Re. writing and liability?

Subject: Re. writing and liability?
From: rjl -at- BOSTECH -dot- COM
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 1996 14:12:29 EST

Geoff Hart asked:

>So what's the real story? Has anyone out there in
>techwhirler land heard of a freelancer or wage slave
>getting nailed as a result of problematic writing?

Not only have I never heard of it, I've got a sad tale to relate about
a situation that resulted -directly- from writing, and there was no
lawsuit. Of course, the story goes back 30 years, so it was a different

GE Aircraft Engines made the engines for a particular helicopter used by
the U.S. Army, and these helicopters were used in Vietnam. The flight
manual for the helicopter (written by Sikorsky) borrowed on data picked up
from the engine operation tech manual (written by GE). Both contained a
statement that if the engine temperature should hit a certain redline
point, the operator should shut the engine down as quickly as possible,
and wait 30 minutes before restart.

What the GE manual failed to mention (so the Sikorsky manual never did,
either) was that a transient voltage spike on engine start would sometimes
cause a false reading. There was no note in the manual that said anything
like "....unless this redline happens only briefly at engine start, in which
case you can ignore and press on." The voltage spike only happened some of
the time, so the pilots would follow their instructions: shut down, delay the
mission by half an hour, then try to restart the engines.

The sad part of the story? These were medivac helicopters. Pilots were
cooling their heels for 30 minutes while wounded GIs suffered out in the
field. For no reason.

The problem became significant enough that the Army came to GE and said
"You need to make your engines more reliable." GE said "Oh, all we have to
do is add a note to the book. Gee, I wonder how that got by us?"

So far as I know, not only were there no lawsuits, I also understand that
nobody was fired. Although it was before my time, my source on the story
is a very good one.

Rick Lippincott
Boston Technology
Wakefield, MA
rjl -at- bostech -dot- com

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