Thursday, November 13, 2014

NTSB: Pilot Unaware Wings Had Been Unlocked

The National Transporation Safety Board released an update yesterday on its Virgin Galactic investigation.

Surviving pilot Peter Siebold told investigators he was unaware that co-pilot Michael Alsbury had unlocked the feathered wings of SpaceShipTwo.

Unlocking the wings does not deploy them, but the procedure is not to unlock the wings until the motor shuts down at 1.4G. Premature deployment of the wings would cause extreme instability, which was proven by the incident.

Although the publicly released evidence to this point increasingly suggests co-pilot error, at the same time it also suggests a design flaw that allowed the wings to deploy even though the command wasn't given.

Here is the complete press release.


The National Transportation Safety Board issued an investigative update today into the crash of SpaceShip Two on Oct. 31, 2014, in Mojave, Calif.

  • The on-scene portion of the investigation into the crash of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo, a test flight conducted by Scaled Composites, has concluded and all NTSB investigators have returned to Washington, DC.
  • The SpaceShipTwo wreckage has been recovered and is being stored in a secure location for follow-on examination.
  • The NTSB operations and human performance investigators interviewed the surviving pilot on Friday. According to the pilot, he was unaware that the feather system had been unlocked early by the copilot. His description of the vehicle motion was consistent with other data sources in the investigation. He stated that he was extracted from the vehicle as a result of the break-up sequence and unbuckled from his seat at some point before the parachute deployed automatically.
  • Recorded information from telemetry, non-volatile memory, and videos are being processed and validated to assist the investigative groups.
  • An investigative group to further evaluate the vehicle and ground based videos will convene next week at the NTSB Recorders Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
  • The systems group continues to review available data for the vehicle's systems (flight controls, displays, environmental control, etc.). The group is also reviewing design data for the feather system components and the systems safety documentation.
  • The vehicle performance group continues to examine the aerodynamic and inertial forces that acted on the vehicle during the launch.

The investigation is ongoing. Any future updates will be issued as events warrant. Follow the investigation on Twitter at @ntsb, on our website at ntsb.gov, or sign up to receive ntsb news releases.

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