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Loss of control involving remotely piloted aircraft Pulse Aerospace Vapor 55

Incorrect reference data can have potentially serious consequences in remotely piloted and manned aircraft.

Image of a Vapor 55 RPA

On 27 September 2016, a Pulse Aerospace Vapor 55 remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), was operating a test flight at Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, New South Wales.

The RPA tracked according to manual inputs from the pilot for about seven minutes, after which time (when at 124 ft altitude) the data-link signal was lost. After 30 seconds without signal, the RPA entered the ‘home’ flight mode, and began tracking to the incorrectly programmed home position at an altitude of 154 ft.

The RPA did not respond to control inputs made by the pilot, and the pilot subsequently lost sight of the RPA which was travelling out to sea. The RPA was not found despite an extensive search.

The south-eastern point used to georeference the image on the ground control station map was selected to a northern hemisphere latitude, which resulted in incorrect waypoints and home position for the mission.

The RPA data-link signal to the ground control station was lost, so it began tracking to the incorrectly programmed home position, which was in the Coral Sea Islands about 1,200 km north of the start position.

Safety message

Australian Transport Safety Bureau Chief Commissioner Greg Hood says incorrect reference data can have potentially serious consequences in remotely piloted and manned aircraft. “RPAS operators should expect data loss events and prepare for these appropriately,” Mr Hood said.

“It is imperative that remotely piloted aircraft systems incorporate means of minimising the opportunity for errors to occur and also for detecting and correcting errors that do occur.

“The careful application of operational controls and procedures, underpinned by robust risk assessment, will become increasingly important as relevant technologies develop further and new remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) applications continue to emerge.”

Mr Hood says the ATSB SafetyWatch highlights the broad safety concerns that come out of our investigation findings and from the occurrence data reported to us by industry. One of the safety concerns relates to data input errors.

Read the investigation report AO-2016-128

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Last update 06 February 2017