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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.

According to telemetry data recorded on the remotely piloted aircraft system’s ground control station (GCS), at about 0910 Eastern Standard Time, the RPA lifted off from its start position in front of the surf clubhouse. About 30 seconds later, when the RPA was at an altitude of about 36 ft, the flight mode entered ‘manual’ mode. The RPA then tracked according to manual inputs from the pilot for about 7 minutes, at which time (when at 124 ft altitude) the data-link signal was lost. Thirty seconds later, the RPA entered the ‘home’ flight mode, and commenced tracking to the programmed home position at an altitude of 154 ft. The last position of the RPA recorded by the GCS was about 165 m NNE of the start position, and about 4 km SE of Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport.   

In the home flight mode, the RPA did not respond to the control inputs made by the pilot, and the pilot subsequently lost sight of the RPA. 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 commenced tracking to the programmed home position, which was in the Coral Sea Islands about 1,200 km north of the start position.

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

Aviation Short Investigations Bulletin - Issue 56

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General details
Date: 28 September 2016 Investigation status: Completed 
Time: 09:10 EST  
Location   (show map):Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport, NE 4 km Investigation type: Occurrence Investigation 
State: New South Wales Occurrence type: Loss of control 
Release date: 17 January 2017 Occurrence class: Operational 
Report status: Final Occurrence category: Accident 
 Highest injury level: None 
Aircraft details
Aircraft manufacturer: Pulse Aerospace 
Aircraft model: Vapor 55 
Aircraft registration: N/A 
Serial number: DPISSLHB27091 6 
Type of operation: Aerial Work 
Sector: Remotely piloted aircraft 
Damage to aircraft: Unknown 
Departure point:Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, NSW
Destination:Lighthouse Beach, Ballina, NSW
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Last update 18 April 2017