A UK Royal Air Force Voyager is seen at RAF Brize Norton, England, on its return with troops from Afghanistan. (UK Ministry of Defence)
LONDON — An incident last month that grounded the British Royal Air Force’s new fleet of A330 tanker transport aircraft was caused when a camera became wedged between the side stick control and the pilot’s armrest, according to a report released by the Military Aviation Authority (MAA).
The RAF grounded its fleet of Voyager planes in February, after what the UK Ministry of Defence described as an “in-flight issue” on Feb. 9 resulted in an aircraft suddenly plunging 4,440 feet in 27 seconds during a troop-carrying flight to Afghanistan.
Several people onboard sustained minor injuries, and the aircraft was diverted to Incirlik military airfield in Turkey.
The flight restriction was lifted on Feb. 21, when the Voyagers resumed operations transporting troops.
An MAA service inquiry released Wednesday said it is “confident that the pitch down command was the result of an inadvertent physical input to the Captain’s side-stick by means of a physical obstruction (the camera) between the arm-rest and the side stick-unit.”
The camera had been used in the three minutes leading up to the incident, the interim report said.
The Voyager, a military tanker-transport version of the Airbus A330 airliner, is provided by the Airbus-led AirTanker consortium under a private finance initiative.
In a statement, AirTanker said it welcomed the findings, “which suggest that no technical fault was found with the aircraft.”
Six Voyagers have been delivered to date as AirTanker builds a core fleet of nine planes, with a further five scheduled to be leased to third-party users. The leased aircraft can be called back into RAF service in the event of a surge requirement.
The aircraft are owned and maintained by AirTanker, and they operate out of the RAF’s air transport hub at Brize Norton, in southern England.
Voyagers have been operating in the transport role since 2012, and they are scheduled to take over in-flight refueling duties next month, following the retirement March 31 of the RAF’s fleet of Lockheed TriStar planes.
Alongside the service’s VC-10s, the TriStars have been performing tanking and transport duties for decades. The VC-10 exited service with the RAF in September. ■