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Mechanic's Mistake Trashes $244 Million Aircraft

Unknown Lamer posted more than 2 years ago | from the total-tool-awareness dept.

The Military 428

Hugh Pickens writes "An accident report is finally out for the Air Force E-8C Joint Surveillance Targeting and Attack Radar System that had started refueling with a KC-135 on on March 13, 2009 when the crew heard a 'loud bang throughout the midsection of the aircraft.' Vapor and fuel started pouring out of the JSTARS from 'at least two holes in the left wing just inboard of the number two engine.' The pilot immediately brought the jet back to its base in Qatar where mechanics found the number two main fuel tank had been ruptured, 'causing extensive damage to the wing of the aircraft.' How extensive? 25 million dollars worth of extensive. What caused this potentially fatal and incredibly expensive accident to one of the United States' biggest spy planes? According to the USAF accident report, a contractor accidentally left a plug in one of the fuel tank's relief vents (PDF) during routine maintenance. 'The PDM subcontractor employed ineffective tool control measures,' reads the report. Tool control measures? 'You know, the absolutely basic practice of accounting for the exact location of every tool that is used to work on an airplane once that work is finished.' Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz just told Congress, 'there is a JSTARS platform that was damaged beyond economical repair that we will not repair.' So, if this is the one Schwartz is talking about, then one mechanic's mistake has damaged a $244 million aircraft beyond repair."

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428 comments

Shit Happens (5, Insightful)

rotorbudd (1242864) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876097)

I've been an A&P for over 35 years and I've seen worse.
(by pilots and mechanics)

Re:Shit Happens (1)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876141)

yes - they are lucky no-one died. I've seen tool control related accidents (fod) and other problems due to maintenance issues go a lot further south than this - though the dollar total is impressive.

Re:Shit Happens (2)

stoolpigeon (454276) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876155)

oh - reading the executive summary (3rd link) it says damage was 25 million.

Re:Shit Happens (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876217)

The damage caused puts the aircraft beyond repair. Thus $25M of damage has written off a $244M plane.

Re:Shit Happens (5, Interesting)

WillRobinson (159226) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876347)

The electronics package is 200 mill put it in another plane. So saying its a total loss is bs. The plane is basicly a kc-135 they have plenty of spares including whole wings.

Re:Shit Happens (4, Informative)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876421)

Not quite as simple as that. You've got to rip the gear out of the dead plane as salvage and then install it in a new one. Part of the $200 mil is not the gear itself but it's installation, calibration, etc.

Re:Shit Happens (2)

postbigbang (761081) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876573)

But there are a lot of cheap, pre-owned and calibrated spares out there now. I'm going to start checking my local surplus store frequently now.

Re:Shit Happens (4, Interesting)

Suki I (1546431) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876441)

I've been an A&P for over 35 years and I've seen worse.
(by pilots and mechanics)

In Chuck Yeager's biography he talked about an assembly mechanic who was installing a bolt the wrong way, even though his instructions said the right way to do it. Resulted in numerous fighter plane crashes and almost killed Yeager when he was test flying one of the planes to see what was causing the crashes.

Re:Shit Happens (5, Informative)

Garybaldy (1233166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876515)

I remember reading that as i have repeated the story many times. The women on the assembly line could not grasp why you would stick a bolt in upside down. Always being taught to put it in facing down. So if the nut ever came loose the bolt would not come out. Even though as you said the instructions said to put it in upside down.

The reason being the head of the bolt was shorter and would not interfere with a control cable.

Re:Shit Happens (5, Informative)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876621)

She knows clearance issues are why you install a shorter bolt Again, engineering design failed, miserably, so a way to blame the peon.

If you insist on putting the brake pedal on the right foot and accelerator on the left, it doesn't matter how loudly you blame the driver, its still a design failure.

This specific incident was hashed out in one of those freshman "intro to engineering ethics" classes I had to take a long time ago. Still remember it. It was a huge design failure, although you could claim it was also a huge management and PR success to put all the blame on some poor chick. Was used as an object lesson for how management picks the winner and loser, sometimes engineering gets it, sometimes operations/factory floor gets it, and part of being an engineer is "toughening up" that you're going to be involved in corporate BS like that, so get used to thinking about it.

Re:Shit Happens (0, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876539)

What puzzles me, is that a small mistake can be promptly pinpointed to the mechanic. But trashing the economy cannot be easily pinpointed to the bankers. I guess it's easier to find the culprits down in the hierarchy, rather than up.

Althourhg it was a private contractor (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876103)

Blame teh gubment in 3... 2... 1...

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (3, Funny)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876127)

you forgot "And suggest private industry could do better"

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876229)

Yea, the government doesn't make $244 million mistakes. Just private industry. Better let the government take this over so nothing like this happens again.

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876393)

You're either sarcastic, or blind.

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (3, Informative)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876413)

Of course they do. My problem is all the suggestions that Private industry does significantly better, ESPECIALLY when funded by the government. I think that's when we see the worst of the waste, private industry on the government's payroll.

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876371)

Private Enterprise: Fucking Up for Profit (TM)

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876197)

Government failed to supervise lowest-bidder contractors. Of course I blame the government.

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876275)

But government supervision is regulation, which is anti-jobs!

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876417)

It is anti-jobs only when the price matters. It matters in the private sector, but government can create 2 controller jobs for every hammer wielding peon and simply pay for that with even more taxpayer money.

In the end it is destructive either way - private sector will be stuck with the bill in form of higher taxes (and it costs jobs in the long run).

Re:Althourhg it was a private contractor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876427)

OK. How does a wing cost a million dollars or even a plane? If it costs that much we need to start producing our own rivets or sheets of metal, etc. Turbine engines are some of the most elegantly simple combustion engines in existence so how are they so expensive to produce? How much does a fuel line cost, how much is some wire... Do they even realize what the number 'million' represents, seriously. Time to redesign this stuff to use existing technology and stop sepnding so much on stealth paint or whatever.

I blame the government. It costs too much to repair because it costs a million dollars just to look out the window at the goddamned thing and say, "Yep, that is going to cost, uh, a hundred million to fix."

Government Contractors (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876109)

Government contractors. Saving you money like they have never saved it before.

Re:Government Contractors (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876221)

Fucking incompetent s why aren't these jobs privatized so it can be done competently? Oh that's right.... "president" obamtard is in charge.

Re:Government Contractors (2)

SolusSD (680489) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876267)

Why would privatizing these jobs magically cause them to be done competently? I've seen plenty of incompetence in the private sector.

Re:Government Contractors (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876359)

The article says it was done by a contractor; i.e. it was privatized. Unless you mean "privatize the whole military"? That strikes me as a bad idea.

Re:Government Contractors (1)

alcmaeon (684971) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876373)

In the real world, a contractor damages $244,000,000.00 of someone's shit, the contractor is paying $244,000,000.00 plus loss of use costs until replacement.

In the government run world, everyone will have a laugh and the taxpayers will pick up the tab.

Re:Government Contractors (4, Insightful)

Geraden (15689) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876483)

In the real world, faced with $244,000,000 in lawsuits, the contractor folds up and declares bankruptcy.

Then everyone will have a laugh and the taxpayers will pick up the tab.

Re:Government Contractors (2)

locopuyo (1433631) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876583)

The government would not pick up the tab, the company would go out of business. Unless of course it is a bank or union controlled megacorporation getting secret bailout money.

if in doubt.. (0)

johnvile (2560845) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876135)

blame "a contractor".

Re:if in doubt.. (3, Informative)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876323)

blame "a contractor".

Especially when the contractor WAS negligent.

I feel better now (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876137)

The most I ever cost my employer for a screw up is about $1.1 million.

RFID (5, Interesting)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876143)

Sounds like a great case for RFID inventory control ; tag every tool, log them out of the toolbox with a loop mounted on the side, log them back in again when you return them.

The article linked mentions this on the second page ; I don't see why you should be limited to the 3M solution though (except maybe they'll bribe someone to make it a regulatory necessity). You can get nearly 2,000 tags for about $100, so it's not like it would be expensive.

Re:RFID (3, Insightful)

phonewebcam (446772) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876185)

"You can get nearly 2,000 tags for about $100"
You or I could, but the essential middlemen selling the same stuff to the government would add at least three zeros to the end of that figure

Re:RFID (5, Insightful)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876535)

There are a lot of misconceptions about how contractors work, because typically, their profit margins are no higher than in other lines of business.

The government is big on COTS hardware/software, and only turn to contractors for specialized circumstances. Those extra zeros come from the unusual design requirements and low volume orders.

Take the x thousand dollar hammer example. On the surface, that seems absurd, since one can buy a hammer for less than 10$. But when the hammer is going into space and is made of a difficult to machine titanium alloy (tool steel shatters at cold temperatures), is egonomic even through spacesuit gloves, is lightened without reducing mechanical efficiency (makes sense at an estimated 1000$/pound/launch), and only 10 are made (despite flat machining costs), that X or XX thousand dollar price tag seems very affordable.

The same thing happens in other areas. I work on submarines and some components use joysticks. Sure, commercial joysticks can be obtained for under 100$, but a waterproofed, pov only motion, high durability (sailors treat equipment like crap, and failure is not an option) piece of clockwork machinery that maybe 50 will be made, you are looking at just shy of XX thousand per.

Re:RFID (2)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876189)

Seems overly complex. Why not just have the toolbox be able to detect what tools are contained within? Not even bother with the side loop. It could then have a nice little display of how many (and even what) tools are not inside.

Even cheaper (2)

ommerson (1485487) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876287)

Simply weight the toolbox on the way out and again on the way back in.

Re:Even cheaper (2)

T-Bone-T (1048702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876365)

That doesn't tell you what tool(s) is/are missing, only that the set is incomplete.

Re:Even cheaper (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876391)

Simply weight the toolbox on the way out and again on the way back in.

Wouldn't work. Consumables. Safety wire, cotter pins, packing material. Even small, any of those is enough to cause a major problem. And far too small to be noticed when weighing a 75lb toolbox.
The way it is normally done is by foam cutout for each tool. A quick look can tell you if something is not in place. Of course, you have to have the brainpower to actually look when you are leaving the area.

(anon to not screw up previous mods)

Re:Even cheaper (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876449)

Put the consumables in a separate box.

However, the issue of WHAT is missing, as mentioned in the other thread, might be critical.

Also, grease will get on/off tools, and I think that could make enough of a difference if there are any particularly light tools.

Re:RFID (1)

T-Bone-T (1048702) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876407)

That is one method of detecting what tools are contained within. The toolbox has to have some method of determining what tools it contains and a tag on each tool and a single reader on the toolbox is about as simple as it can get.

Re:RFID (1)

ByOhTek (1181381) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876467)

I was suggesting the whole box be a reader, as having the extra activity of swiping the tool through a loop may be omitted in a rush.

It would be best if no extra activity were needed to detect which tools are in the box - which means, there is either (a) no way to access the tools except through the "loop", or (b) the toolbox can do a live inventory of it's contents at any time.

Re:RFID (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876567)

It would be best if no extra activity were needed to detect which tools are in the box - which means, there is either (a) no way to access the tools except through the "loop", or (b) the toolbox can do a live inventory of it's contents at any time

Too high tech. That will break at some point. Toolboxes get dropped, bounced around, rained on. The batteries will die. The mechanic, now not being used to inventory his stuff, will not notice something is missing.

Re:RFID (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876457)

Considering that the mechanic is going to get the blame and fallout for this, costing him/her job and more, I'd say the others will do it on their own. Besides, I thought the idea of hiring private contractors was to reduce costs for things like this?

I lived in a communist country for the first years of my life, and it was common to think, "it's for the government("state"), who gives a fuck?"

Re:RFID (2)

webnut77 (1326189) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876205)

so it's not like it would be expensive

This is the government. It WILL be expensive.

Re:RFID (1)

Shavano (2541114) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876339)

I'm betting the could do it for less than $25 miliion.

Re:RFID (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876351)

The mechanics would just get sick of it and let the battery run out, that's why. Or they would desensitize the instruments when nobody's looking, that's why. Or they would slip in their own tools to use, that's why. Because -- the only reason that matters.

Does everything have to be contracted out now? (1)

elrous0 (869638) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876555)

Sounds to me like a great case for the military NOT subcontracting out every single task to some private company which they have little, if any, control over.

Re:RFID (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876633)

Ummm, I'd recon an airplane wing makes a pretty good Faraday cage.

Re:RFID (1)

XrayJunkie (2437814) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876637)

Never, way to costly!

Was the mechanic Iranian? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876159)

That would explain a lot

I expected it was a problem with ball bearings (2)

killmenow (184444) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876169)

It's all ball bearings these days.

Re:I expected it was a problem with ball bearings (2)

cide1 (126814) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876191)

and fetzer valves

Only 244 million? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876171)

244 million? Isn't that minuscule? CEOs regularly crash the stock market. But at least they take responsibility! Like... becoming CEO somewhere else?

Re:Only 244 million? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876439)

...CEOs crash the stock market? ok, let's just blame the evil "CEOs" for everything.

Affirmative Action (-1, Flamebait)

Suiggy (1544213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876179)

Gotta love affirmative action and workplace diversity! Who cares if they're not actually the best engineers and mechanics!

http://careers.northropgrumman.com/diversity.html [northropgrumman.com]

Re:Affirmative Action (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876257)

Really? That's the first thing you thought: "It must have been a black guy?" It's intriguing how the redneck mind works - not well. For the sake of America, don't reproduce.

Re:Affirmative Action (1, Interesting)

Suiggy (1544213) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876303)

No. That's the first thing you thought.

I'm attacking Affirmative Action, which is the truly racist policy.

I'm sure there are many excellent African aircraft mechanics. The problem is that Affirmative Action and diversity policies can overlook a persons lack of skill and credentials merely to meet some quota.

Re:Affirmative Action (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876395)

If you have a better alternative, now's the time to speak up. Until then, go fuck your sister or whatever it is you people do.

Re:Affirmative Action (4, Insightful)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876553)

Any alternative is better than Affirmative Action. Giving someone a job because they belong to a minority is equivalent to not giving someone a job because they aren't in the minority, which is racist/sexist.

Re:Affirmative Action (1)

jgtg32a (1173373) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876593)

Ok, but you could have done a better job at clarifying that in your original post, because I've seen that wording before and it means blame darky

Contractor vs. Organic (1)

eagle1361 (2557464) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876187)

Que the contractor vs. organic AF maintenance argument. And "blame the contractor" is always a fun game.

I'm not really understanding... (5, Interesting)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876203)

A few points occur to me:

1_ ...how $25 million in repairs is "beyond economical repair" on a $240 million plane? If I have a $20,000 car that's in an accident, it's not uncommon to have $2000 in repairs...that's hardly "totalled".

2. Now, looking at the pictures, that's pretty serious...but then it's more than $25 million in damage.

3. the E8 is a converted 707...didn't they stop building those in the 1970s? If this is a 30 year old airframe (at best) then either that damage is $25 million or the plane is worth less than $240 million today.

4. Finally, as I understand it this damage was done by a subcontractor. When I use subcontractors, they have liability insurance to cover the systems they're working on, plus potential liabilities. Doesn't the US government require AT LEAST such protections when farming out work to contractors?

By the way, I'd like to further remind the Air Force that this is a COMBAT aircraft. Granted, it's not supposed to be in dogfights or shot at, but this is a piece of military equipment, maintained in difficult conditions/circumstances by relatively inexperienced crew (for example an aircraft carrier's crew largely is swapped out about every 18-36 months). That seems incompatible with its evident fragility.

Re:I'm not really understanding... (5, Insightful)

confused one (671304) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876265)

You've hit the nail on the head with #1 - #3. They totalled a 707 airframe, which is not a $244 million dollar plane. Most of that $244 million cost is what makes a 707 a JSTARS -- the payload. And the payload will probably be salvaged and re-used either to build another JSTARS or as spares to support the existing JSTARS platforms. This is being way over-hyped. Big oops for the contractor -- I wouldn't renew the contract; but, I'm not government.

Re:I'm not really understanding... (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876447)

It probably basically totalled the airframe. At that point it's cheaper to take the payload out- but don't think pulling the payload and putting it into a new 707 is going to be cheap. It's probably going to cost something on the order of a third to half of the 25 mil at least to do it and then recertify the new plane for service.

Re:I'm not really understanding... (1)

jittles (1613415) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876595)

It probably basically totalled the airframe. At that point it's cheaper to take the payload out- but don't think pulling the payload and putting it into a new 707 is going to be cheap. It's probably going to cost something on the order of a third to half of the 25 mil at least to do it and then recertify the new plane for service.

You'd think that, but I'd be willing to bet that you're wrong. I'd be willing to bet that they will have mechanics pick the parts off of that thing in their downtime. You see, the military keeps mechanics on staff for 3 shifts a day. They may not be fully tasked all the time, but need to have enough mechanics to fix everything as quickly as possible when the workload is at its worst. I'd be willing to bet that they spend several months picking that thing clean when their mechanics have free time. They were going to pay those mechanics anyway.

Re:I'm not really understanding... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876369)

It's a classic case of the Gov setting up the contractor for pay-out. It's not just frivolous plaintiffs who do this crap...the Gov sets the standard for it. Don't get me wrong, the contractor should have to make things right (which is why they carry E&O insurance), but the Gov will try to rake them over the coals.

Re:I'm not really understanding... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876411)

3. the E8 is a converted 707...didn't they stop building those in the 1970s? If this is a 30 year old airframe (at best) then either that damage is $25 million or the plane is worth less than $240 million today.

They're probably comparing apples and oranges here, the new cost was $244 million but the planes have been in service of some form since 1991, the accident was in 2009. Secondly, that probably includes a lot of R&D costs so a $25 million dollar could be a much larger part of the production cost. Third, maybe the military's needs have changed or other types of craft do better, it might make sense to operate but not necessarily to spend that much to keep it in service.

Finally, as I understand it this damage was done by a subcontractor. When I use subcontractors, they have liability insurance to cover the systems they're working on, plus potential liabilities. Doesn't the US government require AT LEAST such protections when farming out work to contractors?

They certainly could, but nothing comes free so the government would have to pay higher rates. If you're big enough you may choose to take that risk yourself and use incidents like this in performance evaluations and future negotiations instead.

So what? This is nerd news? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876207)

Sucks to be that guy.

I don't get it. (3, Funny)

crimguy (563504) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876211)

$25 million? It's not as if they had to repair the toilets or anything . . .

Bingo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876269)

This isn't a loss at all. This is a justification for more spending. At the top of the power pyramid, it doesn't matter where the money comes from, or even whether you "succeed" or "fail". What matters is that the money passes through your hands, giving you a chance to exploit that cash flow for personal gain.

Re:I don't get it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876625)

Most of that cost is for the systems that were installed on the aircraft. The $25 million likely covers the cost of replacing the aircraft.

Warplane can't handle a hole? (1)

rossjudson (97786) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876215)

So this is a plane that might get, you know, shot at? In a war or something? And it can't handle two little holes, or be repaired? Sounds like a design flaw to me.

Re:Warplane can't handle a hole? (1)

jholyhead (2505574) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876259)

Just because the holes were visible from the outside doesn't mean that it is the only damage the aircraft suffered.

Re:Warplane can't handle a hole? (4, Informative)

cptdondo (59460) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876349)

None of the AWACS/JSTARS/etc planes are "made to be shot at". They're civilian airframes stuffed to the gills with super-secret electronics. They rely on fighters and ECM to stay up; they don't do any fighting themselves. Heck, they're unarmed.

Re:Warplane can't handle a hole? (1)

confused one (671304) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876367)

the sealed tank overpressurized and started inflating like a balloon, inside the airframe. There's all sorts of structural damage where it literally ripped apart the structure from the inside.

Re:Warplane can't handle a hole? (1)

felipekk (1007591) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876491)

Yes, and that's probably why the airplane was able to land after the damage suffered.

It doesn't mean that after getting shot you don't have to repair the equipment.

Re:Warplane can't handle a hole? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876619)

I don't think this is the kind of plane that get shot at. it's the kind that sits comfortably far away.

typically misleading (4, Informative)

confused one (671304) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876225)

You lost an airframe. A significant fraction of that $244 million is payload and equipment that will be recovered and used as "spare parts" to maintain other JSTARS aircraft. The airframe is all that was lost. The airframe is a commercial 707 derivative. It's not an $244 million aircraft, it's a tricked out $5 million dollar aircraft. The issue, now, is replacing the system -- which means assembling another JSTARS. Given typical government contracting practices that will cost another $325 million (inflation adjusted from initial cost of $244 million in 1998).

trol5lkore (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876233)

appeared...sAying also dead, its Are you 4 NIGGER

Look on the bright side (1)

jholyhead (2505574) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876243)

At least he chose to study engineering and not medicine.

Re:Look on the bright side (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876381)

People get medical kit left in them all the time. A $244 million person can afford better care.

Re:Look on the bright side (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876387)

Surgical nurses typically handle the "tool inventory" on surgery ; all the operating theatres I've worked in have had excellent procedures, but you still hear stories about things being left behind in the patient...

Similar incident at Tinker AFB (1)

menos (112815) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876273)

Reminds me of another tool control issue that cost the AF a KC135 at Tinker AFB a few years ago.

Basic gist was he used a homemade pressure gauge to test the integrity of the airframe post depot maintenance. The pressure relief valves had be sealed up during PDM and never reactivated. The technicians gauge had no peg so he failed to notice when the needle began its second trip.
Needless to say the effects where impressive. Total write-off of the aircraft.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpGF3dVdj14 [youtube.com]

Oh well (4, Funny)

obarthelemy (160321) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876277)

If he were a banker he'd get a bonus ?

Epic? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876291)

This is for what the 'epic' in 'epic fail' was invented.

FUBAR (1)

seven of five (578993) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876295)

Acronym brought to life.

Agile Military? (0)

SpinningCone (1278698) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876315)

At some point it would seem the complexity of our military hardware is a hindrance more than a help. what if it had been a bullet instead of a mistake? the plane is operable but takes $25 million in repairs and likely weeks (months?) to do so. or what if you need to maintain these at less then optimal conditions. your mechanics are slammed and it needs to get back in the air. should such a small thing permanently ground your aircraft?

things like this make me think that if we were in a real prolonged WW3 type theater that our overly sophisticated military would begin to fail under pressures of less than optimal conditions.

Re:Agile Military? (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876503)

what if it had been a bullet instead of a mistake?

LOL this model of vehicle is the ultimate REMF machine. If it eats a bullet we've already lost our entire military and been completely and totally utterly overrun. Like that plane contains the last living airmen in the entire USAF.

Also from an engineering perspective its very easy to design something to take a bullet from the outside, but an overpressure failure from the inside? That is uneconomical to design for.

Re:Agile Military? (1)

Svartalf (2997) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876505)

This isn't a combat "warplane". This is a SIGINT/Surveillance/etc. plane and was simply a commercial airframe that was stuffed to the gills with "spy gear". Simply put, any airframe of this nature would need to be pretty much scrapped when this incident happened because you've basically lost the wing. Has nothing to do with "complexity". Most of the gear's actually surprisingly agile and quickly demilled at the same time- it's just things like JSTARS isn't by their very nature.

Utter nonsense (0)

Sqreater (895148) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876317)

It is ass-covering of the lowest order to blame a lowly mechanic for what is obviously a design flaw. A simple sensor to monitor the presence of a plug in order to save a 244 million dollar craft is not too much to expect from the maker. Someone high should be fired, but they will throw the poor mechanic under the bus and feel competent and effective.

Re:Utter nonsense (1)

jonwil (467024) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876423)

Remember that the airframe for this airplane (a KC-135) is basically a late 50s-early 60s design/build.

Re:Utter nonsense (2, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876569)

Remember that the airframe for this airplane (a KC-135) is basically a late 50s-early 60s design/build.

Whatever. Back then engineers had to be smarter because they couldn't rely on computers. The days of iron men, not heavy iron mainframes... Age is no excuse for poor design, assuming thats what you meant.

More likely, since this has not been a popular failure mode over the past half century, the cost of designing it out probably exceeds the cost of just eating an airframe every century or two.

Re:Utter nonsense (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876519)

It is ass-covering of the lowest order to blame a lowly mechanic for what is obviously a design flaw. A simple sensor to monitor the presence of a plug

Terrible design mistake because now someone needs to maintain, replace, test, and probably F-up that sensor. Also its heavy. The better design involves multiple permanently installed frangible disks on extra vent piping.

See how hard design is? Finding incompetence is always easier than designing around it. First guess is usually wrong. That's probably what happened to the A+P mechanic, too.

It's the military (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876353)

And what are the costs for the Generals's mistakes?

Govt Work (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876399)

Some notes worth mentioning:

The plug that was left in the aircraft occured when the plane was in Depot-level maintenance. 99% of depot level work is performed by civilians. As a matter of fact, no military service members perform any depot level maintenance.

At best there may be a few officers or senior enlisted working at the factory to serve as liasons or QA type billets. They're few and far between.

It's not to say that the contractors shouldn't be held accountable, especially consider how long it takes for the depot guys to do anything. In my experiance (active duty military aviation at the o-level (squadron level)) It takes depot to 2 days (about 6 ten-hour shifts with overlap) to remove and replace a rotary powerplant, when it would take one my shops only one shift from start to finish.

These contractors USED to be active duty military. They USED to have a work ethic. But something happens when you go civilian contractor....

To channel Adam Savage for a moment ... (1)

dkleinsc (563838) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876481)

Well, there's your problem.

Lowest Bidder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876581)

Just guessing the contract for the aircraft maintenance was won by the lowest bidder....you get what you pay for.

spy plane?!!? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38876597)

jstars is more of a command and control or forward air controller (it's mostly ground scanning and targeting, not spying?)

Cost of Doing Business (1)

thrich81 (1357561) | more than 2 years ago | (#38876603)

To someone who used to be in military aviation, this is kind of a non-story. It is a rare and undesirable incident but hardly unheard of, except that tool control is very good in military aviation now. You have the mechanics, then you have the Quality Control checkers, then eventually you have the aircrew doing their pre-flight inspection. Most of the time mistakes get caught along the way, very occasionally they don't. Luckily in this case no one got hurt and hopefully the contractor reimburses the government for some of the loss (not $244 million, as other posters have pointed out). It is human error, same as what causes most aircraft accidents in the air and on the ground. When you work with $244 million equipment which flies through the air you will suffer losses sometimes. It's like owning a $100,000 car -- if you drive it on the street you are taking the chance of wrecking it. And $244 M doesn't sound like all that much -- about the same as a new Boeing 777 according to the Boeing price list (http://www.boeing.com/commercial/prices/).
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