Pilot/Autopilot ‘Conflict’ Preceded Cyclone Crash

The pilot of an RCAF Cyclone helicopter lost a battle with the aircraft’s autopilot before it crashed into the ocean off Greece in April, killing all six crew members aboard. In a statement announcing the return to service of the fleet of Sikorsky helicopters, the Air Force said the aircraft, which has a fully fly-by-wire control system, ended up in a flight condition that had not been previously tested and went into the Ionian Sea. Pilots have been briefed and trained on the scenario in the aftermath of the tragic accident. Lt.-Gen. Alain Pelletier, commander of 1 Canadian Air Division said the aircraft’s flight director ended up “in competition with the inputs that the pilot was trying to actually induce in order to set the recovery. That element of conflict resulted because of the flight-control inputs.”

The state-of-the-art helicopter was returning to HMCS Fredericton after taking part in a NATO exercise when the accident occurred. Pelletier didn’t detail the pilot’s actions that appear to have precipitated the disapproval of the helicopter’s computer but he did suggest it was part of a chain of events in a “very narrow band” of flight operations. While they figure out how to fix the issue, pilots have been told how to avoid the issue and flight manuals have been amended.