Murphy's Law: Russia And The Buttons Of Death

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August 20, 2011: A Russian pilot is being court-martialed for causing $81,000 worth of damage to his Su-27 five months ago. The pilot had pushed the wrong button after landing, and the forward landing gear retracted, causing the front of the aircraft to hit the ground. The pilot admitted his error, and was suspended from flying. If found guilty he could be fined $81,000 (to repair the damage) and sent to prison for seven years.

The Russian Air Force is trying to send a message to pilots and ground crews to exercise more care, and pay attention, when they are handling these expensive aircraft. Gone are the days when combat aircraft were built to be simple, easily operated and maintained and not expected to last long in combat. Since the 1980s, Russia has been designing and building combat aircraft along Western lines. These planes are more complex, and require that pilots and maintainers pay more attention.

But the error this pilot made, pushing a button to withdraw the forward landing gear into the aircraft while on the ground, could have been avoided by better aircraft design. Normally, you do not retract landing gear while on the ground and the aircraft software should pay attention to that. A Western aircraft would require a special sequence of operator actions to get the landing gear to retract while they are holding up the aircraft. But in modern Russian weapons, the old custom of keeping it simple often backfires.

It’s not just the air force, but throughout the Russian military. Three years ago, an Akula II SSN (nuclear attack submarine), the Nerpa, lost twenty people during sea trials. This was caused by an accidental activation of the fire extinguisher system. The source of the fatal accident was poor design and construction of the safety systems. The button to push to turn on the fire extinguisher system (which took most of the oxygen out of the air) was too easy to use.

 

 


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