- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 4, 2014


A military investigation into an Apache attack-helicopter mishap has found potential hydraulic fluid contamination that could cause “a catastrophic failure and loss of life,” government contracting records show.

The investigation began after a “Class A aviation mishap” of an Apache helicopter resulting from an uncommanded flight control movement, according to contract documents reviewed by The Washington Times.

Although the root cause of the contamination found in the Apache AH-64D fleet at Fort Rucker, Alabama, wasn’t identified, officials are replacing reservoir servicing units manufactured by Ohio-based Tronair Inc. with units made by another company.

“Further investigation of the Tronair [reservoir servicing unit] being used in the field revealed corrosion and design issues that could result in contaminating the hydraulic fluid when servicing the Army’s helicopter fleet,” an Army contracting official wrote.

The document doesn’t shed any light on the accident that prompted the investigation, and Army officials did not respond to questions from The Times seeking details.

The AH-64D is an attack helicopter used mostly by the Army, but it also is found in other countries’ military aviation fleets. Last November, Alabama television station WSFA reported that Fort Rucker authorities had reported an investigation into a “mishap” involving an AH-64 Apache in which an instructor and student were taken to a hospital but were unharmed.

Class A mishaps are the most serious under the military aviation classification system. They include accidents involving fatalities or total disability; property damage exceeding $2 million; or missiles or aircraft that have been destroyed, missing or abandoned.

The contract document to purchase servicing units cites an Army memo in September ordering officials to replace the Tronair units because of concerns about the potential passing of contaminated fluid into flight operation hydraulic systems.

“The contaminated fluid could cause a catastrophic failure and result in loss of life,” a contracting official wrote.

Josh Green, vice president of strategic planning for Tronair, said in an interview Tuesday that the company has cooperated with the Army’s investigation, but the probe hasn’t concluded.

He said the company doesn’t believe its equipment played a role in any failures.

Mr. Green also referred to the Army all questions about the mishap referenced in the contracting documents.

Asked whether other customers had been alerted, Mr. Green said, “We’re not aware of any other incidents, and we don’t believe that anything yet suggests that our products are causing malfunction.”

The Army on Oct. 21 added more than $300,000 to a $2.7 million contract, which called for the purchase of 81 servicing units under a sole-source basis with another manufacturer.

In describing the need for the purchase, the Army contracting official said the investigation into hydraulic system contamination began after an accident involving “uncommanded flight control movement.” In plain language, the chopper was doing something in midair that it wasn’t supposed to be doing.

“Since the Apache hydraulic system is a closed system, it is believed that the source of some of the contamination migrated to other aircraft operating through the same ground support equipment,” the contracting official wrote.

The official also said the Tronair hydraulic reservoir services units were “identified as one of the culprits of the hydraulic contamination.”



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