Sudden and total failure from which recovery is impossible
A catastrophic failure is a sudden and total failure from which recovery is impossible. Catastrophic failures often lead to cascading systems failure. The term is most commonly used for structural failures, but has often been extended to many other disciplines in which total and irrecoverable loss occurs, such as a head crash occurrence on a hard disk drive. Such failures are investigated using the methods of forensic engineering, which aims to isolate the cause or causes of failure.
For example, catastrophic failure can be observed in steam turbine rotor failure, which can occur due to peak stress on the rotor; stress concentration increases up to a point at which it is excessive, leading ultimately to the failure of the disc.
In firearms, catastrophic failure usually refers to a rupture or disintegration of the barrel or receiver of the gun when firing it. Some possible causes of this are an out-of-battery gun, an inadequate headspace, the use of incorrect ammunition, the use of ammunition with an incorrect propellant charge, a partially or fully obstructed barrel, or weakened metal in the barrel or receiver. A failure of this type, known colloquially as a "kaboom", or "kB" failure, can pose a threat not only to the user(s) but even many bystanders.
Examples of catastrophic failure of engineered structures include:
The Tay Rail Bridge disaster of 1879, where the center half mile of the bridge was completely destroyed while a train was crossing in a storm. The bridge was badly designed and its replacement was built as a separate structure upstream of the old.
The failure of the South Fork Dam in 1889 released 4.8 billion US gallons (18 billion litres) of water and killed over 2,200 people (popularly known as the Johnstown Flood).
The collapse of the St. Francis Dam in 1928 released 12.4 billion US gallons (47 billion litres) of water, resulting in a death toll of nearly 600 people.
The collapse of the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge of 1940, where the main deck of the road bridge was totally destroyed by dynamic oscillations in a 40 mph (64 km/h) wind.
The Space Shuttle Challenger disaster of 1986, in which an O-ring of a rocket booster failed, causing the external fuel tank to break up and making the shuttle veer off course, subjecting it to aerodynamic forces beyond design tolerances; the entire crew and vehicle were lost.
Lewis, Peter R. (2004). Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silvery Tay: Reinvestigating the Tay Bridge Disaster of 1879. Tempus. ISBN 0-7524-3160-9.
^Hal W. Hendrick; Paul Paradis; Richard J. Hornick (2010-12-12). Human Factors Issues in Handgun Safety and Forensics. CRC Press. p. 132. ISBN 9781420062977. Retrieved 2014-02-24. Many firearms are destroyed and injuries sustained by home reloaders who make a mistake in estimating the correct powder charge.
^Gregg Lee Carter, ed. (2012-05-31). Guns in American Society. ABC-CLIO. p. 255. ISBN 978-0-313-38670-1. Retrieved 2014-02-24. ... and left the copper jacket lodged in the barrel, leading to a catastrophic failuer of the rifle when the next bullet fired hit the jacket remnants.