back to article Please shut up about the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash

New information is said to have emerged in the case of the 1994 RAF Chinook helicopter crash on the Mull of Kintyre. Internal MoD documents, casting doubt on the safety of the engine-control software in the wrecked Chinook, have been leaked to the media. According to the BBC and venerable IT mag Computer Weekly - which has …

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  1. Peter Christy

    Fadec reliability

    Well, if BAe's (or whoever it was at the time) engineers are so good at software, why has a whole fleet of Chinooks been sitting in a hangar unable to fly? As I recall, these were bought without the manufacturers software because "our boys" were going to write their own! The result? They never even got off the ground!

    In a big helicopter like a Chinook, if the engines over-speed, the first thing that happens is that the rotor blades fly off, due to the excessive centrifugal force! This is not an optimum flying configuration! So at the first sign of an engine run-away, a helicopter pilot will pull more pitch on the blades to try and absorb the power. So, no, the engines won't show any sign of over-speeding, presumably because the pilots took the correct action to prevent it!

    Of course, the result of pulling on more pitch like that is a violent climb, which *could* be interpreted as a desperate attempt to clear rising ground ahead. It could equally be an attempt to stop the blades flying off due to an un-commanded power increase - something which appeared to have been a regular feature during flight tests using that software!

    The fact is that we are unlikely to know for sure which it was. What we DO know is that the RAF broke its own procedures in blaming the pilots when there were plenty of other explanations available.

    Of course, its very difficult for the dead to defend themselves. Perhaps that's one reason why this story refuses to lie down......

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    But was there a cover-up

    At the time I had a friend in Aldergrove who handled the paperwork for that aircraft. I saw him the day after the accident and he alleged that the pilots had declared the aircraft unserviceable. A senior officer had then got involved and told them to take it out anyway. After it hit the side of the mountain some of the paperwork for that aircraft then went "missing".

    Regardless of what caused the accident a senior officer should not have been ordering men into an aircraft they believed to be unserviceable; especially when you're flying around senior intelligence officers and officials.

    1. Brian Morrison
      Thumb Down

      There's actually a nasty aerodynamic effect with helicopters....

      ...that can catch the unwary.

      If sudden application of additional collective pitch is made, the air trapped within the rotor disc actually begins to rotate en masse with the rotor. This leads to a short-lived reduction in lift until the air slows again, so for a short period the aircraft sink rate increases. There have been a number of accidents on landing due to this effect.

      Now, whether this happens when flying at the sort of speed the Chinook in question was travelling at I don't know, but it might.

      Bad form to blame the pilots in the way they were. It's almost as if the BoE decided to deflect attention from something else isn't it?

  3. Mike Hunt 1
    Black Helicopters

    Whatever next ?

    As the article quite rightly puts it - its about time to move on. Whilst the loss of the crew and passengers of this helicopter is sad, the questions must be asked - why were they flying at low level given the conditions and why were all of these "crucial" passengers travelling together? Where do we go next - are we going to dig up (not literally) the Munich air crash to see if we can find somebody else to blame / avert blame from? The information regarding the supposed problems with the engine management unit dates back over 15 years, and was published at the time of the enquiry. Come on people - move along - there is nothing to conspire about....let the dead rest in peace, and thank god that these helicopters are still flying for our troops out in Afganistan.

    (Black Helicopter cos the picture seemed appropriate for the story !!)

    1. Mad Mike
      Grenade

      Butt covering

      The whole point here is not whether FADEC is a good idea or not. The whole point here is that the pilots were blamed contrary to RAF procedures at the time and were found guilty of serious mistakes whilst other known issues were swept under the carpet. It would hardly be surprising if errors in early FADEC control systems were found. That often happens with new technology. They've know been fixed (hopefully) and everything is OK. However, that is no reason to tarnish good peoples names for no other reason than to hide the real reason which is what seems to have happened here. It was embarrassing, simple as that. And the easy route out was to blame people who couldn't respond rather than be truthful. Additionally, if the pilots were ordered to take the helicopter after warning it was unserviceable, some officers and the MOD would be in serious trouble.

      This is butt covering of the highest order and is a disgrace. Some senior members of the MOD etc. should be hanging their heads in shame and don't deserve the loyalty of people under them as they clearly have shown no loyalty the other way.

    2. Martin Milan
      Grenade

      What?

      The reason this needs investigating properly...

      First of all, people died, and people still use that aircraft type. We owe it (and a lot more besides) to our forces to be sure we understand this incident, and how to act to avoid a repeat of it.

      Next, it seems that the pilots who were blamed for this incident MAY be innocent of any wrong doing. If they have been labeled as negligent without just cause, then we owe it to their memory and their families to publicise the truth.

      Finally, if their was a deliberate cover up, then it needs to be exposed and the instigators of it made to face justice. Our forces need confidence in their commanders...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Pirate

      Chinook FADEC Whatever next ?

      If one of "Mike Hunt 1"s relations was blamed for a crash that he was not responsible for, he might be more supportive of Computer Weekly in their quest for justice. Not supporting the Mod in their lies and deceit.

  4. Desk Jockey
    Black Helicopters

    We will never really know

    Like many other aircraft mishaps of the past, this is just another "we don't have a clue" and so the lack of evidence boils down to it being put down to pilot error. It may well be the correct reason, but truthfully no one really knows. Back then, even passenger jets had the very occasional bad habit of falling out of the sky. Nowadays safety and technology is so good that such incidents are incredibly rare. Even the pilots have to really make a huge cock-up for it to go wrong.

    The real scandal of this story that those involved want to cover up, was the fact that so many big name people were on that Chinook. They should never have had all those people on one helicopter (or arguably even on a helicopter at all, what was wrong with normal airline service?). Accidents happen, particularly back then, heck the IRA were having wet dreams over shooting down such a juicy target and all this means the decision should have been never to allow all those specialists on one flight.

    Forget arguing about the Chinook, the story is about the people and probably some bad decision making tinged with some mean penny pinching by the bean counters. As for blaming the pilots or the FADEC? In the words of the Scottish legal system, the verdict is 'not proven'.

  5. Gulfie
    FAIL

    Your comments are Insensitive and ill-judged

    OK, the reason that this news is receiving prominance is because the Boscombe Down documents were not made available to the enquiry or subsequent repeats thereof.

    The original board of enquiry ascribed blame to the pilots in part because there was no evidence to support any other conclusion. Chinooks don't carry a black box so there was no record of the aircraft's behavour in the moments before the crash - so the investigation was able to ascertain what happened (a general idea of speed, aircraft attitude etc) but not why.

    Introduce these new documents and you have just changed the balance of probability between pilot error and some other cause.

    Disclosure: I'm an ex private pilot. The point here is that two experience pilots were in charge. It is not, contrary to your opinion, easy to fly into the ground when flying at low level, even in poor visibility. Easy for a non-flyer to believe it can happen, plausible for a solo pilot to be distracted and make an error, but far less plausible for two experience pilots to both fail to spot what was going on/ about to happen.

    What concerns me is the blase way that you are saying "FFS move on". The accident could be re-investigated and the conclusions remain unchanged, and if so, so be it. This isn't (now) about the fallability or otherwise of the Chinook. It's about the impartiality of the investigation, the availability or otherwise of all the evidence that the level of certainty applied to the derived reason for the crash, and subsequent treatment of the airmen and their families.

    Everybody deserves justice. Even if the eventual outcome is unchanged, this is new evidence that, given the source, should not be lightly ignored. Perhaps a short public enquiry to expose the report, the defects in the software that were not fixed in the Mull of Kintyre machine, and the possible effects thereof. If there is nothing to find, then the verdict stands. If anything significant is found then the investigation should be re-opened.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    The MOD could not identify the cause of the crash

    That has not changed, so it's not fair to assume it was pilot error, any more than it's fair to assume the software was at fault or anything else for that matter.

    If they'd simply said "we don't know the cause and are unlikely to find out" instead of trying to use two dead men as scapegoats, the issue would have died a long time ago.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Real Time Operator Backup - Copilot

      I agree that it is far, *far* less plausible that both pilots would make such a mistake... which makes it far more likely that one or more of these "causalties" either took the "early retirement" option into another identity, or are still working for Her Maj on a less then offical capacity. Both cases would leave the bereaved in the dark.

      Likewise, they may have just rounded up all those that could have known too much (enforcers, planners, and sympathizers alike) and let them on a merry ride to the promised land... The Colonies are not the only country with experience in disposing of "loose ends" that followed orders to the letter, especially when those orders could prove embarassing later... or those that looked the other way when it was convenient or profitable.

    2. Les Cunningham

      Flying into a hilside...

      in poor visibility is a standard aircraft accident. Like Gulfie, I used to have a PPL, and one of the aircraft I sometimes flew was a Cessna 182 which was later flown into a hillside, killing its owner and 3 passengers. I have seen wreckage on Scottish hills of quite a few aircraft which have hit hills, such as the Lancaster which just failed to clear Beinn Eighe in poor visibility.

      Everything I have read about the Mull of Kintyre accident makes me believe that there was pilot error. If they planned to fly at low level across the sea and climb to a safe height at the last minute, with a full load of very important passengers, then the pilots were being irresponsibly gung-ho. This is especially true if they believed that the aircraft was unsafe in any way. A more charitable assumption is that they made a navigational error; perhaps their intended course was over the sea just to the west of Kintyre.

  7. SuperTim

    In all fairness

    It would seem that the inquiries have not sufficiently proved that the pilots were the sole error, and that is why the relatives of the pilots want ALL factors taken into account. FADEC is not as reliable in an emergency as full manual control, mainly due to possible conflicts with the software programming and the encountered conditions. A classic example of this was the ill-fated Airbus flyby, where the pilots flew at low speed and high-alpha, but when they demanded more power, the FADEC style software took its sweet time, delaying the spool up just long enough to cause the plane to crash into a wood.

    I am not saying the pilots were completety innocent, nor that the helicopter was perfectly safe, but it would seem there are scenarios when these things conspire against each other and a crash results.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why it still bothers people

    The key to the furore over the issue is that the pilots were judged to be guilty of "gross negligence" which under the regulations required a burden of proof that there was "no doubt whatsoever." that it was something the pilots did or didn't do that caused the accident.

    In this case it seems that as the Board of Inquiry couldn't contemplate any other reason for the helicopter to hit a mountain it must have been the crews fault. Lacking black boxes and with parts of the helicopter burned out there was less evidence to work on than for a civilian aircraft crash.

    Not surprising that if the pilots might/might not have been to blame that the families take a strong view on them being singled out as the sole cause of the crash.

    If the FADEC had issues at the time it was being used (whether uncommanded power changes or only false warning lights) then the balance of probabilities changes. If a fully functioning aircraft with a inexperienced crew crashes, you'd think the crew actions worthy of investigation but if you had an experenced crew and a faulty aircraft, you might expect the fault to lay elsewhere.

    Interesting reading these Public Accounts committee reports

  9. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    Who is the biggest supplier of terrorism and WMD, anyway?

    "Regardless of what caused the accident a senior officer should not have been ordering men into an aircraft they believed to be unserviceable; especially when you're flying around senior intelligence officers and officials." .... Anonymous Coward Posted Monday 4th January 2010 15:27 GMT

    "..the questions must be asked - why were they flying at low level given the conditions and why were all of these "crucial" passengers travelling together?" ..... Mike Hunt 1 Posted Monday 4th January 2010 15:29 GMT

    Fertile spooky conspiracy material there, chaps, whenever you consider who the passengers were, and the information they might have had on the suppliers and supporters of the terrorism they were fighting/investigating.

  10. MH Media

    Trial ?

    "Cook and Tapper the benefit of the doubt - not that they are being tried for any criminal offence"

    No, they have been tried by the Media and Politicians - far worse than any Courts Martial or civil judiciary. Hopefully these new (as in newly presented) revelations will osrt the matter out properly, once and for all.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    ...but it's the reputation of the pilots...

    ...that is trying to be salvaged here, not the reputation of the Chinook. The inquiry was probably rash to put the blame solely on the pilots, when it would appear that there could have been other plausible causes. It is the families of the pilots who keep lobbying and digging that keep the profile high, because of the insult to their family members.

    If the MoD just retracted the findings of the inquiry and the unsubstantiated "gross negligence" conclusion, with a statement that there was insufficient evidence to firmly establish the cause, I'm sure the media interest would just fade away, and the whole issue would be consigned to Wikipedia.

    How would Lewis feel if one of his relatives had this branding. I'm sure he would be interested in clearing their name as well.

    I generally like Lewis's reporting, but IMHO, this goes too far.

  12. LPF

    Lewis..

    Have you ever designed a computer system by chance? Do you think that they were built and put into this helicopter at the time and worked perfectly from the start ???

    What the familes are complaining abaout is that without any facts to back up their claims the MOD have stained the meory of these pilots knowing that they are unable to defend themselves.

    Their is no proof one way of the other to say what actually happened on that night for definate, so to avoid any possibliity of court action and compensation, the MOD blamed the pilots.

    Considering that honour is something that is valued highly by people who serve this country , then I can see why the families are not going to just allow someone to state that their loved ones was responsible for the deaths of 29 people without absolute proof.

    Them complaining about the circumstances of the chinook crash has nothing whatsoever to

    do with the procurement policy of the MOD and to suggest sucha thing is reprehesible, you

    should be ashamed of yourself if you know the meaning of the word that is !

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sudden power loss not necessarily as harmless as you suggest ...

    ... if it's to the tail rotor rather than the main rotor. That's basically instant spin-out isn't it? Would have thought it could be hard even to get off a mayday call in those circumstances. Does the FADEC control the tail rotor as well as the main rotor engines? A very brief google suggested it might do; it certainly does in similar systems.

    Also, what exactly is "conclusively proven to be safe"? You mean like with the absolute certainty of a mathematical formula? Or just some other kind of perhaps not-actually-quite-so-conclusive "proof"? Hard to know when you just state this bald assertion without any evidence or references. Ah, but "It's a fact". Didn't Chris Morris say something like that once...?

  14. Annihilator
    Dead Vulture

    Necessary?

    "If you want to be nasty to the dead pilots, you would ask why they were flying so low in such terrain and such conditions - a factor that the FADEC can't be blamed for - but that's beyond the scope of this article and we see no reason to be nasty"

    So... why raise it?...

  15. My Alter Ego
    Thumb Down

    To quick to decide pilot error.

    At uni (studying Aero engineering) we were bused down to Boscombe Down for a recruitment day & tour. I made the mistake of asking about FADEC on the Mk.3 (I think) Chinooks in the hanger due to previous perceived problems. I was quickly told that it was definitely pilot error as there had been no FADEC issues at all.

    When we were shown the C130-Js in the hanger the same person pointedly made the comment that these had FADEC too and with no issues. Different engines as far as I remember. My impression that the engineers refused to accept that the problem could ever have been technical.

    As other have said, it's appalling that the pilots were posthumously decided to have been grossly negligent. Regarding the passengers, a relative of mine who served in the army asked what the hell was the MOD putting so many high ranking intelligence experts on the same flight (from Nothern Ireland no less).

    As for Lewis' comments, yes it's great that the services are getting use of the aircraft, but there's no way that this should be ignored (as Lewis appears to wish). Meanwhile we still have two officers charged with gross negligence with no proof.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      WTF?

      There isn't a tail-rotor on a Chinook...

      You muppet! Have you ever seen one? It has 2 big 'main' rotors - one at the front & one at the back (though not a 'tail' rotor in the sense of a typical helo such as, for example, a Sea-King). Both engines drive both rotors (through some very complex & clever gearboxes) so you still keep flying if you lose an engine. Your 'spin induced by failed tail-rotor' scenario makes no sense when applied to a Chinook.

      Lewis is right to sing the praises of the Chinook - it's a very good cab indeed and the FADEC nowadays seems to be mature & reliable technology. However, in a previous life I spent a few months preparing weekly briefs for commanders at RAF Strike Command HQ (about 2 years after the crash of ZD576). I can assure you that ANY mention of incidents which might have been due to problems with Chinook FADEC achieved stratospheric levels of interest (all the way to the very top) in an extremely short space of time - more so than almost any other topic I can remember. I am unable to be more specific than that and it's not necessarily sinister but, clearly, it was a matter of serious concern at the highest level.

      AC for obvious reasons.

    2. Alan Firminger

      Tail rotor ??

      The Chinook has two lift rotors.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nonsense

    The RAF board of enquiry ruled the pilots were at fault, and this can only be done if there is absolutely no chance of it being caused by something else.

    We have numerous expert opinions and expert reports, evidence to show that there was a genunine issue with the FADEC software.

    Whilst the cause can not be attributed definitively to the software, the fact there were very grave concerns over it means that the RAF board of enquiry should not have come to the conclusion it did.

    I saw part of a report analysing the software, and good coding practise went out the window in that application. Remember, this is flight safety critical software and there are very genuine concerns over that software.

    We don't know what really happened that day, and almost certainly we never will know, and the very nature of software bugs means that it's often very hard to re-create them, and they very often do not leave a trail of evidence behind for investigators to analyse. Anybody working in software knows that.

    For the author to make remarks about the state of the instrumentation and control settings after the crash and then conclude nothing could have happened to the FADEC system moments earlier is incredibly foolish and naeve.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Default assumptions in political software projects

    I have no knowledge of the case in hand. However being a veteran of public and private sector 'political deliverable' software projects - my default position would be to assume that

    1. deliberate untruths about the readiness and fitness for purpose of the software will be knowingly propogated up the management hierarchy gaining interest at each step

    2. those who dare utter (or worse write down) the truth will suffer systematic gaggings, sackings and losses of evidence both preceding and following the inevitable disaster

    3. the c%^ts responsible will always get away with blaming someone else

  18. JohnG

    I disagree

    The pilots were not on trial for a criminal offence and could not be because they were dead. However, they were posthumously blamed for the crash. Had the pilots been alive, they would have had legal representation and the finding of gross negligence would have been unlikely in the absence of any proof. It might have been better for the MOD to have acknowledged that the cause remained unknown and left it at that - but they decided to blame the pilots anyway.

    The "new" documents are new in that they were not available at the RAF board of inquiry, presumably because in one of them, the CO of the Rotary Wing Test Squadron wrote that the RAF should "cease Chinook HC2 operations" until issues with the digital flight systems were resolved. If the inquiry had been aware of these documents or of the MOD's legal action at that time of the inquiry against the suppliers of FADEC, perhaps they would have arrived at different conclusions. That such information was not available to the inquiry might lead many people to suspect that there was a cover up and possibly some corruption involved.

  19. Rupert Fiennes Silver badge

    FADEC hardly the issue

    Why were two experienced pilots flying at low level in fog, rather than just flying above all known terrain? There's hardly a small arms or SAM threat in Scotland.

    R

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      sigh

      The point is that the MOD doesn't know why, but continues to insist that it must be pilot error, even though THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT CAUSED THE CRASH.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Airbus crash

    The ill fated airbus flyby was caused by a couple of factors.

    One the pilot left things to late and there wasn't sufficient time for the engines to spool up to deliver enough power.

    And the software that received the command input from the throttle levers treated the sudden and huge demand request of throttle as being errant, a spike on the the throttle inputs which was ignored by the software - in that it shouldn't be possible for the pilot to make such a rapid and large change in throttle demand. The inputs were effectively filtered to prevent spikes.

    This was a design error.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Please shut up about the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash....

    ...because it doesn't fit in with Page's view that expensive, imported, high tech tat is always vastly superior to anything that has gone before it.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    not in our interests

    "...the Superintendent of Engineering Systems said that the density of deficiencies was so high that the software was unintelligible..." -CS story

    My interpretation is that the version of the software in use was prototype-code (for want of better word) in use in a life critical environment.

    We can all understand wanting to put rather old stories to bed, but as this is an IT site, why is it of interest to professional engineers, Lewis, to want to bury a process failure that let greed put crappy code in places it can kill? (Whether or not it actually did.)

    1. SuperTim

      That's my point.

      Sure the pilot was late, but manual throttle may have given them a chance. This is exactly the problem. Funny that the system was fingered on that accident.

  23. Graham Marsden
    Thumb Down

    Lewis...

    ... would you have told the descendants of those soldiers suffering from Shell Shock in World War I who were executed for "cowardice" to "please shut up" and "move on" instead of campaigning to clear their forbears' names after new evidence came to light about the cause of their actions?

    No? Then why should these people be told to do so simply because you love the Chinook and want it to have your babies and you think that the smear on the pilots names and reputations isn't important enough to bother about?

  24. Rolf Howarth

    Intransigence

    It's the "gross negligence" verdict that unambiguously lays all the blame on the pilots and says they were clearly guilty of manslaughter BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT that people find objectionable.

    The fact that the result of earlier inquiries was overturned, and that senior figures in the MoD are so adamant in their refusal to admit any possibility of a doubt, makes people suspicious there's some sort of cover up and the pilots are being turned into posthumous scapegoats.

    If there had been an "open" verdict, saying "the exact cause may never be known and a combination of pilot error or possible transient failures in the early control software was the most likely cause (but in any case the software has been updated since then to eliminate any potential glitches)" this issue would indeed have gone away long ago. It's only the stubbornness and intransigence of the MoD that's keeping it alive.

  25. Andus McCoatover

    ..at least a partial call would be likely from pilots of this sort, but none was received..

    Even in a sudden power runaway, at least a partial call would be likely from pilots of this sort, but none was received.

    Seen the back of a government post? "Proof of posting is not proof of delivery". Surely applicable?

    Pechance the pilots were a little too busy for a chat on the wireless?

  26. Alan Firminger

    1 - 4

    1 It is never too late to re-examine a decision, and if appropriate, correct it.

    2 Shortly after the crash Private Eye published an item about faulty FADEC software. By memory, they reported that on a test from Boscombe Down the rotors spun wildly. The crew were able to get down and survive. Boscombe Down test aircrew then refused to fly the a/c anymore. In Northern Ireland the RAF carried on, knowing what they were doing.

    3 So with low cloud, mountains everywhere and an aircraft likely to go wrong what course would you expect the crew to follow. The implication is that control was lost and the Chinook took itself to the hill.

    4 There is a suspicion that this accident should be booked to the MoD, just like the Nimrod crash.

  27. Stuart 25

    Gross negligence?

    However you cut it the pilots were clearly negligent. The families may not be happy about it but I don't think that anything except a report that clears the pilots of any blame and praise their loved ones on their 'skill' will satisfy them.

    If, as alleged, the pilots had doubts about the airworthiness of the helicopter then they would surely have flown a sensible flight path. Helicopters are complex pieces of machinery and they can fail for any number of reasons, which is why sensible pilots should exercise caution. This is even more important considering they were carrying a highly valued 'cargo' in secure airspace.

    Instead they flew low as if they were inserting special forces into hostile airspace. Without any justification for the low flying it is easy to see why the inquiry decided the pilots were negligent.

    Unless a reason for the pilots flying so low can be found then a verdict of negligence will still stand regardless of how the families of the pilots feel.

  28. Ian Johnston Silver badge
    FAIL

    Reliability

    "The view of at least one expert that the system "could never have really been corrected to a 'flight safety critical' standard by subsequent patching" has been disproved."

    In other words, the software needed patching to correct it to a flight safety critical standard.

    1. TJ Watson

      What people are asking for...

      "Unless a reason for the pilots flying so low can be found ... "

      As there has not been a sufficently robust inquiry that has looked at all the evidence and investigated all the allegations we will never know this. The initial inquiry was quick to blame the pilots and then move on. What most people are asking for is a transparent, independent (of the MoD and RAF) inquiry into the whole incident.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Flame

    Oh Lewis

    Have you actually read the ComputerWeekly report?

    I did, a long time ago, and will probably re-read it soon.

    But I remember one thing.

    The quality of the FADEC systems was so poor that the MoD were already suing the US-based supplier (Textron).

    Lewis's article appears to say there was no evidence from the state of the controls that the pilots were trying to respond to an unusual engine event. This is not entirely consistent with the limited facts available from the wreckage (no black box or equivalent). E.g. The CW report notes the position of thepedals - normal flight conditions vs the position the extreme position the pedals were found in (page 8-1).

    SD Scicon gave up looking for bugs after finding 485 "anomalies", including 56 in the most severe class, in the 20% of source code they looked at (page 7-1).

    The CW document also notes many many many other inconsistencies, errors, and indeed downright lies (e.g. "if one of the two FADECs reports it is working OK, it means the other one is OK too").

    Not time to "FFS shut up and move on". Time for setting the record straight, time for justice. You never know who will get framed next time, it may be someone you know.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Did someone say "Nimrod crash"?

    Is that allowed round here?

    El Reg's (ie Lewis's) total silence on the Nimrod inquiry report is quite remarkable. I'd have thought there'd be plenty to be said. I don't understand why there has been *nothing* written - the report is interesting reading, and makes a great many good points, many of which it happily admits are not new. Unusually, it also NAMES NAMES, and some of those named have even been visited (arrested?) by Inspector Knacker.

    The Nimrod victims have had at least partial justice, the Chinook folks deserve no less.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Smelly?

    There is something smelly about this whole affair that, to the initiated as myself, seems to shout aloud of butt covering up.

    On the other hand I am often wrong about a great many things.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What everyone in NI "knows"

    People who lived in Northern Ireland at the time (me for one) find it particularly coincidental that:

    1. experienced RAF pilots flew below safety altitude under IFR

    2. the aircraft held a lot (if not most) of the senior security officials in NI

    3. the pilots were blamed

    4. the IRA cease-fire happened the very next year with rejoicing in the streets of west Belfast

    It might sound like an episode of Spooks but what everyone in Northern Ireland knows (or suspects at least) is that this aircraft was taken down by MI-5 or some other British secret service in order to facilitate an end to the troubles and the eventual union of NI with the ROI.

    Crazy?

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Persistence

    One of the admirable things about the aviation industry is its dogged persistence in getting to the bottom of the "why" of incidents so that they are not repeated; a flick through historic air accident reports quickly shows why flight is so generally safe today. Thankfully, "moving on" is not generally a character trait of the industry, or oxygen generators might still be carried in holds without fire suppression systems. Or we might still have the odd incident where a CO2 suppression system activates in a hold on approach, and smothers the flight deck crew as there is no way for the gas to vent.

    The slight waft of testosterone around that "move on", coupled with the UK military's indifferent safety record of recent years suggests that we are lucky that flight safety is in the hands of those of a more thoughtful and inquiring disposition than apparently exists within the armed forces.

    If the two pilots made a mistake then all well and good. But if there is a case to answer elsewhere it should be pursued, rather than smearing the dead for the sake of political and service convenience.

    While the article started out well enough, it ended up reading like an op-ed from Murdoch's arsewipe factory, and a little too lip quivering for El Reg.

  34. ted frater

    Crew broke basic safety rules

    We wont ever know what actually happened, but we do know the reason for the crash.

    The crew broke these basic safety flying rules.

    You dont fly in cloud, at low level, on instruments when there is high ground nearby.

    onwhat was essentially a passenger/civilian flight.

    I flew that area on a regular basis with my captain Flt Sgt. Sikierkowski on maritime reconnaisance .Even if he was told to fly at a certain height by senior ops personell, once in the air, he always flew 2000ft above the highest hills nearby.

    Thats why he had 20,000hrs in his log book.

    As captain of his craft, its was his responsibility to ensure the safety of his crew, aircraft and mission not the senior officer who authorised the flight. Afterall he was there, the senior officer was not.

    .in the same way its everyones responsibility when driving a carto do so without causing an accident. You should never drive beyond you ability to see and stop.

    If the crew of this chinook had doubts about the serviceability of this craft, why on earth didnt they fly at a height that gave them time to address any technicsl failure and send out a mayday?

    when flying I was taght to fly only within the known flight envelope of the craft, then to cover unforseeable circumstances you add an extra 10% margin.

    Ive known plots to break these basic rules and when events catch them out, they have no safety margin .As our flying club instructor I made the above points crystal clear to every abinitio pilot.

    Pilots that dont stick to the rules pay the price aviation extracts for breaking the rules. It still upsets me when theres an accident but every pilot has to make these decisions everytime he flies.

    Plotting air hours angainst accidents shows an interesting trend.

    In the beginning pilots are basically scared of screwing up so they take more care.

    Once they have several hundred safe? hours on type in their log book, there is a rise in accidents.

    Ill leave it up to the reader to work that one out.

    The captain of a craft always has to have the last word on safety, not anyone else.

    Period.

    1. Tocsin

      ted - can't let that one go (and Stuart 25...)

      Do you teach your ab initio pilots to fly below or above icing levels? (assuming you taught IMC as well as basic PPL...)

      The Chinook in question was not permitted to fly in icing conditions, which were forecast at below the MSL - to fly above MSL (or your MSL +10%) _WOULD_ have been negligence.

      The Mull itself was in fog, but a yachty saw the Chinook flying below cloud level - which was the safest possible / only possible place to be flying (given the requirement to fly at all). Does that answer Stuart 25's question?

      Why the Chinook impacted the Mull is a question we will never know for sure, but I cannot say "with no doubt whatsoever" that it was pilot error. I also cannot say that the MoD position is defensible "with no doubt whatsoever", and becomes less so as more "hidden" information comes to light.

      Why no comment on Haddon-Cave, Lewis?

  35. windywoo
    Thumb Down

    At AC from NI

    I'm from Norn Iron and I do think you're crazy. You're the first person I have heard put forward this theory, so I find it unlikely that we all suspect it. If people here were less inclined to pin events on one side or another maybe we would have had peace sooner.

  36. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    WTF?

    Notes on FADEC

    FADEC is a term for a *class* of management software. It's equivalent to the EMU on a car. Like the EMU, it's not the steering (but it will take inputs from the flying controls and other sensors not direcltly linked to the engine)

    There are a lot of *different* FADEC boxes for diferent engines.

    This one was developed just after DO178b was introduced. This is the standard for airborne softwre development for flight critical software. Introduced Jan 1993.

    IIRC the enquiry board was headed by the officer charged with *introducing* FADEC running chinooks tothe RAF.

    MoD has Crown Immunity and did not install flight recorders. It claimed if one of their aircraft turned up in hostile territory people would know where it had been. building a crash worthy but destroyable-on-demand storage device was too complex.

    MoD were suing Textron at the time for failure to deliver working software. That was not mentioned at the enquiry. various quotes came from a software assesment report quoted in a TV documentary (Ch4 Dispatches?). The one that stuck in my mind was "uncommanded engine stop."

    The current gen Chinnook is probably quite a different beast and is probably safe to fly.

    That was not the point. it smelled bad then. It smells bad now.

  37. mfraz

    What is this author's problem?

    What has this author got against the AW101 and AW159 (Merlin and Wildcat)?

  38. Stu who?

    It's not the FADEC it's the cover up

    The controversy about the Chinook crash has never been about the teething problems of FADEC or its eventual ascendancy as superior to manual engine control. It is about the perfectly normal tendency of software, especially new software, to be full of bugs that managers and accountants want to pretend are not there or not important. The RAF found pilots grossly negligent so that the culpability of those involved could be covered up. No one now asserts that the 'without doubt' test for such a finding is justifiable except interested parties. The families want the slur removed, that is all.

    It is not a tech issue.

  39. N2 Silver badge

    Title

    No we wont shut up about it,

    The title is somewhat disrespectful to the fact that two pilots & their passengers all lost their lives in an incident (I wont use the word 'accident') that could have been prevented.

    The MOD have been guilty of cover ups in the past & I have every reason to suspect that this is one of them.

  40. Sirius Lee
    Thumb Down

    Don't be so patronising

    "Please shut up"? What an incredibly arrogant headline. It may be a long time ago and a lot may have changed in the meantime. However that things may have improved to the point where there now are many Chinook and other craft flying safely by wire. But it does seem there is reasonable doubt about the safety of the control software at the time. Procedures were not followed. And the pilots were assigned the blame. This isn't about whether or not things are OK now but about that increasingly rare commodity in British - honesty (I'll not go so far as asking for the truth).

    My guess is that the author has not written software or not in an environment where bugs are not acceptable. It's seriously difficult to do. Not always because the software is at technically at fault. Very often there's a condition or more usually a series of conditions that have not been anticipated during which the software executes as expected but none-the-less inappropriately.

    These kind of problems have parallels in hardware (think exploding fuel tanks on aircraft or planes that land just short of the runway for instance) which occur long after deemed safe and are ironed out over time. Though usually after loss of life.

    Without honesty the wrong culture emerges in the institutions responsible. And Lewis's own accounts of MoD errors (procurement for example) are also not checked appropriately in such an environment.

    So I'd suggest you get off you high horse and educate us with facts why it is that the pilots were really to blame beyond reasonable doubt. Not for example, on the balance of probabilities, whether it was better to blame the pilots than to introduce doubt into the safety of the Chinook. They may have been flying low in adverse conditions. But how do we know what their orders really were?

  41. Peter 6
    FAIL

    Wow, way to go Lewis!

    Out of all the relevant defence stories over the past few weeks such as the Royal Navy facing almost certain catastrophic collapse in fleet size, the cost of the "off the shelf American" Joint Strike Fighter going up, more shipbuilding issues at Northrop-Grumman and Lockheed Martin two of the very worst shipbuilders in the western world and fine purveyors of "off the shelf" American kit and you decide to ignore all of that and basically insult most of your audience in your quest to hammer home your message of "American kit goooood, British kit baaaaaaaaaaad!"

    Look, Lewis, you don't like British stuff that costs too much and you like American kit that costs slightly less after its been tailored to British needs. WE GET IT! Now can we PLEASE have some decent defence journalism for once? Please? Can we? I honestly feel that by the time you DO finally get around to whinging about the state of the Navy you'll try and tie your argument to buying lots of American DDGs from two American contractors who make BAE Systems and British Shipyards look the prime example of efficiency.

    Get over yourself mate.

    1. Michael Shaw

      Missing the point completely

      In civil court cases, the burdun of proof is "Balance of probability", in criminal court cases, the burdon of proof required is "Beyond reasonable doubt" and in military investigations where the person blamed for the accident died, the level of proof requred is "No doubt what so ever"

      Are there doubts, even unlikely, unreasonable ones remaining? If so, then this is a miscarage of justice. That is why it remains an issue.

      We need a Union Flag icon, because at least us British still understand the concept of justice.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    "increasingly rare commodity in British - honesty"

    That's what's so refreshing about the Nimrod enquiry report. Clear, complete, brutally honest, even to the extent of naming names.

    Yet not a single mention from Lewis yet?

    Summary: http://www.nimrod-review.org.uk/linkedfiles/nimrod_review/haddon_cave_statement.pdf

    "My Report concludes that the accident to XV230 was avoidable, and that XV230 was lost because of a systemic breach of the Military Covenant brought about by significant failures on the part of the MOD, BAE Systems and QinetiQ. This must not be allowed to happen again.

    .

    My Report identifies manifold shortcomings in the UK military airworthiness and in-service support regime, and reveals matters which are as surprising as they are disturbing. The wholesale failure of all three organisations involved in the Nimrod Safety Case to do their job, and the apparently inexorable deterioration in the safety and airworthiness regime in the MOD in the period 1998 to 2006 are particularly troubling aspects of the Nimrod XV230 story. There has been a yawning gap between the appearance and reality of safety. The system has not been not fit for purpose."

  43. Andy Barr
    WTF?

    Sense of perspective

    I think its your title I am reacting to but by some barmy coincidence I know the parents of the pilot of this particular story, I was a barman in their local for while. My father knew a few of the passangers...and thats about as much as he told me! Paul Burnham, who was piloting the Puma that crashed last year, was my house prefect at school...speaking as somebody who has witnessed the anguish - being blamed by your employer, publicly, after your death, has a devasting effect on the loved ones left behind.

    If the pilots are innocent leave no stone unturned proving it, end of.

    WTF? Because...well, WTF?

  44. Martin Nicholls Silver badge

    Shut up?

    "An initial RAF investigation concluded that the pilots had made an error and flown the helicopter into the ground, a mistake which is all too easy to make when flying on instruments at low level in poor visibility"

    The RAF investigation concluded that in the absense of finding anything else it must have been down to pilot error.

    And if it was somebody in your family you'd be quite upset by this 'reporting'. It's not a dead horse, it's a very real issue that needs flogging.

    The problem was that the evidence was suppressed from the /enquiry/, the enquiry found that nothing else could have possibly caused the accident so it was assumed to be neglegence. The problem is of course that something else /could/ have happened, namely a software glitch.

    Luckily the RAF don't investigate their own accidents now, but wow would this article be insulting if the pilots were your family. I mean seriously, have a heart?

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    Chinook crash

    It is typical of the incompetent and dishonest MoD to blame anybody but themselves for this disaster. It was easy to blame the pilots (without ANY evidence) because they were killed in the crash. There IS however, plenty of evidence that the FADEC software was "not fit for purpose".

    The BBC and Computer Weekly are right in publishing this story and should be pursuing it until the MoD accept they were wrong and covered up evidence to hide their own gross incompetence.

    The Register is wrong to moan about this story, you should be supporting it and doing the same as Computer Weekly - looking for justice for two unfortunates who were judged guilty as it was impossible to prove they were innocent!

  46. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Stop

    Pilot error or just machismo?

    This whole story has been kept alive by the press churning the story of how indignant relatives were that the pilots were blamed by the RAF. In truth, I think it was pilot error, but probably due to machismo more than anything else. I have seen the results of two other aircraft accidents (one a private chopper) where ex-Spec Ops pilots were demonstrating "getting close" and hit the ground instead. One happened in clear visibility and was pure stupidity. The other was a pilot showing off and trying to bank between trees "like we did in the Falklands" - not a smart idea. It is often the case that the better the pilot the larger the ego and the more likely the accident. "Cobber" Kain and Douglas Bader are just two examples of top-notch aces that got low-level stunting seriously wrong, the former terminally. A more recent example would be the large number of USAF A-10 Warthog drivers that ended their careers in a plane specifically designed for low-level manouvering - they simply got it wrong, usually through over-confidence.

    In any situation where a pilot has poor visibility, whether they have a cabin chock full of the latest instruments or just the old blind flying panel, you always give yourself the largest margin of error. If there is a mountain nearbye, then you fly a route where you are certain to pass well away from it and hopefully at a height where you would miss it anyway. That way, even if you do have a mechanical or instrumental problem, you have plenty of time and height to deal with the issue. The probable FADEC engine-race would not have caused any problems at a safe altitude. You don't drop down low and indulge in nap-of-the-Earth stunting as the margins for error are reduced to the point where any tiny problem spells curtains.

    The other rediculous story - that the pilots were forced to fly a duff chopper by a "senior officer" - has long since been outed as the usual class-warfare rubbish. There were no missing forms according to the enquiry, and the ground crew have never come forward and made any claim to the contrary. Two experienced pilots made a mistake, simple as that, and the rest is just the usual conspiracy theorist wetdreams.

  47. Anonymous Coward
    Pirate

    wasn't an IRA coup

    IIRC discussing this with someone 'knowledgable' in a pub in dublin back in 1994. I assumed the PTB were dim enough to put all the high-value targets on a single aircraft (surely counter to some policy or other) and been downed by a SAM, after a leak to the oppo of the operational details.

    But Lo. It transpires that MI6 were getting jumpy about thier job-description after the fall of the Soviet, and wanted to muscle in on MI5's turf - NI.

    So, Conincidentally, a whole bunch of Branch and MI5 VIPs travel in the same aircraft, on a terrain-following course in the fog, to some godforsaken disused airstrip where they had actually forgotten to lay on even tea and biscuits for the visiting couple of dozen staff. And crashed into a hillside.

    Within 90 days, the provisional IRA declared a unilateral ceasefire.

    I'll just blithely assume inter-service rivalry. I feel sorry for the pilots' familes (and the VIPs too, including an irish special branch fella), but the truth is ulikely to come out in the wash.

    Unexplained Chinook crashes : 2 in 1986, 1 in 1987 ..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_Chinook_(UK_variants)#Notable_incidents_and_accidents

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CH-47_Chinook#Notable_accidents_and_incidents

  48. Chris Hunt

    Stains

    > It's no dishonour to a pilot, no stain on his reputation, to say he could have made a mistake under such conditions

    Surely being labelled "grossly negligent" is a very considerable stain on anybody's reputation, but maybe it's considered OK in the Navy?

    I doubt if we'll ever get to the bottom of what actually happened that night. If we could leave it at "open verdict", I'd be happy to move on.

    1. Andy Barr
      Stop

      Aaaahhh, Mr Bryant....

      No highly trained, 'on the job' military pilot, carrying high ranking intelligence officials, would 'get close' unless so stated in their mission parameters...or required by circumstance. Not everybody is a cowboy.

      Mr Bryant, am I correct in my memories of you defending the pancake theory once upon a time, on these very boards? If so, are you government?

      1. TJ Watson
        Alert

        Not quite the government

        But he's been accused of being a certain Matt Bryant, former Labour Party press officer and current Director of Connect PA (to my knowledge he hasn't denied it). As it's impossible to tell if his opinions are his own, or just the ones he's paid to have, I tend to take it as read that anything he says is government PR.

  49. Graham Bartlett

    Lewis, you don't know enough to have an opinion on this

    Seriously. Sure, you've served in the forces. But what on your CV gives you the experience to have a valid opinion in safety-related software? Checking the evidence against, any competent engineer would be terrified.

    The code went to an independent review. The reviewers (EDS) called off the review after checking 20% of the code, because it wasn't worth going further after finding 485 "anomalies" and 56 of those at "category 1", the most serious category. Scaling up, we're looking at around 280 cases of uncommanded engine behaviour in that code.

    Then there's the accident 4 years later, where an identical Chinook went into an uncommanded barrel-roll due to software malfunctions. This isn't a "potential" problem like the 280 category-1 bugs - this really happened, on a real aircraft, in clear skies. Only pure luck saved the crew of that Chinook. Had they not survived to tell the tale, what are the odds the pilot of that Chinook would also have copped the blame?

    For some real reporting, check out Computer Weekly's coverage of the story at http://www.computerweekly.com/DowntimePDF/pdf/rafjust.pdf

    Yeah, I don't read El Reg for its quality of reporting, but I really do fail to see what Lewis Page is claiming a salary for.

  50. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I didn't see it mentioned...

    Was the low flying part of the mission? Maybe one of the "VIPs" requested a demonstration? Just curious.

  51. ted frater

    Reply to Tocsin

    sport aviation

    Abinitio pilots only,

    VMC conditions only no IMC equipment

    suitable weather only

    open FIR areas only.

    Re icing at MCL, flight should have been postponed till better weather came through.

    If it was me I would have refused to fly given the weather forecast, aircraft limitations

    and the non urgent nature of the flight plan.

    Even if that meant Id have to disobey orders. Afterall,

    It wasnt a military offensive strike against an enemy.

    we had deicing on the props and wing leading edges so we could fly through the icing level.

    A must read for all pilots is Ernest Gahn's Fate is the Hunter.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    The problem with being literate and old...

    is that you read and correlate a lot of info but can't remember the actual source.

    Before the crash I seem to remember a lot of talk in the IT world of the chinook problems particularly in bad weather, and so the computer system was the immediate suspect following the crash.

    What was "strange" was the way the software issues were ignored and the blame was immediately placed upon the pilots.

    So no the requirement is not to shut up about it, but keep plugging away until it is finally resolved.

    Bit of a poor article really, maybe why I spend less time reading things on here for info now.

    Chances of the cheapskates who purchased the inappropriately equipped helicopters being brought to task???? That's why I keep buying lottery tickets..

  53. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge
    Stop

    Sorry, Lewis ...

    ... I have to disagree with you on this one. There are too many issues that remain questionable about this, and there are issues of natural justice that need to be addressed. It should not go away, and people should keep pressing for a proper investigation.

  54. Tom Oliva 1

    Chinook Troll Lewis? - surely not?

    We don't know what caused the crash - yes we can accept that - but....

    Your assertions about FADECs are totally over-egged.

    To compare the Chinook Mk2 FADEC to anything else before or since is where you are really wrong pal - completely and utterly. The thing was a friggin fiasco of epic proportions.

    Why not tell us that the Chinooks at Boscombe Down were mothballed because they couldn't get any pilots bonkers enough to fly them - the civvies refused point blank.

    And I'll just add that in comparison to VFR and IFR for GA one has to ask WTF were these two gents up front playing at with a high value cargo?

    And as far as new choppers are concerned - anybody got pictures of one of the 6 Mi-17 birds that we've bought for well, peanuts compared to Merlins and Lynxes

    check it out :

    http://defenceoftherealm.blogspot.com/2009/07/clear-military-advice.html

    and more - Lewis I'm surprised that you don't quote Dr. North more......................

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