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Military helicopter crash blamed on failure to apply software patch

A rather nice beach in Australia now briefly hosted an unusual feature

An Australian military helicopter crash was reportedly caused by failure to apply a software patch, with a hefty side serving of pilot error.

The helicopter in question is an MRH-90 Taipan operated by the Australian Army and was engaged in what’s been described as “a routine counter-terrorism training activity” on March 23 when it ditched just off a beach near the sliver of the Australian Capital Territory carved from the state of New South Wales for arcane constitutional reasons.

All ten Australian Defence Force personnel aboard the helicopter were accounted for, with two experiencing what the Department of Defence described as “minor injuries”.

Australia grounded its 47-strong Taipan fleet while authorities investigated the incident.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) today reported the likely cause of the incident was failure to apply a software patch to the ‘copter.

The patch in question prevents pilots of the MRH-90 Taipan from performing a “hot start” of the helo’s engine, a technique that sees the craft’s motor powered down and then restarted. The MRH-90 is not designed to do that, with safe procedure instead being to leave the engine idling until it is turned off at the end of a flight.

The ABC, quoting unnamed Army personnel, reported that a patch preventing hot starts has been available for years but has not been applied to all of the Australian Army’s Taipans.

The Taipan that splashed down in the lovely locale of Jervis Bay presumably was among those that did not receive the patch. The craft has since been recovered.

The MRH-90 Taipan is Australia’s version of the NHIndustries N90, a multi-mission copter produced by an Airbus-owned company. The type is used by the armed forces of Italy, France, the Netherlands, and Germany.

While the ditching of the copter in March was embarrassing, Australia ditched the type as the craft has proven unreliable and will spend AU$2.8 billion ($1.9 billion) on a fleet of US-built UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to replace the Taipans.

Australia's Department of Defence isn't commenting on the patch. ®

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