OTTAWA—Senior military officials have revealed there was a “conflict” or “competition between a Cyclone helicopter and its pilot moments before the aircraft known as Stalker 22 plunged into the water off the coast of Greece in April.
The revelation came Tuesday as the Royal Canadian Air Force announced it was lifting an “operational pause” imposed on the rest of the military’s Cyclone fleet after the crash, even though the reasons for that conflict remain under investigation.
The entire fleet was temporarily grounded after Stalker 22 crashed into the Ionian Sea on April 29 while preparing to land on the Halifax-class frigate HMCS Fredericton following a NATO training mission and photo-op.
In announcing the resumption of flights, Air Force officials said were able to recreate the circumstances surrounding the crash using information obtained from the Cyclone’s flight-data recorders, which were recovered from the sea.
The problem occurred as the helicopter was coming around to land on Fredericton, officials said. The pilot attempted to make a number of manoeuvres while the Cyclone’s “flight director,” or auto-pilot, was still engaged.
Rather than turning off, the auto-pilot started to work against the human pilot before crashing into the water at high speed. All six Armed Forces members on board were killed, representing the largest single-day loss of life for the military in more than a decade.
Lt.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, commander of 1 Canadian Air Division, suggested the problem was the result of a “series of events” and only occurred within a “very narrow band” of flight activities that had not been previously identified or tested.
The Cyclone’s computer ended up “in competition with the inputs that the pilot was trying to actually induce in order to set the recovery,” Pelletier said. “That element of conflict resulted because of the flight-control inputs.”
While Air Force officials said they are now diving into why the helicopter responded how it did, they expressed confidence in the Cyclone as they announced plans for the helicopter fleet to resume operations in the next few days.
The resumption will be accompanied by new training and updates to flight manuals so pilots know about the problem and how to respond if it arises as well as restrictions on certain flight activities while investigators work to identify the reason for the conflict.
By Lee Berthiaume