengers and crew

and

Townshend’s co-pilot’s back was broken and he also suffered nerve damage and a ruptured disc

So, a clear statement of RAF priorities there ....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Townshend’s actions cost the RAF almost a million pounds

Paying compensation to military personnel as a result of an on-duty 'incident' might set an unfortunate precedent.

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Re: Townshend’s actions cost the RAF almost a million pounds

I suspect they may not know the full costs of that yet.

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Re: Townshend’s actions cost the RAF almost a million pounds

Personnel injuries are probably covered by insurance.

Now, English isn't my strongest suit (doing well with maths though), but when reading "almost a million pounds" I'd expect something in the range of but lower than a million.

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Re: Townshend’s actions cost the RAF almost a million pounds

"Paying compensation to military personnel as a result of an on-duty 'incident' might set an unfortunate precedent."

What, like the precedent that they apply to the Armed Forces Compensation Scheme which has been in operation since 2005?

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Interesting

I probably missed this when reading the original incident description.

Am I reading this right? According to the accident investigation report, the meatware failed completely and it was the autopilot that took things into its own hands and pulled the plane out of a dive? I think everybody onboard owes a quite few beers to an unnamed Airbus software engineer.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Interesting

way to go, Otto ! :-)

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Re: Interesting

Looks like the pilot screwed up, co-pilot returned to the cockpit and applied pitch up. The fly by wire system noted the speed was getting dangerously high and idled the engines to prevent the aircraft exceeding the do not exceed speed.

So the pilot failed thoroughly, but the co-pilot acted quickly and correctly once he returned to the flight deck while the fly by wire helped.

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Re: Interesting

'The fly by wire system noted the speed was getting dangerously high and idled the engines to prevent the aircraft exceeding the do not exceed speed.

So the pilot failed thoroughly, but the co-pilot acted quickly and correctly once he returned to the flight deck while the fly by wire helped.'

The autopilot also started to pitch up to avoid exceeding Vne. The copilots initial actions were more or less irrelevant if my reading of the report is correct.

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Pint

Re: Interesting

"Looks like the pilot screwed up, co-pilot returned to the cockpit and applied pitch up"

Not quite. Yes, the co-pilot returned to the cockpit, but did so by crawling along the ceiling, and so could not immediately reach the right hand stick to override the pitch-down command, as the aircraft was in a negative G dive.

According to the MAA (Military Aviation Authority) report, the aircraft's FEPS (Flight Envelope Protection System) kicked in and activated pitch-down protection 3 seconds after the autopilot was disconnected (by the camera pushing the left hand stick fully forward.) This overrode the left hand stick pitch down command, and after 13 seconds FEPS activated high-speed protection as the aircraft passed through 330 knots - this idled all engines, allowing the aircraft to recover the dive to level flight having lost only 4,400 ft. in altitude.

So as 'Voland's Right Hand' said above, the designers and engineers who built the FEPS are owed many, many beers by those on board...

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Happy

Re: Interesting

Yes, some of us remember the "Russian" Airbus which crashed in Siberia when the pilot let his son sit behind the stick. I can to some "extent" understand that father. I have stood behind the wheel of a ship aged eight, when my father was a captain and I have let my son behind the helm of a yacht too, and I can understand all of that. But in that case, over Siberia, everything went wrong, and had they just let the "stick" alone the plane would have tried to saved itself, but as it was, they were overriding the system pulling the stick. This topic between automation and too much automation and education will not disappear ever.

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Re: Interesting

That was an A310 which still had a yoke, not a stick. Completely different set of circumstances and completely different set of FEPS.

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Re: Interesting

"after the autopilot was disconnected (by the camera pushing the left hand stick fully forward.)"

I'm not a pilot but it seems to me that if you've engaged the autopilot, it should require a specific action to turn it off again, not simply operating the manual controls

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Re: Interesting

"I'm not a pilot"

And there's the rub.

Understand this: On virtually all airliners the autopilot is disconnected (with a "bong" or other annunciator) the moment any of the controls is touched.

This has been the cause of a couple of crashes - pilot gets up to go to the can, knocks the yoke, noone heard the bong and the plane then slowly flies into the ground because everyone assumes Otto's in charge. There's a strong argument to make the noise louder or flash a light too but I'm not sure if that recommendation was ever implemented as an aviation order.

A trimmed aircraft in straight and level flight is going to keep doing doing that if nothing alters the controls for a long time - eventually slight imbalances will put it into a climb/dive/turn but that take several minutes to build up and is cumulative based on the initial imbalance.

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Re: Interesting

I'm not a pilot but it seems to me that if you've engaged the autopilot, it should require a specific action to turn it off again, not simply operating the manual controls

Think about the way cruise control works in a car. You really wouldn't want it trying to maintain speed while you are applying full brake in an emergency, and you wouldn't want to have to think about finding the "off" switch in a similar circumstance.

Touch the brakes or the clutch and the cruise control disengages.

Of course it's much more complicated in a 'plane and I gather there are different degrees of autopilot, ranging from something not dissimilar to cruise control to almost full sit-back-and-enjoy-the-ride.

M.

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Re: Interesting

"Yes, some of us remember the "Russian" Airbus which crashed in Siberia when the pilot let his son sit behind the stick. ..... But in that case, over Siberia, everything went wrong"

As a matter of detail, the fundamental error was simple. As usual with accidents, there were many errors piled one upon another, and several of them howlers, but the overriding mistake which, more than any other, caused the disaster was the crew's failure to assign responsibility for monitoring the flight to any one of the three pilots on board. All three sat around, assuming that one of the other three was in charge. No-one even bothered to glance at the instruments. Being clear about who has control is fundamental to all vehicles and has been for hundreds, possibly thousads of years. this is why sailors quickly evolved simple, practical rituals such that there is never any possible doubt about who has the watch, and why (as soon as multi-crew aircraft came along) pilots did the same.

(Imagine being in a car with dual control. Three of you are travelling at 100km/h. Just as the thing is about to drive off the cliff and it's too late to do anything, you say "Oh, sorry Harry, I thought you were probably driving. Did you think I was?" OK, not an exact parallel, but you get the rough idea.)

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Re: Interesting

AP disconnects on any modern Airbus aircraft (and even in the good old A310) trigger a VERY LOUD (as in "can often be heard by the passengers in the first couple of rows) CAVLRY CHARGE aural warning, an AUTOFLIGHT - AUTOPILOT OFF warning on the Electronic Centralised Aircraft Monitoring System (ECAM) and a MASTER WARNING alert.

Can't be any more obvious, but probably a lesson learnt over the years.

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Happy

Re: Interesting

@ Andre Carneiro

Yes I know that and due to a limited vocabulary I called the yoke a stick (the one between your legs, not that other one).

My point was about education, in lack of a better word, in both cases mistakes were made by the pilots.

I would claim we who drive cars have made very silly mistakes too.That reminds me of a friend of mine who decided to open a bottle when driving and as he had a bottle opener with the ignition key ring he pulled the keys out and everything was fine except there was a bend in the road and the steering column locked and he ended up in the ditch. I fore one went of the high way at high speed trying to lit a fag, managed to get back but it was a rather scary moment.

The second point was about the topic between automation and too much automation. In this case automation saved the plane and in the case in Siberia a bit more automation could perhaps have saved the plane too. And what about the plane that crashed in the Everglades.

And what about that Lufthansa suicide, could some more automation have prevented it. Like a "plane" refusing to crash and realizing there is only one pilot in the cockpit and that the door is locked, who knows, but it's clear this topic is ongoing. Perhaps I find the topic interesting from a programmers point too.

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Happy

Re: Interesting

"to any one of the three pilots on board", Let me guess, you are Russian and there is nothing wrong about that you could correct, but it's a long time since three pilots were needed in the western world of aviation, and quite frankly was that ever needed. That Russian plane was indeed a Airbus and not a Russian Aeroflot design plane. As for the Airbus cockpits here they are.

http://www.airbus.com/aircraftfamilies/passengeraircraft/cockpits/

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@Lars

Sorry mate, you've screwed the pooch this time. There were three pilots in the cockpit of that aircraft on that flight. (Plus the two children, who were travelling with their father, one of the three pilots.) Don't take my word for it, look it up, Aeroflot Flight 593.

Sadly, you haven't got the number of pilots normally required in old-time western aircraft right either. Up until about 1970, give or take, it was indeed common to have three crew members in the cockpit as routine, but onlt two of them pilots. The third member was the Flight Engineer, who was usually responsible for (obviously) the engines, but also other tasks, notably fuel management. Advances in technology soon made flight engineers technically superfluous, but airlines in some countries retained them for another decade or so largely because of pressure from their union.

Flight Engineers were not pilots, and were not qualified or trained to fly the aircraft, although of course some engineers did flying training at their own expense in the hope of eventually getting a better-paid and more prestigious job at the pointy end.

On very long flights, it was and still is cvommon to have a third pilot, or more typically a complete second crew, to allow the primary crew to get some sleep.

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Re: Interesting

"

I'm not a pilot but it seems to me that if you've engaged the autopilot, it should require a specific action to turn it off again, not simply operating the manual controls

"

Do you also believe that once you have engaged cruise control in a car, it should require a specific action to turn it off again, not simply pressing the brake pedal?

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You need to fix either the headline or the story - they don't agree about the prison sentence.

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Anonymous Coward

something normal happened

sad outcome but at least someone finally answers for their actions. Look at current news elsewhere and its all 'lessons will be learned' and full pension bollocks.

How many masons in the RAF or have they not reached that level yet?

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Grounded?

"...RAF Voyager fleet for the 13 days they were all grounded as a safety precaution"

Because someone jammed a camera in the controls?

Or did the pilot's perjury obscure that fact and lead to the grounding?

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Re: Grounded?

13 days =

1 day for somebody to write a Corrective And Preventive Action plan for dealing with jamming DSLRs behind the control stick (ie don't)

11 days for it to be reviewed, filed, lost queried, subject to public inquiry, lost again, recycled as firelighters .....

1 day for checking if any of the other aircraft had DSLRs jammed behind the control stick

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Coat

Re: Grounded?

Why not read the article, the Airbus was damaged for £207,000 on repairs to the aircraft.

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Re: Grounded?

And they spent 500% as much grounding undamaged planes - presumably while checking for DSLRs jammed in the controls?

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Re: Grounded?

the aircraft were grounded because the pilot lied as to the cause of the incident, so the authorities had to assume (until proved otherwise) that the cause was a software glitch. In reality the software saved them.

On a different tangent, whats the point in sacking him and then handing down a suspended sentence. By sacking him they've ensured he's beyond military discipline so can't be called back to serve the sentence

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Re: Grounded?

On a different tangent, whats the point in sacking him and then handing down a suspended sentence.

Sacking pretty much ensures he'll never get a job flying for an airline. His career path is now in the toilet.

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Re: Grounded?

Military discipline isn't some kind of private club agreement - it's statute law. Anybody sentenced to imprisonment is automatically dismissed unless there's a really good reason not to, but that doesn't stop them serving the sentence.

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Re: Grounded?

'so perjury now gets a suspended sentence?'

He was acquited of perjury, however he pleaded guilty to negligence in performing his duties (or words to that effect) and that is what he was sentenced for.

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Re: Grounded?

"Or did the pilot's perjury obscure that fact and lead to the grounding?"

Yes. Or at least that;s what I read in the article. I assume the article is accurate.

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Flying by Joystick

Seems to be the trouble. Flying an airliner like you fly a computer game.

No little camera is going to clog up a big heavy steering wheel. And if it did the effect would be obvious, wheel pointing in wrong direction.

But a tiny bump being enough to pitch it over. It should take a mighty shove to do that.

The tiny stick has destroyed planes in the past. Air France idiot pilot pulled back the stick and held it. Other pilot did not realize -- no tactile feedback. Stalled it in all the way from 30,000'.

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Happy

Re: Flying by Joystick

@aberglas. What a hard life you have. First it was the fly-by-wire that was so bad, but now that Boeing uses it you will have to go with the joystick, eventually you will have to go with the colour or something. And if it was the opposite way you would claim Airbus is old fashioned when they don't use a joystick. Just accept that both companies compete and make great planes. And the fact there is competition is a damned good thing.

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Re: Flying by Joystick

'No little camera is going to clog up a big heavy steering wheel. And if it did the effect would be obvious, wheel pointing in wrong direction.'

Not a camera but close enough in size NVG case vs C-130

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Re: Flying by Joystick

Years ago, a handful of moronic Yanks used to make up ridiculous nonsense about aeroplanes manufactured anywhere other than the US. It used to be rather fun to read their increasingly desperate and always demented rantings. Sometimes, when you could be bothered, you'd point out the laughable flaws in their "evidence" and "logic". But not very often, there wasn't a lot of sport in it. Hey, showing them up as blinkered fools from Fantasyland was about as challenging as peeing without getting more than 50% of it on the floor instead of in the bowl. Sober. With the light on. Sitting down.

Ahhh .... nostalgia.

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Re: Flying by Joystick

@aberglas this guy broke two major rules;

1. With the co-pilot out of the seat his principle responsibility is to fly the plane. Obviously he was stuffing around taking pictures otherwise his seat would not have had to be moved forward.

2. He lied about what caused the incident.

First rule is anytime your singled up on the flight deck you are strapped in, and seat forward before the other pilot leaves his seat. Pilot arrogance kills just as many people as design/system flaws.

The side stick there is no feedback nor do you need it, yes it is sensitive, I know some pilots converting from BAE146's and its heavy controls had a devil of a time as they over-corrected resulting in lots of PIO, but its the pilot at issue not focusing on his job to fly the plane.

Tactile feedback wont save you if your not scanning your instruments, and the lack of training to handle non normal situations. Some maybe one in a billion but not to practice courts disaster, sadly as more accountants run airlines than flyers the training gets reduced and the risk increases.

To the audible warning, its a double tone and the master warning light (red one) flashes briefly and unless your holding a rave on the flight deck your going to hear it.

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Anonymous Coward

Terminology

"Flight Lieutenant Andrew Townshend was captain of an Airbus A330"

He was the pilot, and Flt Lt Jones was the copilot, as Corfield correctly states in the other articles.

Captain and First Officer is the civilian terminology, not used in military flying due to conflict with actual ranks.

There is one good thing about this incident, which is that for us in the civilian world we now get unusual attitude recognition and recovery training (and I imagine the military do as well).

I did not know Townshend might have been frugal with the truth. The RAF was reputed to follow a strict no-blame policy where you could get away with murder as long as you owed up to it (and didn't make it too much of a habit).

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Re: Terminology

'He was the pilot' - He would have been the Aircraft Commander, but you are correct that Captain is civilian term. The military did use the term Captain until sometime in the mid '00s when someone decided to change it. Made doing Captaincy training sorties confusing as Commandercy didn't sound right.

'The RAF was reputed to follow a strict no-blame policy where you could get away with murder as long as you owed up to it (and didn't make it too much of a habit).'

It's not a no-blame policy, it's known as a 'Just Culture' where honest mistakes aren't punished* so that lessons can be learnt. However deliberate failing, negligence etc. are still punishable. There's even a handy flowchart so you can decide what the outcome should be and be vaguely consistent.

More details in the Manual of Air Safety.

*although it's taken the Army a while to get onboard with that idea

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Facepalm

Note to pilots: The control stick is NOT a selfie stick you vain twats.

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