Helicopters Magazine

Features Procedures Safety & Training
From the Lab to the Field

October 11, 2011  By Neil J. MacDonald

Chances are you’ve never heard of Bob Waldron, David Rupert, George Heath, Alec Moffat or Gerry Binnema, and – with tongue firmly planted in cheek – that may not be a bad thing.

Chances are you’ve never heard of Bob Waldron, David Rupert, George Heath, Alec Moffat or Gerry Binnema, and – with tongue firmly planted in cheek – that may not be a bad thing.

Chances are though, if you’ve ever been involved in an aviation incident or an accident anywhere in the world, they may well have heard of you. And again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is because R.J. Waldron & Company are the experts who are called upon to solve mysteries surrounding aircraft incidents and accidents.

Forget about CSI: Miami. Armed with more than 35 years of experience, the latest gadgets, and a good dose of common sense, these guys are “Accident Scene Investigation”: Vancouver!

R.J. Waldron & Company has been in business since 1975 and has participated in more than 2,000 accident and incident investigations around the world. Their main focus is on aircraft failure analysis, accident reconstruction and accident investigation. They check into when and why a system or a component may have failed. And while their main business focus is aviation, they also do failure analysis for other industries including construction.


Many accidents are attributed to pilot error, at least initially, and it’s not hard to see why. Things go bang and then get quiet. As pilots, we race to the scene of the incident, arriving in seconds. After things settle down, everyone else arrives with their own opinions, wondering why we did this or that, asking why we did not think to do something else. They forget that the pilot has seconds to react, while everyone else has months – even years – to figure things out.

It’s true, sometimes pilots make mistakes. The answer to an incident may be right there on the surface and we all learn from it straight away. Other times, however, we need a closer look. We need to see if there was something – not so obvious – that happened, such as whether a component or a system failed. This is where R.J. Waldron & Company comes in.

They may be asked to investigate an incident by an insurance company, a law firm, or maybe even by the pilot themselves. They may come in after the Transportation Safety Board has finished its investigation or they may investigate right alongside them.

It really doesn’t matter when or how they begin the investigation and it matters even less who pays for it. The team are not advocates for the party who pays their bill – sometimes the party who pays may not like the results that are found!

R.J. Waldron & Company tries to get to the right answer regardless of who they represent. This is one of the reasons they have been involved in this industry for so long, and why they have such a good reputation worldwide.

Case in point, the team went to Saudi Arabia a number of years ago to look into a KV 107 accident; there was a post-crash fire with fatalities. The only witness was a camel driver, so the team had its work cut out for it. One contributing factor they uncovered was that the aircraft manuals had been translated from English to Japanese, then back into English. This led to some temperature discrepancies that resulted in incorrect flight control cable tension settings. A premature failure in one cable created an uncontrollable aft rotor system for the pilots.

But not all investigations are done in exotic places in the field – much of the real detective work takes place back in the lab. That’s where you’ll find the team’s Scanning Electron Microscope, used to capture images up to 300,000 times their normal magnification. The Energy Dispersive Spectrometric analysis system with X-ray mapping is used to analyze component materials for defects, or to find contaminants or corrosion. Other important equipment used to help decipher just cause includes a Stereomicroscope, which shows a 3-D image; a Metallurgical Microscope; and Standard Rockwell, Superficial Rockwell and Micro-Hardness testers used to determine the characteristic hardness of metals.

With this type of equipment and expertise, it’s not difficult to see why the team is in such demand in the aviation incident and accident investigation business. Like their TV counterparts, this team finds the answers – and they do it without all the annoying commercials!

Neil MacDonald is an aviation lawyer practising in B.C. He has completed an ISO 9001:2008 QMS Lead Auditor course, holds an ATPL-H, and flies as an IFR Off-Shore Captain. neil.j.macdonald@gmail.com This is not a legal opinion. Readers should not act on the basis of this article without first consulting a lawyer for analysis and advice on a specific matter.


Stories continue below

Print this page