back to article RAF pilot awaits sentence for digicam-induced airliner dive

A Royal Air Force pilot has been cleared of perjury – but will be sentenced at court martial today after admitting he allowed his digital camera to jam his military airliner’s controls, sending it into a 4,000ft plummet. Flight Lieutenant Andrew Townshend was taking photos while flying an Airbus A330 Voyager from RAF Brize …

  1. Howard Hanek Bronze badge

    Similar Experience

    Many years ago I was reprimanded for doing a simulated straffing run on a Southern Pacific freight train. It was not the kind of experience I had hoped to gain.......

    1. Dave 32

      Re: Similar Experience

      Not too many years ago, I was sitting in my office, in the tallest building in the city I worked in. My desk faced the wall-sized window. As I had my head down, looking at some documents, I became aware of a strange droning sound. It wasn't very loud, but it was gaining in intensity, and was definitely unusual, especially given that it seemed to increase and decrease in amplitude rhythmically. I looked through the window at the street outside, and didn't see anything unusual. Then, I looked up into the air, and spotted a B-17 making a simulated bomb run on the building! It was coming over at about 2000 feet elevation, with the bomb-bay doors open, heading straight over the building.

      That was one of those situations where your brain simply freezes up. What is one supposed to do when one is confronted with a situation that can't reasonably be expected to ever happen? Who would ever plan on being in the path of a bomb run by an airplane that's been obsolete for 50+ years?


      1. Howard Hanek Bronze badge

        Re: Similar Experience

        I was in NYCs Central Park in the mid 80s and witnessed a B-57 reconnaissance a/c buzz over at about a thousand feet climbing to avoid the buildings......

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Similar Experience

      I had a similar experience when I came dangerously close to hitting a reversing Jawa sandcrawler while trying to bullseye a womp rat in my T16.

      My uncle relegated me to evaporator maintenance for a month!

  2. Alister Silver badge

    Voyager ZZ333 was returned to RAF service after exhaustive tests, including X-rays of the captain’s stick assembly and assessments of cosmic radiation measurements

    With apologies to PTerry, but I saw that and thought of:

    "Special offer this aeon is various measurements of paracosmic significance built into the very fabric at no extra cost"

  3. smudge Silver badge

    Not wishing to add to his woes...

    ... but are personnel allowed to take cameras - presumably it was his own camera - into military planes? No classified documents or instrumentation in there?

    1. js.lanshark

      Re: Not wishing to add to his woes...

      It depends. I flew as passenger on a KC-135 refuel of an E-3B AWACS plane. I was free to take as many pics as I wanted. It depends on the nature of the mission.

      1. Simon Harris Silver badge

        Re: Not wishing to add to his woes...

        The RAF runs its own annual photographic competition (with some very nice pictures from the winners) - some entries from previous years have been taken from various cockpits.

        Last year's:

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Not wishing to add to his woes...

          The RAF runs its own annual photographic competition

          So they encourage the practice? Personally, I'd rather my pilot was either asleep whilst the autopilot did the work, or focusing on the job of flying, instead of dicking around with distracting objects on the flight deck.

      2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Not wishing to add to his woes...

        I had a friend (a civilian contractor) who had a box full of pictures that he'd taken personally of aircraft refueling - he had some lovely shots of SR71's refueling off the coast of Vietnam. You can get away with stuff like that if you do favors to the right people and don't screw up.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Not wishing to add to his woes...

      My uncle was a member of the SBS in the 80s, he took a camera with him on most deployments (not missions) and would regularly send us photographs from the arctic, underwater and aircraft. The only condition back then was that the commanding officer got to look at them first, although this seemed to be more about wanting to see the cool photos than keeping any back apparently.

      As children we thought his underwater photos in particular were amazing (and we loved penguins).

    3. phuzz Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Not wishing to add to his woes...

      The service personnel know what's classified and what's not, and tend not to make their photos public until many years later, which is how you end up with pictures like this.

  4. Jon Massey

    Good job

    It didn't hit the controls for the Canon

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Good job

      Maybe, but it sounds as though he was trying to Fuji the evidence in his favour.

  5. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    Voyager ZZ333 was returned to RAF service after exhaustive tests

    And some fairly intensive cleaning of the cabin, I would imagine

  6. Hollerithevo Silver badge

    His co-pilot seems to have paid the price

    Jones is now disabled for life. To go from a fit adult to one who can't do his job any more is a bit of a tough sentence, given that it was due to someone else's stupid lack of thought. But then, not dissimilar to people being crippled by a jerk on his mobile in his car.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Airbus design flaw

    There shouldn't be any flat surface on which to lay something in front of the control stick.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Airbus design flaw

      There shouldn't be any flat surface on which to lay something in front of the control stick.

      Have you flown a sidestick aircraft? What I hear from those who have is that a sidestick is quite twitchy because it moves less distance for the same rate of roll or pitch that a traditional control column or column or yoke does. As a result, its necessary to have your forearm on a flat surface in order to make small, precise control inputs.

      I can't see how you'd design a forearm rest that you couldn't put a camera on, though I can see how it could be attached to the cockpit wall so it would not move with the seat. I personally wouldn't have a camera in my cockpit thats not secured to a mounting point or at least on a lanyard or neckstrap so it can't easily be dropped where it becomes unreachable and/or jam the controls, but ymmv.

      1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

        Re: Airbus design flaw

        And you have to fly lefthanded in the LH seat..

        And the sticks being independent was a necessary factor in the Air France Atlantic nose dive.

        Overall sh*t design. Form over function. Doesn't even have force feedback.

        1. flyguy

          Re: Airbus design flaw

          You have to fly wth your left hand on any modern airliner, from the left hand seat, your right hand would be on the power/trust levers, for landing anyway.

          As a professional pilot, it doesn't matter what hand you use. I switch between seats regularly.

          But agree with the other comment that there shouldn't be a ledge to pace any items around the sidestick.

        2. Cynic_999 Silver badge

          Re: Airbus design flaw

          "And you have to fly lefthanded in the LH seat.."

          And? Take-offs and landings in most dual-control fixed-wing aircraft are flown with the left hand if you are in the left-hand seat, because your right hand is on the centre-mounted throttle (a few aircraft have duplicate throttles, but not many). Just like you have to steer left-handed while changing gear in a LHD car. It's something you need to get used to, but is not at all difficult - in fact I had to adjust to landing right-handed when I started instructing from the RH seat, but it only took a couple of flights. Helicopters OTOH generally have fully duplicated controls and are always flown with the right hand on the cyclic and left hand on the collective. I think it would take quite a bit longer to get used to flying a helicopter with the "wrong hands", similar to riding a bicycle with your hands on the opposite handlebars (try it!)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Airbus design flaw

        As a result, its necessary to have your forearm on a flat surface in order to make small, precise control inputs.

        That's what the arm rest is for!

        The problem is that you can lay something, in this case a camera, on the flat section in front of the control stick which subsequently can get pushed forward by the movable arm rest.

        My contention is that flat section shouldn't exist. Either have it sloping sharply downwards, or cut away altogether bringing the edge of the box containing the gubbins associated with the control stick further forward.

      3. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Airbus design flaw

        If it moved with the seat, there wouldn't have been a problem. The fact that it doesn't, so moving the seat pushes the camera along the rest and into the stick rather than the whole assembly proceeding forward as one, would seem to be a prerequisite for causing this to happen.

  8. Afernie

    Interesting that he was cleared of perjury.

    I'd understood that he'd claimed that he didn't know the cause of the incident and swore blind the cause was a technical failure. So I'm curious; on what basis was he cleared of perjury? Reg? Any details?

    1. Phil W

      Re: Interesting that he was cleared of perjury.

      Perhaps at the time of the interview where he said that he genuinely didn't recall the camera being stuck there?

      I imagine things become a little fuzzy when you're panicking because the plane you're piloting has suddenly gone into a 15000ft per minute dive and you've just had your head smacked into the ceiling.

    2. tfewster Silver badge

      Re: Interesting that he was cleared of perjury.

      Forgetting exactly where he'd placed the camera or that he'd moved his seat would be understandable. But given that he'd have had to remove the camera jamming the control stick before being able to use the stick - The problem would have been clear.

      The only question would be if the camera fell into the gap because of the dive, or if it caused the dive.

  9. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    Part of his defence should have been that Airbus has sh*t controls.

    At least he didn't fly a perfectly functioning plane straight into the Atlantic.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. Jimbo in Thailand
    Paris Hilton

    In his defense...

    We are all human and we all manage to do stupid shit occasionally. Sadly, some people less occasionally than others, and with more dire consequences. Glad the outcome wasn't worse than it might have been.

    Edit: Spelling error caught too late.. had to withdraw then re-post

  12. albaleo

    Getting off games

    Fourteen other military passengers aboard the Voyager – a militarised version of the A330 airliner, fitted with air-to-air refuelling equipment – were so badly injured or shaken up by the incident that they were unable to continue to Afghanistan, where they were due to deploy on military operations.

    At school, we used to go to some lengths to get off things such as cross country running. But this is taking things to a different level.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Getting off games


      At school, we used to go to some lengths to get off things such as cross country running

      At school there were 4 of us who were s**t at games other than cross country running - depending upon the location of the PE session, we'd either run along the perimeter of the fields and then the break-water, as it was along the shore line. If the PE session was within the school grounds, then we were allowed to head out on a circular route out of school for the duration of the PE session, so we'd pace ourselves jogging, sometimes the route just happened to pass some very good model shops...

  13. Stu 18


    Can you invert the flying controls in one of those, like on video games?

    I'm pretty sure that the reconstruction photo would mean the stick would go back not forward and that means a climb not a descent?

    1. Mine's a Large One

      Re: reconstruction

      The photo is correct - jamming the camera between the armrest and the stick would push the stick forwards, initiating a dive.

  14. ColonelClaw

    This is why I keep my seatbelt fastened when seated in an aeroplane. Extremely bad turbulence could cause injuries similar to the unfortunate co-pilot. I've only experienced such turbulence once, but bloody hell it was terrifying, and put me off flying for at least 5 years.

  15. Jon Etkins

    Now I understand

    So *that's* what they mean when they tell you to put away your personal electronics because they can interfere with the aircraft's systems.

  16. JCitizen
    Black Helicopters

    Bloody hell!!

    And here I followed this headline thinking that it was the electronics of the camera that caused the wayward stick reaction!! But only to find that a simple mechanical manual stupidity was the order of the day!

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