The Air Force has released its probe into the first combat loss of the Pentagon’s troubled V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft. It happened near Qalat, Afghanistan, in April, killing four of the 20 aboard, including the chief pilot. The $116 million V-22 had to make a fast landing and flipped after its nose gear collapsed when it ran into a ditch. The investigative team believed a sudden loss of power from one of the aircraft’s two engines was a major cause of the accident.
But a senior Air Force general disagreed, ruling that the available evidence “does not support a determination of engine loss as a substantially contributing factor.” That decision largely shifts responsibility for the accident onto the shoulders of the dead pilot and his crew. “The mishap crew’s task saturation, the mishap copilot’s distraction, the mishap copilot’s negative transfer of a behavior learned in a previous aircraft, the mishap crew’s pressing to accomplish their first combat mission of the deployment” all were cited as factors. But the chief investigator is sticking to his guns, according to an interview he did with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Of course, a lot of this kind of analysis is informed deduction and guesswork. That’s because, as the Air Force noted in its statement releasing the report, its probe was hampered because the V-22’s black box – which records lots of flight data and is invaluable in figuring out what went wrong — was “destroyed and therefore not available for analysis.” What they didn’t say was that the U.S. military bombed the stricken V-22 and destroyed it to keep the aircraft – and the black box – from falling into enemy (or, for that matter, investigators’) hands.