Solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems emerge from advancing technologies. For instance, as smartphones get smarter, they make our lives easier in every way. With the exception of a few battery mishaps, smartphones have been pretty solid. However, sometimes technology fails on a basic level. For example, hydraulic equipment has come a long way, but dangerous leaks still occur. Some incidents are serious enough to put lives in danger.
When hydraulic pressure is controlled by software, the use of high-pressure hydraulic components is imperative. Leaks can lead to fires and even explosions. As bad as that sounds, it’s not uncommon.
Here are 3 times technical glitches affected hydraulic fluid, resulting in dire consequences.
1. Ford’s GT hydraulic fluid leak
The Ford GT has the look and feel of a corvette along with the power, but without the high price tag. The Ford GT has been a favorite car since its first release in 2005, so it makes sense that Ford would release a second model in 2017, in a small quantity. However, when Ford released the second-generation GT, it didn’t take long for consumers to discover a problem with hydraulic fluid leaking from a valve block.
It’s been reported that the valve block assembly underneath the new GT’s active rear wing is prone to leaking hydraulic fluid, which sits next to the twin-turbo V6 exhaust. Exhaust piping is hot, which turns the hydraulic fluid leak into a fire hazard. One fire has already occurred in Germany, but there have been no further reports of accidents or injuries.
Ford has issued a recall for all 2017-2018 GT models, which affects about 200 cars. The cause is presumed to be resolved by performing a software update to the vehicle controller to relieve excessive pressure inside the valve block assembly. The dealership will install a rear wing hydraulic check valve in some vehicles and replace the O-rings and filter.
2. The Delta III
The Delta III space craft – also known as the Delta 8930 – was built using the software from its predecessor, the Delta II. Unfortunately, a major oversight resulted in wasted hydraulic fluid needed for controlling the craft. The Delta II did not have gimbaling boosters, so its software was written to correct more frequently to support this deficit. However, the Delta III was built with gimbaling boosters and using the Delta II’s software resulted in repeated overcorrections. The overcorrections wasted the hydraulic fluid needed for control and the craft failed to fly a successful mission.
On August 26, 1998, the Delta III exploded 72 seconds after liftoff. The craft was equipped with twice as much hydraulic fluid as it needed, but used it all in the first 20 seconds. When it met a wind shear, the craft couldn’t fight it and the automatic self-destruct system was deployed.
Experts found the software was inadequately tested. The issue of hydraulic fluid wasn’t the only problem the Delta III encountered. The craft saw two more launches, but both missions failed.
3. The Boeing Dreamliner’s malfunctioning switch
The Boeing Dreamliner has a switch designed to extinguish engine fires. This switch activates two fire extinguishers in each engine. Flipping the switch is also supposed to sever the fuel supply and cut off the hydraulic fluid to prevent flames from spreading. This switch has reportedly failed in a “small number” of instances. Boeing has alerted airlines of the problem, stating that long-term heating can cause the switch to stick in the ‘locked’ position.
Despite the risk, the FAA has not grounded the Dreamliner fleet of more than 60 crafts. Instead, airlines are required to have their switches checked every 30 days. Pilots are understandably concerned. Hydraulic fluid will fuel an engine fire and keep it burning. One pilot said an aircraft with an engine fire would need to fly with a burning wing for up to three hours before it could safely land.
Technology isn’t perfect, but we’re getting there
Although technology isn’t perfect, we’re generally moving toward advancement. Experts can learn from these unfortunate situations and apply better solutions moving forward.