Aviation safety investigations & reports

Loss of control involving remotely piloted aircraft Pulse Aerospace Vapor 55, 4 km NE of Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport, NSW, on 27 September 2016

Investigation number:
Status: Completed
Investigation completed

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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: 27 September 2016   Investigation status: Completed  
Time: 09:10 EST   Investigation level: Short - click for an explanation of investigation levels  
Location   (show map): Ballina/Byron Gateway Airport, NE 4 km    
State: New South Wales   Occurrence type: Loss of control  
Release date: 17 January 2017   Occurrence category: Accident  
Report status: Final   Highest injury level: None  

Aircraft details

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  
Last update 12 February 2020