F-22 Squadron Shot Down by the International Date Line
Aircraft software can be serious business. DID’s F-22A Raptor FOCUS Article mentioned recent flight software problems that delayed the aircraft’s first foreign deployment from Hickam AFB in Hawaii to Kadena AFB, Japan.
What we didn’t mention at the time is how serious the problem was, and how dependent on computers modern aircraft – including military aircraft – have become. What follows are relevant excerpts from a CNN transcript on February 24, 2007 that covered a number of unrelated issues. We’ve cut that out, and left only the F-22 related section of the transcript…
Maj. Gen. Don Sheppard (ret.): “…At the international date line, whoops, all systems dumped and when I say all systems, I mean all systems, their navigation, part of their communications, their fuel systems. They were — they could have been in real trouble. They were with their tankers. The tankers – they tried to reset their systems, couldn’t get them reset. The tankers brought them back to Hawaii. This could have been real serious. It certainly could have been real serious if the weather had been bad. It turned out OK. It was fixed in 48 hours. It was a computer glitch in the millions of lines of code, somebody made an error in a couple lines of the code and everything goes.
SHEPPERD: Absolutely. When you think of airplanes from the old days, with cables and that type of thing and direct connections between the sticks and the yolks and the controls, not that way anymore. Everything is by computer. When your computers go, your airplanes go. You have multiple systems. When they all dump at the same time, you can be in real trouble. Luckily this turned out OK.
John Roberts, CNN anchor: What would have happened General Shepperd if these brand-new $120 million F-22s had been going into battle?
SHEPPERD: You would have been in real trouble in the middle of combat. The good thing is that we found this out. Any time — before, you know, before we get into combat with an airplane like this. Any time you introduce a new airplane, you are going to find glitches and you are going to find things that go wrong. It happens in our civilian airliners. You just don’t hear much about it but these things absolutely happen. And luckily this time we found out about it before combat. We got it fixed with tiger teams in about 48 hours and the airplanes were flying again, completed their deployment. But this could have been real serious in combat.
ROBERTS: So basically you had these advanced air — not just superiority but air supremacy fighters that were in there, up there in the air, above the Pacific Ocean, not much more sophisticated than a little Cessna 152 only with a jet engine.
SHEPPERD: You got it. They are on a 12 to 15-hour flight from Hawaii to Okinawa, but all their systems dumped. They needed help. Had they gotten separated from their tankers or had the weather been bad, they had no attitude reference. They had no communications or navigation. They would have turned around and probably could have found the Hawaiian Islands. But if the weather had been bad on approach, there could have been real trouble. Again, you get refueling from your tankers. You don’t run — you don’t get yourself where you run out of fuel. You always have enough fuel and refueling nine, 10, 11, 12 times on a flight like this where you can get somewhere to land. But again, attitude reference and navigation are essential as is communication. In this case all of that was affected. It was a serious problem.