Please shut up about the Mull of Kintyre Chinook crash

RAF Chinook fleet is actually a rare MoD success story

We're finally buying a lot more FADEC-equipped Chinooks, and a good thing too

Overall, considering the sequence of events, it seems a lot more likely that ZD576 flew out of cloud to find rising ground unavoidably close and crashed within 3 seconds. But it's remotely possible that the FADEC could have chosen to do something bad just at the exact moment the helicopter was about to fly into a hill, or in the immediately preceding seconds, so one could give Cook and Tapper the benefit of the doubt - not that they are being tried for any criminal offence.

In the end, though, helicopter flying is always dangerous, and low-level poor-visibility helicopter flying is very very dangerous no matter who you are, though sometimes necessary in the military. It's no dishonour to a pilot, no stain on his reputation, to say he could have made a mistake under such conditions. It's no slight on Cook and Tapper to say that it's likelier they flew into a hill under those conditions than it is that the FADEC chose that exact moment to play up. (If you want to be nasty to the dead pilots, you would ask why they were flying so low in such terrain and such conditions - a factor that the FADEC can't be blamed for - but that's beyond the scope of this article and we see no reason to be nasty.)

For most of us, who aren't friends or relations of the dead aviators, this isn't a very important issue. The Chinook FADEC system, and FADEC technology in general, has since been conclusively proven to be safe. That might be due only to subsequent modifications in the case of Chinooks, but it is a fact. The view of at least one expert that the system "could never have really been corrected to a 'flight safety critical' standard by subsequent patching" has been disproved.

As for today's "new" 1994 documents, all they say is that Boscombe Down didn't think the FADEC had been proven safe at that point, which was already public knowledge. The "new" documents may not have been seen by news media before, but they've been available to the investigating panels. There's really nothing new to see here.

There have been plenty of real news stories about RAF Chinooks since 1994. The scandal of the MoD ordering 8 custom-modified Mark 3s, and then deciding on its own initiative that they were unsafe to fly, is one of them, though that horse too has been flogged well past the point where it was beginning to rot.

Much more significant, however, has been the fact that the RAF's Chinook fleet has been its main success story of the 1990s and 2000s - and arguably the 1980s too. In Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo, Sierra Leone and many other places the Chinook has been the backbone of our forces' frontline airlift. Chinooks cost less to buy and run per ton lifted than any other chopper in British service, and are usually more likely to be serviceable. They are the only helicopters we have which can really cope with the heat and high altitudes of Afghanistan.

The real Chinook scandal has been the MoD's consistent refusal to buy enough of them right up until the end of last year, instead needlessly squandering our cash on ill-judged refits of old Pumas and buys of much smaller numbers of inferior makes like the Merlin HC3 and Lynx "Wildcat" - decisions which will have been made much easier by the constant drip drip of Mull-of-Kintyre and unflyable-Mk3 stories in the UK press.

Britain's pathetic lack of helicopter lift resulting from these decisions - in part resulting from these constant stories - has surely killed a hell of a lot more British servicemen than the 1994 crash did. Our troops may not actually receive the Chinooks finally ordered late last year until most of them have come home from the murderous Afghan fighting - thanks a lot, BBC. In particular, thanks a lot Computer Weekly.

The feelings of the dead pilots' families are understandable, but it is time - so long past time - for the rest of us to forget about the Mull of Kintyre crash, and be pleased that our boys and girls in combat are getting some more FADEC-equipped Chinooks at last. ®

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