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Navy Orders Sea Dragon Chopper Safety Push After NBC Report

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posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 04:35 AM
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The Navy and Marines have ordered new safety measures for a class of heavy-duty helicopters after an NBC News investigation highlighted potential dangers in the wake of a deadly crash. The Navy has ordered a more rigorous inspection process for fuel and hydraulic hoses and electrical wiring that were implicated in accidents involving their MH-53E aircraft, known as Sea Dragons. The Marines have suspended in-flight refueling for their CH-53Es, which are called Super Stallions.
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Between 1969-1990, more than 200 servicemen had been killed in accidents involving the CH-53A, CH-53D and CH-53E.[29] The MH-53E Sea Dragon is the U.S. Navy's helicopter most prone to accidents, with 27 deaths from 1984 to 2008. During that timeframe its rate of Class A mishaps, meaning serious damage or loss of life, was 5.96 per 100,000 flight hours, more than twice the Navy helicopter average of 2.26.[30] A 2005 lawsuit alleges that since 1993 there were at least 16 in-flight fires or thermal incidents involving the No. 2 engine on Super Stallion helicopters. The suit claims that proper changes were not made, nor were crews instructed on emergency techniques.[31][32]
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This thing sounds like a death trap. Why hasn't something been done about this before? Zaphod, what is your opinion?




posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 06:49 AM
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a reply to: fomalhaut

The entire -53 family has always been maintenance intensive, but isn't as bad as NBC tries to make it out to be. That's really not a bad accident rate for the missions, and amount of flight time that it has. It sounds bad, having 27 deaths from 1984, but that's 24 years on a helicopter that can carry over 50 people at a time. They have been flying at 3x their normal rate of flight hours, and all the -53Ds were retired in 2011 because of age. The Marines estimated a roughly 6,000 hour life cycle, and most of the remaining aircraft are over 3,000 hours.

Over 7 months, HMH-466 flew 4,500 hours with their deployed aircraft. To make a full squadron, they joined with HMH-366. So that was with less than their full 16 aircraft. The problems with the aircraft are not systemic to the helicopter itself. HMH-466 has flown 60,000 Class A free hours. To give an idea of how the pace of operations have escalated, they reached 25,000 hours mishap free in November 1993. They reached 50,000 during a deployment that started in January 2004, while in Iraq. That's 11 years to go 25,000 hours. They reached 60,000 hours in February of 2006.

An escalation in flight hours of that much means there are going to be more accidents. Flying in the desert has shown that engine problems with helicopters are escalated due to sand and grit getting through filters into the engines, causing higher operating temps as the grit gets into the oil and causes problems.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 08:17 AM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

I agree my Marine unit was helo op, we preferred the 53 over the 46. When I was in the 46 was having more problems than the 53



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 09:19 AM
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a reply to: fomalhaut

I dunno, I reserve the term "death trap" for the era of the space shuttles. Not much came out of those investigations even when they found bad decisions, design flaws, and screwy priorities.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 10:24 AM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

Thanks so much for the info. I always enjoy reading your posts. Putting it into perspective, I guess NBC has embellished a bit in order to grab attention.
edit on 2/12/2015 by fomalhaut because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 10:31 AM
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a reply to: Aliensun
Back when I was in university, I read a copy of the report on the Challenger accident. Richard Feynman was on the investigative panel. Feynman didn't tolerate B.S. The report pretty much laid out the fact that the seals in the solid rocket boosters were faulty and that concerns had been raised prior to the accident. Gotta love Feynman.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 10:49 AM
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No, no, the title of "death trap" is firmly held by the Blackhawk. They don't call them Crashhawks for nothing.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 11:10 AM
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a reply to: fomalhaut

"If it bleeds, it leads."

The Dragon is a pain in the ass maintenance wise, and averages 44 man hours of maintenance for every flight hour. But, that being said, they're averaging 15 years old, and approaching or passed 4,000 hours of a 6,000 hour life cycle.

The news needed something sensational to lead with, so they turned it from something that should happen about this point in its life cycle, to something that's killing troops at a prodigious rate, and is dangerous as hell. About what I'd expect from a news organization.

The CH-53K should be flying around March, and will enter service in 2018. That will go a long way towards helping with the problems the E is having.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 04:53 PM
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a reply to: Aliensun

I used to be down on the shuttle for the usual reasons (iffy safety record, failure to meet its design goals/launch costs, etc) until I saw the Discovery in person at Dulles.

It's a flawed bird, for sure, but like its equally-flawed yet equally magnificent North American Rockwell sibling, the XB-70, it's one of the most magnificent pieces of flight hardware ever put together in either the black or the white world.

There's nothing, nothing that ever stops being cool about a craft the size of a C-17 with 1.5 million pounds of sea-level thrust that can accelerate itself to ten times the cruise speed of an SR-71.

Now I miss Rockwell and their bat# insane, 747-sized fastmovers.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 05:02 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

I'm not military, but I have a fair amount of experience with helicopters in a civilian capacity.

People also forget how inherently compromised the stallion platform is. It's basically the Sea King after a Jose Canseco-grade round of steroids, and while it's an incredibly capable airframe it's also an incredibly finicky one because of the heritage of its drivetrain tracing back to a much smaller platform. The two-engined stallions are arguably over-stressed and a little underpowered, which makes maintenance on them especially crucial, and the 3-engined ones are as mechanically complex as you'd imagine them to be and then some.

What I'm always a little curious about is why Sikorsky didn't take a page from the Mi-6 and Mi-26 design processes and design the stallions from the ground up as big birds, with equally big turbines and gearboxes. The big Soviet eggbeaters never seemed to have the demanding maintenance requirements of the stallions, while obliterating them in terms of payload capacity, reliability, etc(probably because their mechanical components were more suited for use in a tractor than what you'd expect to find in a helo). I'm just surprised that Sikorsky, even with the CH-54 in their stable decided to base the stallions on the SH-3 --> S-61/CH-3 design lineage. A Tarhe-based stallion would likely have been a much more rugged and less finicky platform.
edit on 12-2-2015 by Barnalby because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 05:12 PM
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a reply to: Barnalby

We had the HH-53 as part of Test Group in the early 80s. They had the refueling boom add on, and would fly with KC-130s to go out and catch film pods from satellites as they came down. We lost one and a crew attempting to rescue a crewman off a ship transporting rocket fuel. He came down with appendicitis symptoms, and the Coast Guard couldn't get a helicopter out to him to airlift him to Honolulu.

They requested assistance from us, so we launched 80-355 and 80-356 (I think that was the second tail number), along with a KC-130 because of the range (about 250-350 miles off Honolulu). They arrived on scene, and 355 went into a hover over the deck and began lowering one of their PJs down to assess the crew member. During the hover, the retaining bolts for the tail boom snapped, or came off (it had just gone through a Phase inspection, and I never found out if it was related to that, or just bad luck), and the tail folded, as designed to for storage.

The pilot was able to retain enough control to not land on the cargo hold full of rocket fuel, while attempting to get it over water where they might have a chance. The cable was cut dropping the PJ down, but he was killed with the other 6 crew members in the post crash explosion and fire.

The worst part was that the crew member remained on board, all the way into Pearl Harbor, and didn't have appendicitis after all. They had to put him on suicide watch, and he remained hospitalized after the ship sailed about a week later, after the remains were recovered, and the wreckage removed.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 07:06 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

That ship was the Asian Beauty.

Very sad story all around.

Maybe I've missed something in your posts over the years Z. You were at Hickam in '85?



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 07:12 PM
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a reply to: howmuch4another

My father was stationed there from 75-80, then again from 83-89 when he retired, and was a civilian contractor from 89 until about 2006.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 07:21 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

I was there in '85 for a sailing regatta when that incident occurred. I was staying at the apartment of a girl whose father owned the boat I was crewing who happened to be dating one of the ground crew. The base was pretty devastated IIRC. Interesting you telling the story hit close to home this time for me. It was in the papers for days.



posted on Feb, 12 2015 @ 07:24 PM
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a reply to: howmuch4another

Yeah, the base closed ranks and freaked when word got out. It made the rounds hours before they got even close to the base on the way back. They wouldn't say who the crew was for hours, so the base was on pins and needles for a long time. A good friend of ours was a pilot on -53s for the Group, so they were really tense for awhile. They locked down and wouldn't let anyone call home either, because they didn't want word getting out until they could notify the families.

It was a horrible time, and for several weeks after the base was still shaken up.



posted on Feb, 13 2015 @ 02:59 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

There's nothing quite like a single-point failure mode to ruin your day. Stories like that (and all of the crash-hawk tales) have led me to be extremely skeptical of Sikorsky products.

They made fantastic hardware in the 60's but right now it feels like ever since they've either gotten too cocky and pushed the design envelope too far (the stallions), rested on their "we invented the helicopter" laurels and delivered an underwhelming design that coasted through procurement bids on name alone (the blackhawk), or used their political clout vis-a-vis the state of CT to drag out what should be simple procurements with ridiculous delays, overruns, etc (the -53K and the VH-92).

Me, I'm partial to Bell and McD/Hughes's simple, reliable no-frills small stuff, and since the 70's damn near everything Aerospatiale/Eurocopter has built has been damn near unassailable. To date I don't think anyone's built as perfect and reliable of a "high-tech" design as the Dauphin 2 was. Those things were like 80's Mercedes', the most advanced of their kind and AND built like brick sh*thouses no less.



posted on Feb, 13 2015 @ 03:07 PM
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a reply to: Barnalby

Yeah, but no one but Sikorsky builds heavy lift helicopters like the Stallions though. Light and medium helicopters are nice, but you need at least a few heavy lifts in your inventory. The Stallion is actually one of the better ones out there on the market. The K will improve on the original design and allow for heavier lifting abilities.



posted on Feb, 13 2015 @ 03:12 PM
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a reply to: Zaphod58

And they have better lobbyists than Boeing-Vertol ever did!

I'd love to see where the Chinook would be today if it received the same amount of funding/continuous improvement as the stallions did.
edit on 13-2-2015 by Barnalby because: (no reason given)



posted on Feb, 13 2015 @ 03:20 PM
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a reply to: Barnalby

The Chinooks received a lot of upgrades, they just weren't publicized the way the Stallions were. They had a lot of their own problems though. Many of the Ds that were being upgraded to Fs required almost total rebuilds because they had so many issues in the structure and wiring.




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