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GPS, autopilot failures cited in Reaper crash

Jul. 2, 2014 - 08:23PM   |  
First Flight for 174th FW MQ-9
An MQ-9 Reaper that crashed into Lake Ontario during a November training flight was brought down by a series of navigational problems, according to the Air Combat Command's accident investigation board. (Staff Sgt. Ricky Best/Air Force)
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An MQ-9 Reaper that crashed into Lake Ontario during a November training flight was brought down by a series of navigational problems, the Air Force announced July 1.

The aircraft, assigned to the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, New York, was destroyed at a loss of $10.6 million.

The aircraft took off Nov. 12 from Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield, New York, for the Oswego Military Operating Area for a routine training mission. While the launch control team was handing over control of the aircraft to the mission control element, the aircrew noticed a series of warnings that the aircraft’s onboard GPS and internal navigation system were failing. In response, the crew initiated an emergency checklist and attempted to return the aircraft to Wheeler-Sack when the aircraft lost link, prompting it to fly a pre-programmed contingency flight path on its own.

While the aircraft was flying on its own, the mission control team disabled its command link to let the launch team regain control. During this attempt, the MQ-9’s GPS and navigation systems failed again. Seconds later, the aircraft’s autopilot began a right turn that inverted the aircraft, prompting an unrecoverable spin and the crash.

The Air Combat Command’s accident investigation board blamed the GPS and guidance system failures for the crash. It also cited the system that sent invalid flight data to the autopilot. Navy divers and a Coast Guard ship searched the lake for weeks, but were not able to find the wreckage. There were no injuries or damage to property.

The wing suspended training flights for about two weeks following the mishap.

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