A dodgy software installation that deleted vital files caused last month's Airbus 400M transport plane crash in which four people died, it is claimed.
On May 9, a test flight of the A400M, intended to replace the aging Hercules as a mainstay of NATO's air mobility fleet, crashed in Spain, killing four of the six crew. According to Reuters today, a faulty software installation on the aircraft's systems deleted configuration information, and caused three of the four turboprop engines to shut down after takeoff.
People familiar with the investigation said the torque calibration parameters for the engines were wiped during the installation. This data is needed to measure and interpret information coming back from the A400M's engines, and is crucial for the Electronic Control Units (ECU) that control the aircraft's power systems.
Without that sensor data, the ECU automatically shut down the engines, or at least put them into the lowest power settings. According to safety documentation, the pilots would only get a warning from the ECUs when the aircraft is 400 feet (120 metres) off the ground.
"Nobody imagined a problem like this could happen to three engines," a person familiar with the 12-year-old project said.
If the report is correct, the aircraft was pretty much condemned as soon as it took off. You can just about land a 747 safely on one jet engine (provided the aircraft isn't too heavily loaded) but the A400M uses propellers: trying to fly on one engine would make the aircraft very difficult to control or land safely.
The crashed A400M was being tested before delivery to the Turkish Air Force. It barely reached 2,000ft before calling an emergency and tried to land, but hit an electrical pylon and crashed shortly afterwards.
On May 20, Airbus warned A400M customers to conduct “specific checks of the Electronic Control Units (ECU) on each of the aircraft's engines.” It declined to comment on this latest report, as did the engine manufacturer, but issued the following statement:
"Safety is our first priority and we will do all that is necessary to get the full picture of what could have led to this tragic accident and take the necessary action," it said. ®