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Software repair costs for military helicopters expected in spring 2022

HALIFAX – The extent and cost of the changes needed to fix the software problem that caused the naval helicopter crash off the coast of Greece that resulted in six deaths will not be known until spring next year. after.

A Department of Defense spokesman said in a recent email that work is underway, but neither the price list for the taxpayers nor the deadline for the remedy will not be finalized until Sikorsky, the homeowner. production of Cyclone helicopters, completion of the first research phase.

Two Canadian Armed Forces assessments found the autopilot took control of the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, plunging it into the Ionian Sea as the pilot was returning to HMCS Fredericton on April 29, 2020. .

Master Cpl. Matthew Cousins, Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough, Captain Kevin Hagen, Captain Brenden MacDonald, Captain Maxime Miron-Morin and Lieutenant. Matthew Pyke was killed in the crash – the largest single-day loss of life for Canadian troops since a mission in Afghanistan.

Several automated systems experts told The Canadian Press in July that it was urgent to fix the software problem and expressed concern a similar incident could cause additional deaths.

Since then, there have been more problems with helicopters. The Army recently discovered cracks in the tails of most of the helicopters in its fleet, leading to a series of repairs currently underway to return the 19 damaged planes to regular flying duty. .

The Flight Safety Investigation Report completed seven months ago called for a remedy for the flight control system to prevent pilot overreach.

Andrew McKelvey, a spokesman for the Department of Defense, wrote in an email to the Canadian Press that “work will be completed in two phases.”

“The first phase is determining the scope of changes needed to address the recommendations made in the report. This first phase is estimated to be completed by spring 2022,” he wrote.

He said the schedule for the second phase will depend on the scope of the changes identified in the first phase.

In July, three experts on the interaction between automation and pilots told The Canadian Press that the department needed to move quickly toward a solution beyond the Royal Canadian Air Force’s changing training regime. and limited some operations.

Mary (Missy) Cummings, a former US Navy aviator and director of the human and autonomy lab at Duke University, said the pilot’s inability to regain control from the automated software was ” a very serious problem”, which needs to be addressed immediately. “

As found by the flight safety report, the autopilot remained on when the pilot made a sharp turn, and as a result the software generated commands, preventing the pilot from continuing to take the controls manually. at the end of his turn. The first of two military reports – the Investigative Committee’s report – called this accumulation of calculations from automated software a “command attitude bias.”

Sikorsky spokesman John Dorrian said in an email Friday that the company is working with the air force to “evaluate improvements to the CH-148 flight control system.”

“This work includes a design review, adding enhancements to the flight control software, extensive simulation testing in a laboratory environment, and an ongoing rigorous evaluation of Cyclone pilots. This process … may lead to observations, suggestions and other additional changes before the final path forward has been adopted,” he wrote.

Greg Jamieson, a professor of industrial engineering at the University of Toronto who studies human interaction and automation, said in an email Friday that the one-year period to determine the scope of change for a major engineering change to a relatively new flight control system “is reasonable.”

“However, if the scope of that change is determined to be broad, it could raise further questions about the aircraft certification process when Sikorsky is aware of cumulative bias and is unlikely to be considered harmful. pose a safety risk,” he wrote.

Michael Byers, a professor and chair of Canadian studies in global politics at the University of British Columbia, said in an email Friday that he remains concerned “The Canadian Armed Forces are putting the lives of aircrew crews at risk.” into danger by sending them on helicopters that are known to be safe. problem.”

“Instructing the crew not to do certain things, i.e. ‘restrict’ and ‘limit’, is unacceptable as it increases the likelihood of a combined crash between humans,” he wrote. people and equipment”.

“Cyclones should be grounded until Sikorsky comes up with a definitive solution to the software problem.”

This Canadian Press report was first published on December 11, 2021.

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