A Failure to Calibrate

A failure to correctly calibrate a ground control station led to an MQ-9A Reaper crash in the US Central Command area of responsibility in November 2015, Air Combat Command investigators found. During an intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance mission, the remotely piloted aircraft—assigned to the 432nd Wing at Creech AFB, Nev., and operated by the 138th Attack Squadron at Hancock Field ANGB, N.Y.—sustained a starter generator failure and was diverted to an alternate launch and recovery element (LRE), according to the abbreviated investigation report. But the alternate LRE attempted to assume control of the aircraft without calibrating their equipment to fly an MQ-9. The aircraft then entered a reverse-thrust mode, stalled, and lost altitude, causing all three flight control assemblies to fail. The mission control element, a pilot and instructor, regained control of the aircraft, but it was no longer fully controllable and was impossible to land. The instructor pilot then purposely crashed the aircraft in a remote, undisclosed location. Loss of the RPA is estimated at $9.9 million, and the wreckage was not recovered. There were no fatalities or damage to private property.