Osprey’s flight control computer possible cause of crash

August 19, 2012 Hideki Matsudo of Ryukyu Shimpo reports from Washington D.C.

It seems that the flight control computer on an MV-22 Osprey does not follow the pilot’s orders when he is trying to regain control after a steering mistake occurs at low speed. Former chief analyst of the Institute for Defense Analyses Arthur “Rex” Rivolo explained to the Ryukyu Shimpo that that malfunction may have caused the crash on Morocco of the vertical take-off and landing transport aircraft of the same type scheduled to be deployed to Futenma. With regard to that Osprey crash this May, Rivolo said that the aircraft was designed to ignore the pilot’s orders because it maintains its own flight safety at low speeds. Tailwind conditions and overmodulation of the nacelle (a cover that houses all of the generating components in a wind turbine) causing an accident is something unique to the Osprey. Rivolo predicted that such accidents would continue to occur.

The Marine Corps explained that the Osprey’s flight control computer stores tens of thousands of pieces of data per second, and that it points the nose in the correct direction to automatically achieve balance. But even so, it would seem that the aircraft is prone to being affected by human error and strong winds. On August 17, Marine Corps Lieutenant General Robert E. Schmidle Jr., deputy commandant for Marine Corps Aviation, commented on the investigation findings of the cause of the crash in Morocco. He said that the pilot did not notice that the tailwind was pushing the nose down, and that pitching the nacelle forward quickly caused the accident. With regard to whether or not the pilot was able to use the control stick to rein in the aircraft that had lost control, Schmidle said that although the location of the nacelle could influence the situation, the pilot did not have enough authority over the system. He added that the pilot was not able to transmit information to the aircraft despite pulling the control stick back in a situation in which the Osprey was in the middle of switching from aircraft mode to helicopter mode. Schmidle indicated that the Osprey failed to maintain its position when faced with the steering mistake soon after takeoff.

According to Rivolo, the pilot enters the flight details into the flight control computer, which then assumes complete authority to control the aircraft. While the computer follows the pilot’s directions under normal flight conditions, in order to maintain the safety of the aircraft it is designed to ignore the pilot’s orders in flight emergencies such as when flying at low speed.

On the subject of what would happen if the same problem occurred if the Osprey was deployed to Futenma Air Station, Rivolo said that this kind of accident could occur near a runway, and so it would not put the local residents in danger. However, he pointed out that the accident is caused by human error, and would tend to occur due to inattention and fatigue on the part of the pilot. Rivolo predicted that such accidents could continue to occur.

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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