Thursday, October 25, 2007

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle crashes due to pilot error (Avation Week)

In the early morning of Apr 25 2006 a Predator B crashed roughly ten miles northwest of Nogales International Airport. The Predator was being flown by/for the Border Patrol (now US customs and Border Protection, under Homeland Security). According to the NTSB accident report the Predator control station featured two redundant Pilot Payload Operator consoles, PPO 1 and PPO 2. Shortly after 3 am a telemetry "lockup" on PPO 1 prompted the pilot to switch over to PPO 2. The NTSB found that the pilot didn't follow checklist procedures for the switch and failed to notice that PPO 2's fuel shutoff lever was set to "off". As a result the airborne predator obediently shut down its engine and crashed.
That's about as dumb as landing with the gear up.
Several questions come to mind. Like why hasn't the "telemetry lockup" (aka total failure) problem been fixed? Why does the console even have a fuel shutoff lever? It's not a very useful flight control, and in this case its presence destroyed a $3.2 million dollar drone.
And then the big question. Why is the Border Patrol flying super expensive UAV's instead of two place Cessnas which can be had new for $100,000? The only reason to use unmanned aircraft is to avoid risking the aircrew's life in dangerous airspace. Do the illegal immigrants come over packing Stinger missiles and shooting down the Border Patrol? I don't think so.
Two men in a light plane with plain old binoculars will do a better job patrolling the border than Predator ever will. And for a lot less taxpayer's money.

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