Why the catapult killed the crew of the Tu-22M3
"Perhaps the one who was sitting in the commander's seat, out of lack of education or excitement, turned on the forced ejection switch." With these words, the source of the newspaper VZGLYAD describes the main version of the tragedy near Kaluga - at a military airfield due to an accidental ejection, three crew members of the Tu-22M3 bomber were killed. However, there are other assumptions.
On Tuesday, three servicemen were killed as a result of catapults detonating when the engines of a Tu-22M3 long-range bomber were launched at the Shaikovka military airfield near Kaluga. The 52nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment is based at this airfield, which just recently conducted tactical flight exercises. “Young officers were involved in the exercises, who for the first time in their practice took part in such events,” the Russian Defense Ministry quoted the regiment commander Colonel Vadim Beloslyudtsev as saying.
And now, immediately after these exercises, a tragedy with human casualties occurred at the airfield. An emergency on the ground led to the death of the regiment commander, regiment navigator and navigator-instructor from Ryazan, said a high-ranking source in the Russian Aerospace Forces. As TASS was told in the medical circles of the region, the fourth member of the crew survived, he was taken to the infirmary in the medical unit in Shaikovka.
Tu-22M is a family (M, M2, M3) of Soviet, later - Russian long-range supersonic missile-carrying bombers with variable wing geometry. The bomber has been in service with the Russian military since 1974. Aircraft of this type are designed to destroy land and sea targets with supersonic guided missiles and bombs at any time of the day and in any weather conditions. They can carry nuclear weapons. Its maximum speed can reach 2300 km per hour.
The previous disaster with fatalities on this type of aircraft in the Russian Air Force occurred in January of the year before last. Then, when approaching at the airfield in Olenegorsk (Murmansk region), a Tu-22M3 from the 40th Mixed Long-Range Aviation Regiment crashed. As a result, three crew members were killed, one survived.
An emergency near Kaluga happened during the preparation of the aircraft for flight, the Ministry of Defense said, right in the parking lot, while the crew was preparing to take off. The Ministry of Defense said that the commander of the Long-Range Aviation Regiment was supposed to conduct this flight as an instructor.
This is an important detail for understanding the circumstances of the tragedy, because the instructor, as a rule, in such cases is in the right seat (assistant crew commander). In the commander's place there is a pilot, whose qualifications the instructor must check and confirm. This procedure is called "test flight".
According to the source, someone from the commanding staff of the regiment was in the crew commander's seat. “Usually a regiment commander does not fly with ordinary pilots. And the one sitting on the left (in the commander's seat) could get out of vacation or have a break in flights for any other reason, and he needed a test flight with an instructor, because after the break, no one would ever let him out on his own. In addition, each pilot has many annual inspections by piloting technique instructors. In other words, any pilot has more than a dozen test flights a year, ”the expert says.
However, as a result, the test flight did not take place. "For an unknown reason, the forced bailout system went off," a senior Air Force source explained.
He told how the ejection procedure looks like: “On the left panel of the Tu-22M3 crew commander there is a“ Forced exit ”toggle switch. It is used in an emergency to forcefully eject three crew members at half-second intervals. At the same time, the commander must independently pull the handles on his chair for his own ejection, ”the interlocutor said.
On the Tu-22M3, the system ensures safe exit at a speed of at least 140 km / h. Therefore, three crew members were killed, and the one who was in the commander's place survived. This feature concerns exactly the ejection on this bomber - the seats installed on the Russian fighters make it possible to successfully eject at zero speed, even when parked at the airfield.
"Perhaps the one who was sitting in the commander's seat, out of lack of education or excitement, turned on the mentioned toggle switch on the left seat, even though it is under the cover," the source suggests. At the same time, he did not rule out a version of a technical malfunction - for example, a catapult could trigger a wandering current (although this is unlikely).
Honored Pilot of the USSR, former military pilot Oleg Smirnov is also sure that the cause of the incident could have been a mistake by the pilot who was in the seat of the crew commander. According to Smirnov, the state of emergency in Shaikovka is a reason to strengthen the training of pilots on ground ejection simulators.
But, for its part, the source notes, the cause of the tragedy could not be the lack of preparation of the crew member, but the design flaws of the ejection system of the Tu-22M3 bomber.
Both designers and military pilots have been well aware of this problem for decades. “At least you can jump on fighters from a place, they have a different chair,” said the interlocutor. "But Tupolev did not install such a chair for his bomber and invented his own chair." The seat, according to a specialist, is heavy and inconvenient for pilots, and even depends on the voltage of the batteries.
“Once the crew died from the fact that they could not jump - the voltage on the batteries dropped from the required 24 volts to below 22, and they simply could not activate their catapults,” the source said.
According to the expert, the seat in the Tu-22M3 is also inconvenient in terms of other parameters. “For example, it was made under the helmet of a pilot model ZSH-3, and then they switched to ZSH-5, and later on to ZSH-7. And they are larger in size and do not fit into the recess of the headrest of the chair. These chairs should have been at least improved a long time ago - there were always enough complaints about them, ”the interlocutor noted.
The state commission, which has already begun work at the scene of the tragedy, should find out the reasons for the emergency.